CASTING A LONG LASTING IMPRESSION, THE CASTA WAY

We were approaching the trendy pastel yellow Casta stall; it clearly stood out from the others in terms of its pleasing and aesthetic design. It was tastefully decorated with all the different hues of yellow that signify their house. The meeting lounge, at the corner of the stall was a pleasure to sit at, soft and sleek, giving our tired legs some much-needed solace.

Casta’s attractive kitchen display caught our eyes. The mono-blocks sat majestically at the centre with their stylish lines and the efficient finish of the burners, fryers and the hotplates. The cheerful lava stone grill was a thrill to look at – the round smooth lava stones were displayed discretely, with a component lifted up to show its function and build.

The star TWIN TEPP unit was the show stopper with its well thought-out design of hot and cold surface plates, integrated in a unit. The insulation between the hot and cold surface of minus 38 was expertly done, in a mere 50 mm, yet keeping the TWIN TEPP in one metre dimension. It was so compact – a beauty to look at! The built in self-exhaust system was another enviable USP.

With such amazing equipment, could the chef be left behind? No! The handsome Italian chef in black coat was churning out delicious looking dishes, expertly tossing the newly formed crisp ice from the cold plate on the left to the hot one on the right hand. Tasty aromas hit our nostrils, and our senses went overboard as we longed to sink our teeth into the many gourmet platters on display. These were whipped up in barely a few minutes. The salmon The chef served was so delicious and out of this world, that we were left wondering, can heaven be this close?

The sunshine Italian welcome
Loretta, the boss, was busy giving a TV interview; dressed smartly in a sunshine yellow designer gown, fitted with elegant straps. We stepped aside and waited near the TWIN TEPP unit, examining it with great curiosity. On spotting us, she rushed towards us, and held out a welcoming hand! A bit surprised, I said politely, “We know you are busy, we will wait for you and, in the meanwhile, go around your interesting space.” She would have none of it, though, as she gave us a cheek-cheek peck. When my partner John hesitated, she said seriously, “This is our customary Italian way of welcoming our guests and making them feel at home. We are courteous, loyal, helpful and smile always even if there is no business what so ever.” I was sure impressed with such a rare attitude in these times of global cut throat competitions.

Kuch Kuch at Casta
She entered with a sweet smile, dressed in a gorgeous black skirt suit. She extended a warm handshake and introduced herself as Hind, the export manager at Casta. “I am very fond of India; my name means India in Hindi right? I love the rich culture, the colourful soul and the warmth of the great nation.”

I was bowled over with her introduction. Further pleasantries exchanged, she invoked the magical name India’s heartbeat – Bollywood. “How about allowing me to sing a Bollywood song for you gentlemen.” She asked. We were amused, but agreed. She quickly fished out Shahrukh Khan’s famous song- Kuch Kuch Hota Hai from the ever helpful You Tube. Lo and behold, there she was singing melodiously, “Tum Pass hothe, yuun muskuraate, sapne…ab tho mera dill…jaage na sotha …” Whoosh we were exported back to India in a jiffy by this beautiful export manager! Now the impact was getting deeper – here was a company which knew how to make their guests feel at ease!

She paused and egged us on to join in the chorus. I was swaying and singing along merrily while my partner and our friend Varun, had a rather amused look on their faces. Hind’s voice raised as she sang, “Na jaane kya kya hota hai,” while translating in English for every one’s benefit – “Wonder what happens in love.”

We all laughed and I said, “She does indeed understand the meaning of the song.” To complete the scene, I twirled her into a half circle. She obliged, with graceful steps and giggled. The entire crowd that had gathered by now, smiled and clapped. What a wonderful show this had been!

Need we say more about the great Italian hospitality and their way of creating new friends for life?

And, thank you for the yummy Biscotti box as a parting gift.

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Hospitality
Bangalore.

 

THREE NEPALI ANGELS

My evening walks are a source of happiness and relaxation, especiallythe stretch along the famed Bellandur lake which attracts a huge variety of birds at dusk. I take a detour later to the Sobha promenade, mixing with the other walkers- old and young alike. My tea stop is usually at the club house; after which I proceed to jump into the vast blue pool. After an invigorating swim, I would walk the last stretch and head back home.

