This Wednesday marked the sixth death anniversary of the late Gayatri Devi, the erstwhile Maharani of Jaipur, who was known towards the latter part of her life as 'The Rajmata.' We had the privilege of meeting her on many occasions professionally and socially, but our first encounter with her had been late at night at Delhi airport.
Her car had not come to receive her, she was unaccompanied and we had offered to drop her. Without fuss and utterly accessible, she had talked throughout the car journey and the next day, we had received a lovely handwritten note thanking us for our thoughtfulness and inviting us to tea!
Rajmata Gayatri Devi in Jaipur. Pic/AFP
Many years later we had to meet her in Jaipur for a story we had been commissioned to write on her by the British glossy, Harpers and Queen. She had asked if we could meet initially at the Polo Bar at the Rambagh Palace to discuss the interview and photo shoot, which was supposed to be conducted at her home, Lily Pool the next morning.
We recall the effect her imminent presence had on the staff at the bar. Moments before she arrived, the atmosphere turned electric, and the bartender began frantically arranging the bottles and glasses on the counter. Other members of the hotel began discreetly checking their watches, or straightening their ties.
She might have spent each evening there, but she was still the Queen. Two stories bring out her intrinsic sophistication and ability not to take her too seriously. At what was to be our final interview with her, we recall asking her how she'd like to be remembered. What monument would she like built in her memory, we'd asked.
"In my memory," she'd said her mischievous eyes belying her octogenarian status. "They should build a pub!" Beautiful, feisty, glamorous and totally unpretentious, there have been few like her.
Monsoon ragas in Mumbai
"I really look forward to performing in Mumbai as always! I will be presenting ragas from the Malhar family as I play during the fabulous Mumbai rains!" said the beatific looking Ayaan Ali Khan, son of the great sarod maestro Amjad, and brother of Amaan, who will be performing at a gig early next month.
Ayaan with father Amjad Ali Khan and brother Amaan
The Khans are something of a phenomenon, having managed to make their traditional and esoteric music into a contemporary and international celebration.
"Currently, my brother and I have a new album releasing in September called Soul Strings with violinist Elmira Darvarova, the former Metropolitan Opera concertmaster," said the musician blessed with film star good looks. "We also perform next month at Kilkenny Festival, Ireland, and on Independence day we play at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo.
Black truffles and an opera singer in the kitchen
Those who appreciate such things, will be happy to learn that there is a large supply of black summer truffles currently in the city. Le Cirque, the iconic restaurant brand from New York, which has an offshoot at the Leela Hotel in Mumbai, is hosting a three week long black truffle festival.
Valentina Amati and Dinesh Nair
The menu has been put together by the Italian-born head chef of the restaurant, Chef Valentina Amati. Though any mention of fresh truffles is enough to make us venture across the sea link, the real star of the night was the soft-spoken chef herself.
Valentina, who grew up in a small Italian town called Rimini, was born into a family of cooks, and developed her hobby of cooking, watching her grandmother in the kitchen. But that's not her only talent. The Rubenesque charmer who moved to India with her husband six months ago having previously worked at Le Cirque in New York, and with Japanese chef Morimoto, is also a trained opera singer.
"I carried the truffles into India in tightly sealed vacuum bags," she told us, pointing to the superb truffle menu at an affordable price that she has created (unlike the over priced truffle dishes at Ellipses that feature weak, non fragrant truffles).
The highlights of Chef Valentina's tasting menu are the perfectly cooked scrambled eggs topped with grated truffles, the pan-seared lobster with truffle foam, and the classic tagliolini with perfectly shaved truffles.
Leela's owner, Dinesh Nair joined us for a chinwag during dinner, informing us that the truffle offering has been influenced by his own personal interest in fine eating. And then to prove his point, he whipped out his phone and showed us a virtual gallery of exemplary eating. Hurry, the festival ends we were informed till stocks last!
According to a business insider, there has been an exodus of capital and people from Delhi ever since the BJP has come to power. "All the fat cats whose businesses had been predicated on connections and spurious money, have either gone to settle in London if they can afford the highlife, and the rest in Dubai." The reason? "Everyone in government offices are too scared to accept bribes anymore." And we thought black money was coming back!
Save the date missives have gone out for the forthcoming wedding of Priya, daughter of design maven Kavita, and pharma honcho Jasjit Singh (and cousin of Sonam and Rhea Kapoor).
Sonam Kapoor, Priya Singh, Rekha and Nandini Singh
The celebrations will be taking place in Goa from January 19th to January 21st next year. And unlike the recent trend of wedding guests being expected to buy their own passage to the venue, and pay for their hotel rooms, this one harks back to the gracious old days.
Singh, after all, is renowned for her style and grace. But breaking away from tradition, the communiqué has been sent not by the parents of the bride, but a very professional event manager. The times they are changing.