No such thing as a free dinner : The Tribune India

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No such thing as a free dinner

No such thing as  a free dinner

Photo for representational purpose only.



Chetana Vaishnavi

THE organising secretary conveyed to us happily: ‘We have all been invited for dinner at the Palace of Westminster tomorrow evening!’ I wasn’t quite happy about the announcement as it impacted our itinerary. A group of us had travelled from New Delhi to London for an international medical conference at the Royal Society of London about a decade and a half ago. It was a package tour and we had already paid our share to the travel agent to manage our expenses and hotel accommodation.

Soon, each one of us received a printed card from a ‘Lord’, who was to act as our host at the ‘grand reception’ for the conference. It was a personalised invitation to the members’ dining room with our names handwritten on the cards as well as the envelopes. Admittance was by invitation only.

Not to miss such an occasion, most of my group members decided to go, and I agreed to join them. There was a dress code of black bow ties and national dress for all invitees. The men in our group reluctantly bought the bow ties, considering it an additional expense in a foreign country where everything was pricey by Indian standards.

Our bus dropped us near the Parliament. After walking for a furlong or so, we reached the venue, where armed police officers and security guards were present. We waited in a queue for a long time before being subjected to biometric surveillance. We were scanned thoroughly to check for possession of restricted items. Next, we were photographed and given a visitor’s pass for entry, which we had to display around our necks all the while.

Once we entered the building, the Lord accompanied us and showed us public galleries. Then he ushered us to the House of Commons, informing us that the government was formed by the party with the largest number of members in the Commons and was composed of important leaders of the main political parties who worked there and proposed laws to be enacted. Subsequently, he took us to the House of Lords and told us that this was the place where the proposed laws were made and shaped.

I looked around to see if there was any place for dinner. In a congested area, a few waiters were carrying plates. These plates appeared to have tidbits, which we hardly saw as the stuff vanished before reaching us. ‘Never mind the snacks, we will have dinner,’ I thought. Another hour passed by with many of the delegates eagerly awaiting dinner. Then, information reached us that only those who would pay would be served dinner.

That did it. Slowly, one by one, each participant left the place without having a meal. The organising secretary cut a sorry figure. He felt immensely guilty.

#England #London


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