Gearing up for the Games

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While preparing for the 2010 Commonwealth Games every day will start with a fresh crisis, bringing with it unanticipated setbacks and synchronisation gone awry. But by this time next year, Delhi will shine and the Games will be magnificent enough to catapult the city to bid for the 2020 Olympics

When Delhi was bidding for the Commonwealth Games in 2003, I was the Chief Secretary of the State and the head of the bureaucracy. A high-powered delegation had come to appraise our potential and suitability to host the Games for which we had prepared our own minutely planned display of competence and hospitality.

When we were at the final stage of near acceptance, the Lieutenant-Governor hosted a lunch at the Imperial Hotel in honour of the visiting delegates. A long table was set out in the colonial lunchroom overlooking the lush green lawns outside. At one end sat the L-G and the other the Chief Secretary — your humble columnist. To my left and right sat four distinguished foreigners whom I regaled with my repertoire of Delhi stories, the picture of elegance in my navy blue crepe sari and a double string of pearls.

The conversation was spirited enough and the menu classic Mughlai. The liveried waiters waltzed around the table, announcing the name of the dish one by one. I heard a gloved waiter bending over one of the honoured guests announcing “kofta curry” which he then proffered from his silver tray. The announcement was received with smiles and gushes.

When my turn came, I said “no, thank you” but almost instantaneously felt something warm going down my back. Continuing the conversation, I put my fork down and slipped my hand over my back. It was wet, sticky and still warm. From the texture and odour I realised to my horror that the waiter who had least expected a “no” from me had gauchely sloshed the kofta curry down my back. I had the choice of making a trifle out of the situation and risking an unpredictable reaction from the very guests we desperately sought to impress, or slipping out quietly, hoping to control the damage. I chose the latter.

As I rose discarding my starched napkin nonchalantly behind me, I drew my sari’s pallu around me and hurried to the women’s restroom. I was furious with the Imperial Hotel management and the imbecile waiter in particular. If Delhi lost the bid for the Commonwealth Games, the Imperial Hotel would be largely responsible, I thought, still smarting from the gumminess on my back. I had hardly stepped into the corridor outside when two women in smart coats, black and gold nameplates, high heels and coiffured hair flanked me on either side and shepherded me into the restroom. Apologising profusely with every step we took in unison, they tried their best to mollify me with radiant smiles. The bungling waiter had been smart enough to pass the word to the management before I could.

Inside Imperial Hotel’s restroom, glowing with red teak wood, shining mirrors and burnished brass, I was disrobed from top to bottom, and swaddled inside an enormous white dressing gown in a trice. Seated like an elderly mannequin before a mirror twice my size it was difficult to look angry as I observed my ridiculous reflection bundled up in layers of heavy toweling. The two women executives pleaded with me to relax for a few minutes and they would be right back. As the Chief Secretary of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, I had little choice but to comply, praying no member of the delegation would choose to visit the restroom just then.

Lo and behold, in less than 10 minutes, the two women were back carrying five pieces of clothing wrapped in discreet covers, freshly drycleaned and ironed to perfection. They dressed me up as though they had been professionally trained to assist hapless guests to tie saris to perfection. One helped me with the pleats while the other twisted my hair and fixed it with a clutch. In 11 minutes flat I re-entered the lunch room and slid into my Regency chair as though nothing had happened. Only the plate had been changed as the maitre d’ personally served up the kulfi with an expert flourish.

And so it shall be with the Commonwealth Games. For the next 11 months we will see bedlam on the roads and at every Games site. Every day will start with a fresh crisis, yet another unanticipated setback and synchronisation gone awry. But by this time next year, the MCD would have magically carpeted the roads, painted and perfected the road berms, the NDMC would have resurrected Connaught Place to its former glory, the Metro would be gliding overhead and plumes of exotic foliage would have sprung up everywhere. The sports stadia would have received the Imperial Hotel treatment 10 times over. Every electric wire would be secretly tucked away and every scrap of rubble smoothened out of sight.

Schools and offices would be subtly encouraged to keep their wards at home. Miraculously Delhi’s population oozing everywhere, jostling, honking, peeing away would vanish as it does on Sundays, preferring to watch the games or blockbuster movies from home. Delhi will shine, the Games will outshine and the grand finale will make history — magnificent enough to catapult the city to bid for the Olympics 2020. Imperially.

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