New Delhi, Feb. 17: Guest is god, it has been decreed by Sant Singh Chatwal, the New York hotel magnate providing an exotic taste of India to nearly 400 foreign mehmans, mostly American, attending the weeklong wedding of his son Vikram to Delhi model-cum-actress Priya Sachdev.
The story so far: having started with a party thrown by Queenie Dhody, a Mumbai socialite, at the Grand Intercontinental in Mumbai, the wedding party has now arrived in the capital via two nights of magic at Shiv Niwas Palace and Jagmandir in Udaipur and an afternoon at Devigarh Fort just outside.
On one occasion, a worried receptionist telephoned Chatwal to point out that one of his guests, a big name foreign VIP, had clocked up a room service and mini-bar bill of $900.
Chatwal, with bigger things on his mind, such as ensuring that Bill Clinton’s favourite cranberry juice is ready in his suite when his best friend arrives in Delhi, wasn’t pleased to be bothered with such trivia.
“I don’t care if it’s $9,000,” he exploded. His rule was that from “the moment of arrival in India to the moment of takeoff” back to more than 10 countries from where his guests have come, “they should not have to put their hand in their pocket”, Chatwal told The Telegraph during a rare break in proceedings.
One American went to the hotel checkout, waving his plastic, to be told by a polite clerk: “Everything’s been taken care of, sir.”
Chatwal grinned: “He couldn’t believe it.”
The theme for the party at Shiv Niwas was “Pakeeza”, meaning pure, which entailed everything being done up in white. Even tree trunks were wrapped in white cotton, silk or georgette.
Guests were showered with jasmine petals from the palace ramparts by graceful women in white saris, before walking through a curtain of fragrant white flowers and past a hijra making eyes. On hand were aspects of everyday Indian life ' fire-eaters, men dressed up as Rajput warriors of old and even an elephant painted white (Chatwal’s little joke).
According to Chatwal’s wife, Daman, he has been working nearly 18 hours a day for the best part of a year to keep his promise to his son: “I told Vikram, ‘When you decide to get married, I promise you the wedding of the year’.”
For several months, his military-style planning has involved recruiting a team, now running into hundreds and headed by a de facto chief of staff and events organiser, Vandana Mohan, from Delhi.
On the question of how much flowers she could buy, for example, Chatwal gave her carte blanche: “There is no limit.”
When the sums are done, she will have bought anything between 50,000 and 100,000 kilos of flowers, including consignments from Holland.
Even the marble elephants that surround the Jagmandir palace, where Prince Khurram, it is said, once took refuge from Jehangir’s rage, were garlanded. Baskets full of petals were tossed into the waters around the palace so that they could be seen bobbing up and down on a moonlit night.
A few weeks ago, the rains came, filling Lake Piccola, which has been dry for years.
Chatwal called it divine intervention. “Others did not believe me but I knew there would be water,” he said, his eyes rolling towards the heavens.
There is, naturally, a great deal of attention being given to food, though some instruction might have helped.
Raj Rao, an Indian from San Diego who came for a couple of years but has now decided to stay in India, was in charge of catering in Udaipur.
He saw something that can scarcely be mentioned in polite society: “An American put dal on his biryani, then heaped raita on top of the dal, and then some vegetables on top of the raita.”
The poor man can hardly be blamed, considering for the party in Shiv Niwas, for example, he had a choice of 42 dishes.
Rao provided a few dishes that even the Indians appreciated: “Dhumba, which is a whole roasted goat; Irani kofta curry; Nihari; Raan Mussallam, which is smoked meat typical of the north-west frontier; stuffed gulab jamun; and kadahi doodh. I had a staff of 120 ' 60 to cook and 60 to serve.”
Some guests, including the late Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, are keeping a low profile.
It can be disclosed that the one man who pulled rank was Amar Singh. At Shiv Niwas, only his flashy white BMW was allowed to proceed beyond the point where all other guests had to alight. “Security,” muttered a PR girl.
One American woman, not realising she was dealing with modern-day Indian royalty, asked him to move when he interrupted her view of filmi dancing.
He did not protest, “It’s my right at all times to sit in the front row, as established by the Dubai amendment to the Indian constitution,” but politely moved, and later even did a little jig on the dance floor.