An intimate dinner with a few people can be fun and special. Unlike parties with lots of people – they tend to get noisy and, at times, rowdy – smaller dinners allow people to share their experiences, their joys, their sorrows, share a few laughs and enjoy a grand meal.
I have always dreamt of inviting to dinner a small group of people that I obviously don’t know, but admire. Since I revere a whole host of people, choosing just a few for a private dinner was no easy task. But I have taken the leap and here are the ten that I would absolutely love to invite. Of course, all of you would have your own favourites and it would be fun to know who you would have opted for. And why.
Roger Federer, Tennis Great
There is no doubt that Federer is the most successful tennis player in the history of the game. As a player, I rate Björn Borg higher; within a short period from 1974 and 1981, he won five singles Wimbledon and six singles French Open titles, an astonishing feat considering that the surfaces of the two Grand Slams – grass and clay – are radically different. Very few people have been as consistent on both as Borg. However, Federer’s achievements are astounding as well – the highest number of singles Grand Slam titles – 17 – with wins in each of the four tournaments, the most number of titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open and a consistency that is unmatched.
Why I admire Federer is because he is appears so gracious, both on and off the court. He is also brutally honest about his views, while remaining respectful to the other people in the room. In short, he seems a perfect gentleman and is a consummate champion. To add to that he is, seemingly, a good family man and a generous human being. He has his own charities and contributes to other charities around the world.
I am sure he would be delightful company.
Paul McCartney, The Music Man
Let’s just say that I am a Beatles freak; I own ALL the albums of the group and several solo albums that the four ex-Beatles recorded after the Beatles disbanded.
There is no question that the Beatles are the greatest rock band the world has ever seen. Within a short period of seven years, the band came out with a series of albums that were not just popular but highly inventive and critically acclaimed. To understand the stupefying progress that the band made in seven short years, you just have to contrast their earlier albums – Please, Please Me and With the Beatles – with the later ones – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.
Paul McCartney was one of two principal songwriters of the Beatles – the other being John Lennon; his song writing partnership with Lennon is one of the most celebrated of the 20th century. He was possibly the most popular of the four Beatles (some would argue that Lennon was equally popular) given his good looks, his silky voice and his versatility as a songwriter and instrumentalist. It is not surprising that he has had the most successful career as a solo artist amongst the four Beatles.
Apart from rock music, McCartney has composed classical and electronic music as well. He has also taken part in projects to promote international charities related to such subjects as animal rights, seal hunting, landmines, vegetarianism, poverty, and music education.
Sir Paul is one of the great icons of our times and would be a valued guest at my dinner!
Vishwanathan Anand, Chess Genius
Most Indians consider Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest sportsperson India has ever had. I beg to differ; for me, Vishy Anand is the greatest sportsperson India has ever had.
Anand has won the World Chess Championship five times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), and was the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013. He was the FIDE World Rapid Chess Champion in 2003, and is widely considered the strongest rapid player of his generation.
He lost his world title to Magnus Carlsen in a match at Chennai in 2013. However, what is remarkable is that he convincingly won the 2014 Candidates Tournament to challenge Carlsen again, even though nobody, just nobody gave him a chance.
Vishy is the most versatile chess champion and that is demonstrated by the fact that he is the only chess player to have won world championship titles in three different formats – tournament, match, knockout, as well as rapid time controls.
Though a truly great champion, Anand is modest and highly liked by his opponents. He has never been in any controversy whatsoever and conducts himself with immense dignity. In short, he exudes niceness. I strongly feel that he deserved the Bharat Ratna before Sachin (and just so I don’t upset a lot of you, let me clarify that I have always adored Sachin as a sportsperson and a human being).
I would love to have Vishy Anand as my dinner guest.
Barrack Obama, US President
The most influential and powerful man in the world would be a great addition to my dinner party. Obama seems to possess qualities that make him endearing to normal people as well as to powerful leaders in the world. His charm, charisma and intelligence are some of his facets that I, and most people around the world, admire. His less than stellar record as President of the United States notwithstanding, he is erudite and would offer great company.
His rise up the ranks in American politics has always fascinated me, especially considering that he created history as the first African-American President of the US. His journey to the White House, the struggles, the prejudices he must have faced, and his model family life are just some of the topics of discussion that I would like to engage in with him. Also, it helps that he loves music – always a great conversation starter.