I used to watch this new apartment construction coming up rapidly. My current landlord wanted to sell his apartment and I was going to be homeless soon.One evening, I went inside to have a dekko. That was when I saw her, sitting demurely at the gate, a soft looking smooth-cheeked young Nepali lady. Fine featured, yet so simple to look at, she was dressed in a plain churidar. Fish eyed beauty withmermaid locks, I thought to myself.

I asked for the watchman. “Sirji, ek minute,abhibulathihoon,” she said coyly and scampered off. I did not want to trouble her, but couldn’t see anybody else. She ran up the stairs and was back in a minute. ‘Please wait,’ she gasped and dashed off to the basement. Like a tennis ball on a rebound, she was back ina second and ran up this time!

In a flash again, she was back,triumphantly announcing, ‘Sir my husband is coming.’ I was impressed by her eagerness to help and the will to serve without any expectations. She didn’t even know why I wanted to see the watchman.

He came and smilingly asked, “Sir, I am the watchman.How can I help?”

“I am looking for a rented apartment; can you advise if there is a vacant one around here,” I asked.

He showed me a lovely 4th floor unit overlooking the lake. I fell for it and the owner was called. We finalised the deal quickly.I thendecidedtoask the lady to help out in the house hold work– theWife could do well with a decent lady of hercalibre.

We quietly and quickly moved in. My first job was ofcourse to get the gal on work. Kunvanti is her name, so aptfor her well-mannered nature. The Wife hit it off with her like milk and honey and the bonding between them grew steadily.

On my return in the evenings, it became a regular feature for her to sing about the girl’s virtues of obedience, hard work and their friendly chats. The Wife would talk while Kunvantiwould listen in rapt attention, never questioning anything even if it sounded irrational.

She had two adorable girls, aged four and six,who ran around the apartment block, giggling. Her two-year-old boy was such a doll – chubby cheeks and a drooling mouth. One could not resist pecking at his rosy cheeks.While he was always smiling at each passer-by, II was happy because God was smiling in the heavens. All was fine and I was busy trying to concentrate on my work.Until, Damar the husband, quietly dropped a huge bombshell one day, he said “Sirji, am moving my family back to Nepal.I plan to continue farming there as it isdear to me. This watchman’s job is so boring. I plan to move out in a couple of months soplease organise another maid.”

My senses crashed and all I could think of was the Wife- wailing and muttering about her bad luck. I was sure therewouldn’t be dinner today, and my friend Swiggywould be the recourse. I went to her with the breaking news. She went pale and then turned blue. She beat her bosom and let out a moan. “Relax darling,” I said,“Kunvanti has arranged for her friend Jamuna who lives close by. No need to be so hopeless.”

She cheered a bit and sighed with relief, saying, “Hopefully she is a Nepali lass.” I nodded to comfort her, but really didn’t have a clue.

TheShakespeareantragedy wasn’t over yet; the depression continued till Jamuna sauntered in a few days later. She started earnestly the next day onwards – a sweet natured Nepali girl –and, in no time,a new friendship between the women bloomed. I began to hear stories about Jamuna, the ever helpful maid and how well she cleaned the house. The Wifeeven gave her the old mobile for use– with a rider, of course.Use it while in service only. All was well again and God smiled mercifully on us mortals.Slowly,Kunvanti’s stories faded and the ever smiling, beautiful Jamunabecame the apple of the eye.

One fine day, the Wife said, “Don’tworry dear, when I am away in Hyderabad, she will cook for you. She has agreed to come early morning too.”My wife was planning to take care of dad in my native town. “Oh that’s sweet of her, can I see her once since she comes only in the afternoons when I am away. I want to thank her,” I responded.

So the meeting was fixed at 4pm and I was supposed to go home for fifteen minutes.On the D day, as luck would have it, though, I got held up in a site meeting and it was a no show. I entered the house guiltily at 8pm, fearing a strong back lash. The Wife’s face was set and solid. I apologised and she gave mea look that sent a chill down my spine.

However, a few moments later, she said, “Good you didn’t turn up. What a cheeky little thing! What does she mean by coming all decked up like a bride? You should have seen the truckloads of lipstick, powder and rouge on her cheeks. The hairclips on her hair and the bright yellow canary dress with thin dupatta. Gosh, I was shocked! Is that a way to impress someone and by the way, why she coming like that to see you? Tell me?”

