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Chief Guests? Never!
by Vijai Pant

Perplexed, but at the same time pleased, I promptly accepted the invitation of the unknown caller to be the ‘Chief Guest’ along with my wife in a school’s Annual Function. I didn’t want the person at the other end to have second thoughts. Not only that I profusely thanked him for bestowing this privilege on me. And by doing so I immediately brought down my importance a notch or two in his ‘unseeing’ eyes.

Reason being that the SOP to be followed in such a case, as I later came to know from an army friend of mine is to keep the matter on hold and to tell the host to get back to the invitee after two-three days. “And when he would do so you must impress on him that you had to juggle around with dates since your diary was chock-a-block with prior commitments, and that somehow you have made yourself available. The whole thing should sound as if you were doing a great favour to him by accepting the invitation,” was the profound advice of my friend.

And here I was making the cardinal error of letting him share my elation at being made ‘Chief Guest’. Anyhow, with the same high spirits off we went to the school on the stipulated date and time.

Now without the gun toting guards or a retinue announcing our arrival should we really blame our host for not coming to know that the ‘Chief Guests’ had arrived? But once that realization dawned, someone made a dash for the bouquets. Another person hollered for the photographer and the ‘welcome moments’ were freezed.

My name in the welcome speech made me cock up my ears because my introduction made me as much aware of my contributions to society as the gathering. The anchor took a merry turn from the script in which I had mentioned my modest achievements. In the process of upgrading my ordinary work to an extraordinary level he made me cross landmarks which, knowing my limitations, I would never ever dream of. Maybe my humble credentials as an educationist and writer did not do full justice to the exalted status of ‘Chief Guest’. As the crowd generously applauded I squirmed in my seat. “What about those present here who ‘really’ know me? What would they make of it?” were the questions which justifiably worried me.

The inaugural speech over, we were invited on stage for lighting of the lamp. But then, hold on, we were not the only ones. Can you beat it the solitary candle was passed around to more than a dozen people, nearly all the front rowers, who materialized from nowhere to be a part of the ceremony. In fact, we the ‘Chief Guests’ nearly got lost in the crowd.

By now the initial euphoria had started waning. The anchor, in between performances further rubbed it in by gratefully naming nearly everyone present as ‘Special Guests’ and thanking them for their esteemed presence.

The on stage performances were pedestrian, but then we could not simply get up and leave, which we so badly wanted to do. Obviously then we were genuinely relieved when the curtains came down and we eventually reached home, but only to find another ‘Chief Guest’ invite waiting for us.

Yeah right guess.