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The other day, responding to my journalist friend Haseeb Siddiqui’s invitation to a party he had thrown for family, friends and other acquaintances, I reached the Uttar Pradesh Press Club [in northern India] — the venue — on time.

While Siddiqui was receiving me and other guests at the entrance, three young men arrived simultaneously and greeted him with a smile. They introduced themselves as close associates of his journalist friend, ‘Chaudhary Sahab’. The youngsters told my friend that since Chaudhary was occupied back home, he could not make it but had deputed them to pay a visit. For a few moments, Siddiqui was foxed. He did not remember this Chaudhary and kept figuring out who this ‘close friend’ was. Even as he was still lost in thoughts, one of the young men said, “Chaudhary Sahab is enamoured by you. He frequently talks about your achievements, your high reputation and standing in your profession”.

In the meantime, the constant flow of guests continued. They were welcomed by Siddiqui and requested to join the party. As the crowd moved towards the lawns, I noticed the three men also following suit.

Gatecrashers have their own modus operandi. They take adequate care and precaution and do a recce of the place to avoid getting caught.

- Lalit Raizada, Indian journalist

I had become suspicious about them as their behaviour did not look normal and they seemed like uninvited guests. But thinking that I might be wrong, I did not discuss my hunch with the host. Nevertheless, I kept a close watch when they started polishing off the delicacies rather hurriedly and retreated hastily.

Later, at the party, I broached the subject with my old friends present at the venue and whom I was seeing after a very long time. They told me that the phenomenon was not new. It prevailed even a few decades back before I moved to New Delhi, the national capital.

But things have changed since then. A growing population in the ever-expanding city of Lucknow has meant more parties, luncheons, dinners, tea parties thereby enlarging the scope for freeloaders gatecrashing them. This count increases massively in the marriage season.

I am told that the gatecrashers have their own modus operandi. They take adequate care and precaution and do a recce of the place to avoid getting caught. They go to overcrowded places where you do not require an invitation card to enter. They find out the name of the host and the nature of the event. More important is the exit gate from where they could sneak out quietly and nonchalantly. These gatecrashers go appropriately dressed and try to look respectable.

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This reminds me of my encounter with a ‘respectable gatecrasher’ years back. While attending a wedding dinner at a relative’s place, I spotted a man, about 60, wearing a grey formal suit complete with a necktie and a bright coloured pocket kerchief popping out.

As he helped himself to a lot of food, I realised that I had seen him at some other weddings wearing the same set of clothing. My instincts warned that he was a gatecrasher. When I told my host, the father of the bride, he said he thought the man was from the groom’s side. Likewise, the groom’s father must have assumed him to be a guest of the bride’s father.

Cornered, the man confessed his misdeed but the reason he gave melted everybody’s heart. The widower revealed that he was a retired person with meagre resources. For some time, his son and daughter-in-law were mistreating him and denying food. The old man was starving and said his hunger drove him to do what no respectable man would like to do.

Moved, the bride’s father ensured that the man was fed to his heart’s content and dropped home by one of his drivers.

— Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.