I didn’t know what to do! I tried to talk sense, “But, honey, how do I know that? I have never seen the little girl. May be she was excited with the thought of seeing a senior man. Leave it now. These young girls are not mature anyway.”

“I told her not to come tomorrow onwards,” She said and then she wailed again. “Oh I don’t have a maid anymore and no one bothers about this poor lady.”God was surely not smiling this time around and I was wondering if dinner would be served.

Just after this drama, the Wife left for Hyderabad for two months. I was wifeless and maid less. Food and cleaning the house became a pure challenge.
Enter Rekha, the 3rd Nepali beauty.

The house took a dusty shade with piles of unwashed utensils lying for days, with soiled clothes added on. Woolly spiders were marching around – spider man would have felt at home. The bathroom cried for mercy before any attention was heeded to it. A bachelor’s pad would have mocked at this abode of a much married man.

Knock, knock came the sweet sound. There she stood, a cute Nepali lass, “Uncle mujhe watchmanjibeja, kaamkeliye.” I can cook and clean well she said sweetly. It was sounding heavenly, and I silently thanked him. Since I had a good impression of her, I signed up immediately and stared work the next day. Feeling much relieved, I sent a message to the Wifebut there was no reply. I felt uneasy, maybe she didn’t like me appointing her maid. But…I was desperate here.

Rekha would come at 7am daily and do the house hold chores.It was great to see a pleasant face and have someone to chat with.The house had been so empty with the Wife away. Rekha would make tea and go about her other work, finishing in half an hour to report in a nearby apartment.

Initially, she was quiet and gave answers only when I asked her questions. She had a one-year-old baby girl andher husband worked in the temple, nearby, distributing Prasad and helping with other activities.

Over time, she got bolder and conversed more, talking about her dad and her granddad, who was a watchman. It was a good half an hourspent each morning chatting with this youngster. Her goals and aspirations are so different and fresh –mirroring those of the typical millennials. Days moved on quickly.

Rekha used to bring an old five litre used plastic bottle that had been discarded. Diligently, she would fill water from the water filter and carry it home. I watched this for days and said, “You know it is dangerous to use the old plastic bottles don’t you.The particles get into the water, causing serious contamination. So why don’t you get a steel container?

“Uncle ji, I don’t have so much money to invest, so I will have to make do with this” She said, sadly. I decided to give her a 5 litre milkcan. You should have seen the joyous expression on her delighted face. She thanked me profusely. “Let me make you a nice dish.What will you have for breakfast?” she asked. I told her that my favourite is egg burji. She quickly whipped up a deliciousburji, a bit spicy, but so tasty.

I went to Shanghai for a week and the day I returned, theWife was also scheduled to arrive home. She was introduced to Rekha that morning and I ceremoniously sang praises of her housekeeping skills. She did a polite Namaste. I gave her the Shanghai sweets saying that they were for her baby girl.

And what was the Wife’s reaction? Well, with a stern face, she simply said, “Oh I don’t like her, she is too beautiful. That’s why the home is a mess. I don’t want her! Tell her not to come from tomorrow.”

The next day I heard the familiar words echoing loudly “I don’t have a maid and no bothers about this poor lady”
And the saga continued….

 

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Group

Heron’s Greed

The morning walk at the scenic Kaikondahalli Lake was relaxing, mind so refreshed on seeing the wonderful birds taking flight around the manmade island in the centre. The cackle of the red beaked water fowls added to the serene settings, not noisy but genteel. The nearby Heron was best on its acting skills, it just stood so still, even a rock statue would get a big complex seeing the bird unmoving! The other birds especially the cormorant was playing diving games on and off nearby. The water beetles were gliding on the glassy water surface while the red wattle lapwings were screeching merrily near the Heron. The raucous racket didn’t affect the statue bird one bit, in its steadfast steady gaze. No distractions nor diversions what so ever. What an actor of a bird!! I was the curious by stander watching the fun, bit funny yet unsure and wondering if the bird will ever make the slightest motion. Eons passed. Out of the blue actually grey water, a big cormorant dashed out with a silver fish strapped in, struggling to get out of the clutches of the strong beak. The Heron could not resist seeing the glistening treat to be; and it moved to see the catch and the commotion!! Aha, the food can be a big bait? No wonder the smartest fishes fall prey to the hook.

