BENGALURU: As a room filled with middle-aged and older women gush ear-to-ear in their designer cocktail dresses, I sheepily enter, almost apologetic of my casual denims.
To err with fashion is still human, but to err with my sparkly ‘Kanye West’ sneakers was definitely a sin, which I realise as I make way among eye rolls to find a corner.
The very few men in this living room at Waverly seem a bit annoyed as the wait grows longer. “Where is Jeffrey Archer?,” one man dressed in a waistcoat asks.
“He might take a while. He is signing copies for his fans downstairs,” an attendant replies with a smile.
Soon the rumbles grow louder, just as the anxiety does in a room that can be best described as – everything expensive. Jeffrey Howard Archer, politician, prisoner and bestselling author is here.
The hostess in her black dress introduces the author to the audience. She tells us about the time she was with him “15 years ago” and how in Cambridge one time, there were three separate lines eagerly awaiting the Brit – “a line for hugging, a line for signing and another for cuddling”, she laughs.
And so does the audience, a few of whom were “grateful” later for their friends who stood in line to get their books signed by the author for them.
Two other journalists found a spot next to me, but left soon after they got the “juicy” bits on Jeffrey talking about the Bengaluru traffic and how a woman walking beside the car overtook him eight times. “Would have been engaged if the traffic lasted longer,” he laughs.
Around this point the hostess gets up, laughing along. An annoyed Jeffrey yells into the mic, “Sit down!” The audience laughs again, so does she.
Dressed in a blue stripped shirt, he answers questions sent to the hostess by a certain “Jamie” about story writing.
He is interrupted twice while answering this question by a mobile phone ringing and another women chatting along in the audience. “Shhhh..” he voices into the mic and then addresses the lady. “Madam, you’ve been trying to communicate to the gentleman across the hall for quite some time now. I’d like you to divert some of that attention on to me now,” he says amidst giggles. The middle aged woman in a tight black skirt is partly blushing now and obliges.
The hostess calls out names from the sharply dressed audience members and requests them to ask questions. Sadly, neither was I friends nor had acquaintance with the hostess or her crowd.
I, however, having prepared a 15 odd questionnaire to ask, wouldn’t have it with the mic tossing between one “Becky with the good hair” to another Crisp Suit, even as Jeffrey went along shushing once in a while and demanding the hostess take her chair instead of standing next to him. He then answers another question on storytelling and says, “Fifty thousand women take me to bed every night and my single purpose is to keep them awake”.
The floor is now open to the last question, announces the hostess. “Divya” (name changed) ask your question, she says. I grab (read snatch) the mic next to me. For a microsecond, I think this would be it. I am going to ask the question that would finally break headline. None of those meanderings about R K Narayan or Indian culture, damn it, let’s break down pulp fiction and pulp politics in the context of Trump win, shall we, I think to myself.
“Hi Jeffrey!” I voice nervously. “Talk louder, dear. I am deaf,” he tells me. “No, not her, she is not Divya!,” yells the hostess. I mouth a “sorry” under my breath for disappointing her and for not being “Divya”. I still have no idea why I did that, neither does the woman sitting next to me, who looked at me with awe at this point. Jeffrey is on my side: “Let her ask. I’ll take one by Divya after hers.”
I am relieved and not apologetic anymore. I ask my question. He explains how the main reason is because, “for the past seven years in the mid US, the minimum wage hasn’t gone up. They would vote for anyone who isn’t a politician”. The room falls silent, politics is clearly not on, but soon “Divya” chuckles to break the pause. “Which is your favourite love story?” she asks.
“Pride and Prejudice,” he replies.
I swoon, “Divya” swoons, we all swoon as the charming Englishman confesses how “Love is very hard”, pauses and adds, “to write about”.
Jeffrey was in the city to launch This Was A Man, the final part of his seven-volume The Clifton Chronicles.