It’s been a while since I hung out at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington DC, a fine journalistic resource and watering hole, of which I was a member for many years. There was a time I was quite a regular there, not so much for imbibing, but because in the early-Internet, pre-Google days, the library was an excellent resource and one got to network in the rest of the club (which just couple blocks from the White House), after briefings and press conferences. It also had a small, compact gym that I used regularly for several years. Back in the 1990s, a gaggle of us foreign correspondents from different parts of the world met for coffee each day at around 3 p.m. and I struck enduring friendships with Thomas Gorguissian, Rafiq Malouf and other hacks over fervid discussions on weighty world issues and Washington tattle that included the peccadilloes of various Clintonistas.
High-speed Internet, search engines, streaming video etc then brought the world to our fingertips, and over time, my visits to both NPC and the FPC (Foreign Press Center) located on the eighth floor of the same building, became less frequent, particularly after I moved to the burbs. Sadly, I even allowed my membership to lapse. On the odd occasion I stopped by for an event, the place seemed quite bleak and desolate, with only superannuated, geriatric journos hanging around the place.
So imagine my surprise when I returned to the old watering hole last night – thanks to my good friend Kapil Sharma of Tatas — for what turned out to be a lively, bibulous, and a very Indian/Desi evening. It turned out that NPC was inaugurating its new (107th) President, and the club decided that it was about time it cranked up its profile and image, which has diminished over the years (despite every U.S President since Teddy Roosevelt making a mandatory appearance at the club rostrum, not to speak of foreign leaders, including Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi). It couldn’t have chosen a better guy than Myron Belkind to turn it on, and while some of it was over the top, it was all good fun.
Myron is a familiar figure to many Indians, most notably because he was the Associated Press bureau chief in New Delhi in the 1970s, including throughout the Emergency (”Both Indira Gandhi and I went out together, but she made a comeback and I didn’t,” he joked, when I asked him about his time in India). He may not have made a comeback, but India certainly stayed with him. He married his Indian wife Rachel (and the two met Mrs G while they were dating) and although they traversed the world after that during Myron’s four decades of foreign correspondentship, the Indian influence never left him.
If anything, it evidently got stronger, judging by the way things unfolded at this inauguration last night. Guests were invited to dress in ethnic togs, preferably desi attire, with Myron himself nattily dressed in a Nehru jacket, and Rachel draped in a sari. Some of the NPC staff also took the cue and wore sarees. They had a crew doing mehndi for female guests. There was a long, elaborate tutorial on the meaning of ”Namaste.” The dinner menu included a mixed tandoori grill, and there was even a Bhangra troupe that topped off the evening.
Only caparisoned elephants were missing. I’d say the Delhi and Bangalore Press Clubs would have been quite thrilled with this desification of the National Press Club of Washington.
Here are a couple of photos that capture the evening…not very good ones because I was using an iPhone in bad light; I’d have carried a better camera if I knew the evening would turn out this way. And yes, I’m renewing my NPC membership.