The lake was opposite my Srinivasa apartments, quickly crossed over and got ready for the big client meeting at 10am. Navigating the smooth (in dreams) Bangalore traffic is a bigger challenge than presenting the concepts to the client. I got into the car, took a U turn and was passing the lake again on the left. Taking a quick glance at the island, I stole those few extra seconds on the side glance thinking about the Heron actor and the hapless fish. In those stunning seconds of distraction, I scraped the white taxi which zipped up in front!! Typical bumper to bumper traffic. Felt the gentle nudge of the scrape on my bonnet, my mistake entirely. Saw the one inch blue mark of my car paint on his white bumper. Persian blue. The young taxi driver rolled down his glass; spat out and sent a rousing invective at me. He was most respectable in the negative without even judging my mature middle aged look. So much for a suave look and feel. Hmm. All crushed in a jiffy. My response was immediate, with folded hands, I nodded and signalled to say- so sorry. Offered to stop on the side to sort out matters. He went further red and raised a respectable middle finger further……OMG, do I need this before the big meeting. Yes, indeed have to go through the motions, no escape…benefits of a big bad city life. Alas.

We pulled over, he greeted me with a guttural North Karnataka Cush word- Goobe, told him that the police station is just 500 metres and to be respectful. The word Police seemed to be the healer to his arrogance and rogue outlook. He showed me the scratch and demanded that we go to the mechanic to ascertain the damage; expenses to be coughed by me- the great car basher cum marauder. In my most polite way, I offered him Rs 500 for the scratchy touch up. He would not agree. I raised to rs 1000 after few more minutes, it was like a feeling when you want to run to the loo badly, any short cut would help, albeit pay more cash in this situation. It was not going well at all. He repeated the same lingo with a wicked twist in the lip- lets go to the mechanic. I raised the sum to Rs 1000. Bargaining was getting to be my second nature. A bad one at that, wish the MBAs of the world enlighten me. I just wanted to scoot from there, loosing time for the appointment. Desperation aka looking for a loo with a full bladder.

The traffic constable came across seeing the commotion, sweetly enquiring about the drama unfolding. He inspected the scratch works, and gave his verdict- sir “ Isstu jaasti kudbeda” just pay rs 500 and its done. Oh, I over did it then was my immediate reaction. I looked at the driver who was drooling with rage and faulty evil emotion. He would not budge. He gave a look at the constable who melted into an ice lolly. Desperation was spreading sideways like un-vented exhaust fume, I raised the sum to rs 2000. Take it man and let go was my humble meek prayer. The stunned cop was aghast. He told, Sir that’s a ridiculous sum for a simple scratch! The greedy driver said no to that too!! He still wanted to visit the elusive car painter. I was in a coma. Mind fogged, unable to think what my clients from Intel were going to respond to my perfect sense of timing. Giving the famous traffic as an excuse was my final straw. Every one blames the Bangalore traffic, the most punched and hated bag in the state.

A white silvery motor cycle stopped next to my side, I thought I saw the silvery fish again in the cormorant’s mouth. No it was the white traffic helmet of the inspector. He gave a kindly typical Bangalorean smile and enquired the action going on the busy road slowing the traffic considerably. I blurted my mistake and narrated the string of events that unfolded, fully accepting my responsibility. With authority and wisdom of many years of road knowledge, he examines the half inch scratch on the bumper. I repeated. Sir, am ready to give him rs 2000, but let me go now, am really late, some ten people are waiting for me. Inwardly I didn’t want to grease another few thousand quid to this man was my immediate thought. Fingers and toes crossed.

Then the grand decision came- Sir, just go. Not a single paisa to that rascala. I couldn’t believe what I heard! It was the silver fish flashing in my mind again and the Heron in me moved and quivered. Albeit delightfully.

The look of hatred and disgust on the drivers face could have easily fetched an Oscar if he were nominated, but he withheld his frustration and pleaded with the police officer. I got in and started to drive, saw the chap closely following me. I winced, oh another episode down the road! To my double delight, the inspector was right behind monitoring for another 3 kms. The driver turned into a modern day Medussa, spat some more vicious venom and turned right to his destination where ever that would be. I moved on straight and saluted the officer. He acknowledged gracefully with a gentle flourish – “have nice day gesture”.

Thank you Bangalore police
Venu Rao
25th May 18.

