The Tribune - Spectrum

, August 4, 2002

Celebrating the trivial
Aradhika Sekhon

Among the Chatterati
by Kanika Gahlaut, Penguin Books pages 236; Rs 200

Among the ChatteratiAMONG the Chatterati makes no bones about what it is. On the cover itself the author specifies that it is the diary of a page-three hack Thus, the author in effect declares that if the reader expects anything apart from purely masala fare, he has picked the wrong book. In fact, quoting Voltaire before the book begins, she acknowledges her belief that 'The superfluous is very necessary' and then proceeds to write a whole novel to support that view.

The book is an exposition on the brand of journalism called 'page-threeism', which, explains Gahlaut, "is a by-product of another ism: Sensationalism" and though ostensibly looked down upon by the serious reader, is even driving editorial policy. The issues that this page deals with are who, where, what, why and when "And the party animal—the permanent inhabitant of this new space—is now in demand like never before".

Without making a case for it, Gahlaut does manage to justify the existence, indeed the relevance of the Page three in the lives of the reading public.

Reading the book is like eating a dish of chicken butter masala with lots of butter masala but just the neck and wings of the chicken to really get your teeth into, or being served a glass of cold coffee full of froth but no milk. But what makes it palatable is that the author doesn't pretend otherwise and with gay abandon goes ahead to reveal the most intimate secrets and gossip about the people who march across the pantheon of the Delhi social scene.


Going through the book is like reading a compilation of the whole year's page three in the newspapers of Delhi. Unfortunately, the events and times that the author refers to are already outdated. Thinly disguised identities that must be most obvious even to the uninitiated reader, litter the pages. The book begins with the murder of Rita Caur; singer in an illegal bar in Delhi called 'The Neem Tree' owned by a restaurateur-socialite, Monica Mastani. The issues here are not the murder or the conscience of a community, but the story of 'Glamour, Guns and Gin' that the paparazzi gleefully pounce upon, while they reflect on imponderables like 'The Night All of Delhi Left Five Minutes Early'. Rumours do the rounds, gossip abounds and the hypocrisy of the socialite is exposed as they all suffer collective amnesia when it comes to getting involved.

In addition to the completely recognisable protagonists of the above mentioned drama, obvious references have been made to Rohit Bal, Raghavendra Rao(royal designer Ranmendra Pratap Singh), Ritu Berry (' talent less designer from Delhi'), Tarun Tejpal (Mr. Dekhbhal from Blahindia dot com), Nishit Saran ("the Harvard-returned film-maker who announced his presence in Delhi with a gay film about himself"), Amar Singh ('the party terrorist'….Uncouth portly politician with friends like the mega star who with his wife have been playing host and hostess at the politician's house")

Nobody has been spared. Apart from veiled references, there are direct references to the Who's Who of Delhi…Menaka Gandhi and her sister Ambika, Dumpy Ahmad, Ambika Pillai, Feroz Gandhi. Many of these references are coloured with a subjectivity that Gahlot hasn't been able to or hasn't bothered to disguise.

The book is completely in-your-face and in parts, riotous, as Aby, the society columnist of National Express (not very subtle because we know that Gahlaut is an Assistant Editor with The Indian Express) stumbles from one society 'do' to another in quest of scoops and stories. She comes across some amusing situations and is known for getting her names, facts and figures wrong.

The text is full of tongue-in-cheek one-liners that do endeavour to bring about a certain degree of gravitas in a book that is out-and-out devoted to the sensational and the frivolous. For instance, " Journalism's equivalent of writing a person's epitaph before he's actually had a chance to die" and " No place is utterly strange really, and no life more interesting or ridiculous than any other" and " Turn a half lie into the full truth with good storytelling"

The novel is a paean to the trivial and its importance to the society animals who come across as a very strange breed indeed, for their sole aim is to see and be seen at the right places with the right people. Any real achievement, it would seem from the book, is secondary to what is said of them by the hacks of page three and their standing in the cocktail circuit. A high degree of visibility is essential for this breed as he\ she makes his\ her appearance in The Jaipur Polo Grounds, in farmhouse parties thrown by the glitterati, at exhibitions and sponsored fashion shows, at the right hotels, dressed in the right couture, sipping the right wines, talking to the right people. And all the while they're watched and written about by the page three hack, whom they love to hate. As for the reader of this novel-he\ she has got to be an avid page three reader to be really able to comprehend and appreciate the book. One must admit that it is fun to read the book once. The second time? Whoever reads yesterday's news today?