The other day we went to the Shri Ram Center for Performing Arts at Safdar Hashmi Road near Connaught Place. The hall was brimming with school children and we were fortunate to find two vacant seats out of a total of 403. Kenny G was playing his saxophone in the auditorium while everyone waited for the Mr. Minister to arrive and the live quiz show to begin.
Organized by the Indian Government, the programme took place under the initiative YUVA (Youth Unite for Victory on AIDS). YUVA is also a Hindi word meaning 'youth.' The event's purpose was to test the knowledge of India's young generation about sexual health and HIV/AIDS. This South Asian giant has over five million people infected with AIDS - second highest rate in world.
We employed the interval by flipping through the catalogues placed on each seat. It was dreary to glance through statistics and facts regarding the AIDS scare in India, but it raised our self-opinion — how noble it was for us to come and sacrifice our time to sit through such a boring and worthy cause. The programme schedule indicated that the quiz, which would follow the Minister's speech, would be hosted by Mr. Siddhartha Basu, the celebrity quiz master, the producer of South Asia's biggest TV game show - Kaun Bangea Crorepati - the Indian adaptation of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
The Minister was delayed in his arrival, but he refused to spare us the ordeal of listening to his introductory speech. Speaking in a broken, upper-class Hindi, he threateningly warned that truck drivers were no longer the only carriers of AIDS. Blinded by a flash of spontaneous wisdom, he declared the great Indian culture and its no-sex values were the best safeguard against this epidemic. After a bit of words on a "very handsome, well-built boy" who was jettisoned by his family after he tested positive for HIV and whom he found loitering outside his residence, Mr. Minister settled down to talk at great length about his young daughter.
Only recently completing her graduation in English literature, the minister informed us with fatherly pride, the daughter dear has already visited several countries to attend AIDS-related conferences. We were told that if the minister was too busy to attend the meets, he sent the daughter instead. It was conveyed that she had just returned from attending a conference in Geneva. Finally, Mr. Minister concluded by advising all the youngsters present to follow his daughter's example.