THE MAHARAJA’S RUBY

Mrs. Nilu Curtis had the graciousness of a perfect host and the skills of a wonderful chef. I could not resist my temptation for the plump roast chicken, dripping with brown sauce and glistening rosemary leaves. The black mushrooms and baby roast potatoes added to the sinful richness of the dish, with heavenly smelling garlic bread and rice pilaf complementing the chicken. The Sandur hills, as the backdrop to the lively dining hall, added an ethereal charm to the entire dining experience. These hills are world famous for their Manganese and iron ores.

Mr. John Curtis wasa fine gentleman,with impeccable table manners. He even ate his chapatti with a fork and knife and wiped his mouth delicately with a serviette, while I wolfed down the delicacies with my fingers. As they say, in the presence of great food, etiquette is left way behind sometimes.  Mrs. Curtis,joyous to see me enjoy her food, offered some more. Her delicate features and the charming grace reminded me of the beautiful star Sharmila Tagore. She lived the mantraAthithiDevoBavaand caring for guests came naturally to her.

The local area abounded with great tales and folklore, and Mr. JC was a great storyteller. He had taken over the management for renovation of the Sandur palace, soon to be converted into a heritage hotel. My time spent with him was laced with memorable anecdotes. Once, he was stuck in the Hampi forests during a heavy down pour,with his car was almost submerged. Nilu, with mounting tension, started praying, while he tried to negotiate the river road!!  Water, gushing in from all sides,threatened to reach the seats. They were stuck for three hours with the engine refusing to start. With the water level rising steadily, he had to deploy all his driving skills learnt at the Bangalore racing tracks to finally get them out of the waters.  As I was thinking, “what an amazing escape”, he went on to narrate another story.

The next day, he took me for a visit to the Palace. The central dome was both imposing and welcoming as we drove through the gilt edged gates. The long drive would provide a good arrival experience for the guests, passing through the fountains. The Maharaja and Maharani suites were charming and spacious overlooking the vast rolling lawns and the pool.  The reception hall was, in fact, the main living space for the Maharaja Gorpade. The lady in bronze, with a parrot perched on her shoulder, smiled at me!  The central courtyard, which opened to the sky, was charming. I could see the whisky bar across,adorned with majestic portraits and a grand pool table in the centre. Well, the action is here, I thought – drink and play. The pool caught my fancy. As I dash to get a better view past the pool, I saw something very different and unique. It was a tiny grave with a small tombstone. Unable to control my curiosity any further, I asked, “Will someone please throw some light on what these graves are doing here, right in the middle of the magnificent lawns. Surely, the Raja would have a very good reason for this.” JC replied, “Sir, it’s the pet grave yard and the main star was Ruby, the loved golden retriever. He was the Raja’s biggest weakness.” The epitaph read- ‘Here rests my Unforgettable Ruby.’

As JC narrated the relationship between the Raja and Ruby, my mind wandered back and recreated the scene in the courtyard. “Oh where’s my Ruby? That naughty fella… forever onto mischief. I tell you, one of these days he will get all of us in trouble. Look he is so skinny, at this rate he will turn into a skeleton! Why, is there a food shortage in our palace?” the Raja asked.

“Your highness, Ruby refuses to eat from any one but your good self. He paws the food away, and he even tried to bite the head servant Mr. Hallappa, and scratched his face the other day”, said the maid. Hearing this, the Raja replied with a look of loving annoyance on his face, “I have some urgent court matters to look into and this stupid dog has to throw tantrums just now? That little scoundrel…Ok bring him here and I will feed him”. The ensuing scene was very funny, both the master and the pet playing games and cuddling away. The Raja spent a full hour, forgetting the time and important matters that lay in wait for him. Ruby was happy,his little pink snout twitching with glee.

The gleaming Mercedes halted for the Raja, he sat on the back seat majestically and waved his hand to say, “Go”. In jumped Ruby and perched on his lap. “My little devil, what’s this dirt all over your paws.Give them to me, let me clean them up. I don’t like your habit of running all over the muck, you little scoundrel,” chided the Raja lovingly. Ruby sure got royal treatment. The chauffeur was busy concentrating on the pot-holed road, not paying much attention to the drama unfolding inside between the master and the pet, as this wasthe daily scene.

The Sandur Manganese Board was in attendance for the Maharaja to tackle some difficult issues that were being tabled. The general mood was that the company should protect the staff from inflation. The Raja ordered a free ration scheme for all employees to protect them inflation, reiterating that the well being of the miners was his top priority.  Just as the meeting was concluding, in came Ruby, wagging his tail. The Raja lifted him lovingly and off they went to their world of playing and petting.