Robert De Niro, Actor Extraordinaire
My first glimpse of De Niro was in Godfather Part II in which he portrayed the young Vito Corleone (the role of the older Vito Corleone was played by Marlon Brando in Godfather). Seeing him in that movie, one knew instinctively that he was destined for greater things.
In just a few years after Godfather Part II, he starred in a series of stunning movies like Taxi Driver, New York, New York, The Last Tycoon, The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull (for which he received his second Oscar, the first being for Godfather Part II). His performances in all of them were unforgettable.
De Niro is, without doubt, one of the greatest actors Hollywood has ever seen. He has also been extremely productive, acting in a number of movies, some not so good. In fact, many people have questioned many of his choices of movies and I would certainly be asking him the same question at dinner.
That apart, I will get him to reminiscence about his sterling career.
Meryl Streep, the Prima Donna
Meryl Streep is the greatest living actress and one of the greatest actresses of all times – nobody will argue with that. With 18 Oscar nominations (the most by any actor, male or female), Meryl Streep can play a mailbox and be good at it.
I remember seeing her in Julia (a bit role) and then in The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer. Not conventionally beautiful like many other actresses, she was, and remains, very charming and attractive and, boy, can she act!
I mean, just look at the amazing range of roles that she has enacted – Sophie’s Choice, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Silkwood, Plenty, Out of Africa, Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada and The Iron Lady – to name a few, and you know what makes her so special.
Learning about her approach to her craft and the preparation that goes into making movies that matter would be something that would be the major topic of discussion at the dinner.
Oprah Winfrey, Talk Show Hostess and Philanthropist
Many consider Oprah Winfrey to be the most influential woman in the world. On the back of the award winning talk show – The Oprah Winfrey Show – she is the richest African-American, the greatest black philanthropist in American history and North America’s only black billionaire.
Yet, Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother. She had to undergo extreme hardship during her childhood; she has mentioned that she was raped when she was just nine and became pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy. She was sent to live with a man she calls her father in Tennessee; there Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19. Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime-talk-show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.
I would love to pick her brain for the night and try to figure out what makes her the person she is – smart, caring and ambitious.
Elizabeth II, The Queen!
Inviting royalty to my dinner is a scary prospect; inviting ‘The Queen’ is downright terrifying!
What fascinates me about Queen Elizabeth is that she has been the constitutional monarch of the Commonwealth realms and the head of the Commonwealth of Nations since 1952. In that period, she would have interacted with many American presidents, British prime ministers and scores of other heads of state. I mean, if you were to just look at the number of US Presidents she would have interacted with, they would be Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama. With more to come!
In the 56 years that she has been Queen, she would also have seen major changes in the UK and around the world and it would be fascinating to talk with her about her observations of the world and how it has changed over the last 50 years or so.
J. K. Rowling, Author
J. K. Rowling’s is the ultimate ‘rags to riches’ story – she moved from living on state benefits to becoming a multi-millionaire in five short years.
Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. The seven-year period that followed entailed the death of her mother, divorce from her first husband and poverty until Rowling finished the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
The Potter books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. They have become the best-selling book series in history and been the basis for a series of films which has become the highest-grossing film series in history.
It would be fascinating to hear her talk of her determination at a time of acute uncertainty and, possibly, misery.
Narendra Modi, Indian Politician
NaMo, as he is affectionately known, is the ‘man of the moment’ in Indian politics and is creating quite the buzz too. He is touted by many to be India’s next Prime Minister.
Why does he make my list? There is no question that Modi is one of the most loved and reviled figures in Indian politics. Although adored by a large section of Indians, he has been attacked incessantly by his opponents, by virtually the entire media and by people from around the world, largely due to his supposed complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Yet, there is a lot to admire in him. He was born in a poor, lower caste (God, how I hate writing about caste) family. However, despite his humble background, he has surmounted all odds to become the Prime Minister nominee of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
His success as a Chief Minister has been incredible owing to his drive and passion for governance. He is hardworking, incorruptible and a great communicator. He also talks about development and good governance, music to the ear of long suffering Indians. What is truly amazing is his equanimity under intense attack from all quarters; I really doubt if anyone else could have withstood the abuse that he has been subjected to by so many.
Picking his brains on the problems that are plaguing India and finding out about his solutions would be quite fascinating.
With these ten people as my guests, I am sure that I would have the dinner of a lifetime!
Note: Information on some of the speakers courtesy Wikipedia.