ALMOST EVERY YEAR for nearly two and a half decades, Shekhar Gupta hosted a party on Diwali.
In 1990, when the tradition started, he was a senior editor at India Today magazine. His home was one floor of a house in a colony near the Indian Institute of Technology in south Delhi, and the party was a modest, intimate affair—a few friends, relatives and colleagues, some of whom lived alone, celebrating the festival with him, his wife, and their two children. There was serviceable, fusty catering, sometimes from the India International Centre, and the guests doubled up as bartenders.
In 2003, after an eight-year period during which he became first editor, then CEO, of the Indian Express, transforming it into the capital’s most influential newspaper, Gupta bought a large house in the same neighbourhood. The party grew with him. A scrum of official vehicles—red beacons flashing, sirens wailing—choked the narrow street outside. As their wards hobnobbed, National Security Guard commandos would eat together in an area set aside for staff. The “entire local thana” would be present because of all the VIPs, someone who attended the parties since the early 1990s told me. Cabinet ministers, top bureaucrats, intelligence officers and senior cops mingled with famous journalists. High commissioners clinked glasses with leading intellectuals and industrialists. “If you wish to rub shoulders with the political, business and media glitterati of Delhi and Mumbai,” an article on the capital’s “A-list” in India Today told readers a few years ago, “get invited.”