A few months later Maharaja’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, causing everyone to worry. “Ranimaji, I am afraid the Maharaja’s health is deteriorating, we need to shift him to Bangalore. The facilities are better there and the treatment suggested is very effective and elaborate,” said the chief of the palace administration.  After few weeks of uneasy stay in Bangalore, the Raja’s health still did not improve, and his craving for Rubygrew. The Raja missed his naughty pranks and love. The yearning grew stronger, and many a times he wouldn’t even touch his dinner plate! Meanwhile, Ruby, as quiet as a sick mongoose, would be seen near the pool deck staring at the Maharajas suite pitifully. Ruby’s diet was just some milk taken erratically. All the playfulness had vanished and the palace staff felt the soulful whimpering. Many a times, he would be seen besides the throne in the Durbar hall, the majestic stuffed animals didn’t seem to frighten him nor did the awesome display of swords and guns. With a fading look in his eyes, Ruby continued to yearn for his master.

One day, the driver parked the dog van besides Ruby’s kennel and called out for him. Ruby peeped out and ran back inside. “Ruby, come baby,” Called out the driver, “Our Highness wants you in Bangalore, be ready for a nice long ride, and I will give you a juicy bone”. Ruby ignored him and looked the other way. Any amount of cajoling or pushing proved futile. Ruby wouldn’t budge, for he was made of a sterner stuff, engrossed at looking at his master’s bedroom above.

The driver went to the head servant and said, “I will have to sedate him and tie him up as there is no other means.” The head servant, aghast, replied, “His Highness will definitely not like it you fool, remember his fondness for the pet. Wait, I have a better idea that is sure to work,” and he whispered into the driver’s ears.  The driver’s eyes brightened as he rushed out happily.

The gleaming Mercedes stopped in front of Ruby’s kennel after an hour and in he jumped happily, wagging his tail.

Venu Rao
Director – Peacock Hospitality.

Opportunities Galore: Grab Them Before They Fly Off

A favourable or advantageous combination of circumstances; a chance for progress or advancement.

To look into the world of opportunities is an art in itself, they say. Ever wondered how many pass by each hour silently, without even striking us. Are we utilising these opportunities judiciously or even engaging them? Maybe that’s our mistake. We slip them conveniently down our well designed procrastination chute – deep and narrow. Our thought flows and actions seem like waves – they go away, but how sure are we that they will return? “Oh! We can always perform that action later,” is our oft repeated thought, but most of the times, ‘later’ becomes ‘never’.  Great ideas disappear faster than they can come – at the speed of light. A brilliant thought vanishes in a flash and so does a great opportunity. It, unfortunately, leads to a great moment being wasted.

So what are these opportunities? They can be:

Possible  To write is an awesome opportunity, but one that I keep putting off, incessantly. “Oh, some other day/time maybe; why spend time writing when a lot more can happen over wine?” It is possible to use an opportunity to pen a great article- but one that I procrastinate on.  Similarly, when we travel or simply go out to meet someone, an opportunity can crop up. It always happens, however minute that opportunity might be. Way back, about 15 years ago, we went on a drive with our team to a new developmental area in Bangalore named Kanakapura road. The area was still struggling with infrastructure issues. However, we saw to our amazement that a very smart hotel was taking shape – a shell almost ready. So we stopped and peeped in. I introduced myself to the owner (I was lucky he was around), and started exchanging pleasantries and information. The chemistry was just right and, miraculously, that single chance meeting became a new business opportunity. It became one of the signature hotels that I set up in Bangalore, and I continue to have a great relationship with the owner till date.

Feasible: Similarly, an idea is always a feasible candidate; give it some push and lo it may bloom into a fully supported magical opportunity. One never ceases to wonder how an opportunity crops up. A star is born and it culminates into a supernova!  That happens when its opportunities run out. However, it must have created a planetary system before going into the black hole mode, thereby using up its last opportunity! Albeit a celestial one, the simile is pertinent here. Whether it’s a big ticket or a miniscule idea, there is an opportunity to grab at. The sun, they say, had a brother named Nemesis. It appears that they are connected once in 27 million years.  Interesting  indeed! However, the story doesn’t end there – the hypothesis is that he was stolen by a passing star! Talk about opportunity at an astronomical level – the rogue star devoured our own Sun’s brother!

