>> Lunch at Saryu Doshi’s is always a feast for the senses. The celebrated art historian, academic, author and patron of the arts always manages to bring together a blend of the finest people, conversations, food and ideas. And so, when she hosted a lunch in honour of old friend Vishakha Desai, (who she had taught briefly at Michigan University) we were looking forward to an afternoon that was a cornucopia of delights.

And we were not disappointed. From the stunning canvasses on the walls, (Hussain, Menon, Raza) to the delicate Maharaj — prepared traditional vegetarian fare on the exquisitely set table, to the fresh pomegranate juice to the guests invited — Saryu proved that when it comes to entertaining, money talks but class whispers.

Powerful women of the city raise a toast during a lunch as Saryu Doshi's residence.
Powerful women of the city raise a toast during a lunch as Saryu Doshi’s residence. 

Partaking of her hospitality were some of Mumbai’s leading artsy women: chief guest Vishakha Desai, of course, Asia Society’s India head Bunty Chand, gallerist and author Pheroza Godrej, the Harmony Foundation’s Preeti Ambani, Sotheby’s former Maithili Parikh, breast cancer activist and philanthropist Devieka Bhojwani, Namita Saraf of the Hyatt group responsible for the wonderful art initiatives that the group has undertaken, philanthropist Minal Bajaj and the afternoon’s crowning glory: not one but two former female Mumbai Sheriffs: educationist Indu Shahani and entrepreneur and philanthropist Bakul Patel!

Saryu Doshi and Vishakha Desai
Saryu Doshi and Vishakha Desai

How many tables can boast that? Many years ago, Saryu had hosted the late great Jackie Kennedy, another famous artsy and powerful lady in this very home and seated there we could almost hear the breathy laughter and sparkling conversation that she was legendary for. Of such Mumbai afternoons memories are made.

Female Power
>> However, Powell did break through her politically correct policy driven speech when Desai asked her what it felt like to be the first female US Ambassador to India.

Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton
Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton

“There have been three female US secretaries of state recently,” she replied alluding to the terms of Albright, Rice and Clinton. “One of them was even black,” she added. “And there are people in the department who have never had the experience of working for a male secretary of state,” she smiled. “Hopefully, these firsts will be a thing of the past.

Condoleeza Rice
Condoleeza Rice

I am aware of another glass ceiling that we have,” she said referring to a US female presidency “but hopefully that will happen too.” For herself, Powell said she was happy that one of the first thing she had done after her appointment to Delhi was to install a bust of America’s most high-profile feminist leader, its former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “The US Ambassador’s residence is called Roosevelt house,” she informed the audience. “And, of course, it contained the bust of the our respected president. But since my coming I am happy to say that it now also has a statuette of Eleanor!”

Diplomatic jugalbandi
>> There was a fair amount of diplomatic jugglery on Monday night at the Asia Society talk between Asia Society’s outgoing international President Vishakha Desai and Nancy Powell, the incoming US ambassador to India. While the talk between two women at the height of their careers covered a whole range of topics from Indo-US nuclear cooperation to the US presence in Afghanistan, the topic that got most the attention of the high-powered audience was the imminent US elections.

Nancy J Powel Laxman Shreshta
US Ambassador to India Nancy J Powell. (Right) Laxman Shreshta

How would India fare were there to be a change of leadership in November enquired Powell’s adept interlocutor Desai — given that Romney had not quite spelt out his thoughts on the region? “I’m a career diplomat,” smiled Powell ever on alert about political exigencies. And while I think it would be best not to answer that, I would like to point out that not only was mine a nonpartisan appointment but that as far as foreign policy is concerned there is a commonality of approach between both parties in America, and therefore very little difference to choose from.” Hmmm, somehow the audience that comprised of some of Mumbai’s most informed denizens the likes of Nimesh Kampani, Micky Doshi, Charles and Monica Correa, Uday Kotak, Laxman Shreshta, Smita Parekh, Sangita Jindal, Nazneen Karmali, Suketu Shah and Ajay Kejriwal didn’t look too convinced by that response.

Everyone knows that Indo-US relations have flourished in Republican presidencies. Though why that should be so will take an after dinner lecture by a suitably inebriated policy wonk to explain.

Will they, won’t they?
>> The lovely Bunty Chand who along with her able team is responsible for putting Asia Society on the map in India informed us that the Tim Sebastian–Prithviraj Chavan interview that the Society was hosting on Thursday at the YB Chavan might not happen after all! Prior commitments have changed the program somewhat she said.

Staff members of the Asia Society India Centre
Staff members of the Asia Society India Centre 

Oh well, it seemed like a great idea.