Even the tiniest flower is a work of art by nature. The beauty in this little flower is amazing, the fine details are exquisite, but due to their size we miss out the opportunity of enjoying them. When you do take the time to look closely, you see a totally new and exciting world in that tiny miracle.

Take the case of a baby, for instance. How does it create an opportunity – simple: it cries its head out. The young mom runs to it – and lo the breast is thrust into the eager, hungry, tiny mouth. So when a baby creates such wonderful moments, what stops us? Nothing, but our silly ego or laziness!

Gayab (lost) opportunities

We have a way of losing out on most of the great opportunities that come our way. We miss the opportunity and end up giving excuses such as:

Lack of resources: The oft repeated excuse – “Oh! How I wish I had plenty of resources! Wish I had a big bank balance…” and so on, and so forth. We keep having these thoughts despite the fact that most of the times we may be able to complete the task with little or no money!

Time: Or rather the lack of time is one constant excuse that we tend to give. We feel that we don’t even have time to breathe, forget about doing that mundane task. We are so busy wasting our time, but we still wish we had 28 hours in a day.

Lack of knowledge: This may be a genuine reason, but in this day and age where technology is everywhere, seeking knowledge should not be so difficult. Want some information, ask Google uncle. There are experts in every field who may be available to help, however sourcing the right person is crucial.

Not ready because of some random reason: “I am just not suitable or qualified enough to do that particular task, so I better let it pass.”  “May be another person or a different situation would work.” However, these are again convenient excuses. In the process of giving these reasons, we are really letting a significant opportunity, which could even be a life changing one, slip by.

There are times when we do let great opportunities slip by. We can then come to terms with it or repent endlessly. However, we must cut the losses and look forward for another opportunity. The famous proverb – ‘Failure is the stepping stone to success’ needs to be mandated on lost opportunities.

Finally, there is a saying in Sanskrit – Mounavaakya: Talk through silence. Ideas and opportunities may come to us silently. Sometimes we need to act on them silently and efficiently, without raising a storm. The main idea is to work in a way that best suits our situation, and helps us capitalise on an opportunity. After all, we have only one life to make use of our opportunities.

Venu Rao
Director Peacock Hospitality.

 

 

 

The saga of the super KEY

key

The Waterfront Hotel Viceroy, now the Hyderabad Marriot, is frquented by many corporate and leisure guests. With the serene Husain Sagar Lake as the backdrop, the hotel’s business has been uplifted to greater heights. The lake-facing rooms are sold at a premium owing to the enchanting view. The hazy yet scintillating city outline works as a perfect ambiance for the guests. Gaiety, the Bidri-speciality restaurant with its magnificent view couldn’t be better – a cuisine to die for, smart staff and a Greek God of a manager in Rajnish Vaidya. Patrons are at immediate ease with the young, charming and ever-smiling manager. He is the key to increase in guest satisfaction index. This was one outlet, from a total of twenty, that I didn’t have to worry too much about. All izz well.

He was also full of ideas. At one of our meetings, he suggested that that we have a cuisine caravan fest this month where there would be an interactive chef counter. So, at the October fest, we had a counter where live Bidri Kebabs and Katcha Gosht were made in front of the guests. It indeed was a runaway hit. What’s more, the chef’s friendly percussion of cookery tips caught everyone’s attention. It was a pleasure to keep the pace with this energetic man. I knew instantly that this man would go places.

Now that Rajnish had settled in, he wanted to bring his wife from Pune. “Sir I need a few days to organise my family accommodation and bring my wife from Pune. My bachelors room is fine for now but its too far and I can’t really go during the afternoon break,” he said. I agreed but requested him to plan his leave and a fine replacement as the restaurant is extremely busy. After a while, the thought of him in uniform for 16 hours a day was somehow interfering with my paper work that afternoon.

The F&B team always took a substantial amount of space in the executive locker room. Although the camaraderie of all the outlet managers was positively infectious, it got quite noisy during the break. And, everyone wanted to have a chat with their manager as he had a very pleasing personality. So, poor Rajnish was never allowed to have his forty winks during the break. I always made it a point to change in the locker room, even though my company apartment was just two minutes down the road. I felt that this helped me connect well with my team.

I was concerned that he was not getting enough rest and he was ending up groggy eyed by the evening session. Dinner ended by 2 am everyday which meant he was not getting his 6-8 hours of sleep. “Why don’t you use my flat? It’s empty during that time, my family lives in Bangalore as you know,” I told him.

“That’s very kind of you sir. I am blessed to have a boss like you. But I wouldn’t dream of troubling you. I am quite alright on this bunker bed,” said Rajnish. But I persisted and handed over the key of 204, Sai Apartments. I reuqested him to ask the hotel driver to take him to the apartment and to enjoy a blissful sleep henceforth. He reluctantly took the key and thanked me profusely for this gesture.
Sai Apartments is quite cozy, centrally located yet tucked away in a serene enclave with all the facilities. I hardly spent any time here except for a good nights sleep. The one odd time I was around the building, I came across my neighbours from 203, Mrs. Archee and Mr. Sanjay. While he always seemed a bit aloof, the lady was very warm and friendly.

She came up to me one day and said, “Sir, you are always in the hotel, enjoying exotic food and meeting interesting people”. My regular reply to this would have been, “Thank you so much, but I eat salads / dal and roti most of the time. We hoteliers aren’t rich but would end up with millionaire’s diseases if we are not careful.” But since she was a friendly and helpful person, I just laughed it off. She used to collect my milk, laundry etc… whenever possible. Archee was quite popular in the apartment and had several friends.

When Inspector Shinde met me at the station he said, “Mr. Venu, Thank your stars that I have been to Bidri restaurant before and know your manager well. Otherwise, he would have gotten into serious trouble today. I remember him very well as he was always very courteous and would ensure that my meal was perfect. There was so much commotion at the apartment today after he managed to get into your neighbours apartment with the wrong key. But I can’t really can’t blame the lady for creating a scene on seeing a stranger in her apartment. The whole situation was actually quite hilarious”. He guffawed. On one hand, I was relieved and on the other I was curious to know what had happened.

One afternoon when I was in a meeting with my boss Aijaz Ali, my secretary came in quickly and said, “Sir, Rajnish has been taken to the police station. Inspector Shinde just called and said that he wants you there urgently. It seems that Rajnish misbehaved with your neighbour Mrs. Archee.” I just froze for a minute.

When Inspector Shinde met me at the station he said, “Mr. Venu, Thank your stars that I have been to Bidri restaurant before and know your manager well. Otherwise, he would have gotten into serious trouble today. I remember him very well as he was always very courteous and would ensure that my meal was perfect. There was so much commotion at the apartment today after he managed to get into your neighbours apartment with the wrong key. But I can’t really can’t blame the lady for creating a scene on seeing a stranger in her apartment. The whole situation was actually quite hilarious”. He guffawed. On one hand, I was relieved and on the other I was curious to know what had happened.

“You can go ahead and talk to your manager,” He said. I found him sitting on the bench at the far end of the office, with a forlon look on his face. This is the first time I saw him without a smile and hands on the head. He was sweating profusely.

When I went towards him in absolute shock, he narrated the entire incident. “Sir, I can’t believe it myself. I used the key you gave me to open apartment no 203 and it opened so I simply went in, made myself comfortable and settled on the sofa to watch TV. I kicked off the shoes in anticipation of a good snooze. Mrs Archee, whom I had never met, entered and kept her key on the table and then looked at me. She froze for a minute and then screamed her guts out. I got up and asked her who she was and what was she doing at Mr Venu’s apartment. She said that it was her own apartment and directed me to some family pictures on the wall. I looked around and then realised that I was the one in the wrong apartment. My head was spinning and by the time I gathered my thoughts, she stealthily stepped out and locked me in. She alerted all the neighbouts in no time. All of them started gathering aroud the house; many of them looking menacingly from the window. Must be a rapist; call the police someone advised. All my frantic signs and broken Telugu went unheeded. They summoned Inspector Shinde which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He knew me well as he was such a regular guest at Gaiety and instantly doled me out. God! I shudder to think what would have been the outcome, if someone else had come. I am surprised that the commissioner himself didn’t come, going by the strength of the lady’s vocal cords. This was my first experience with the great lung power of beautiful girls in Hyderabad.”

Venu Rao
Director Peacock Hospitality.
www.peacockhospitality.com

Technology: Fuelling hotels of the future

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WhatsApp killed SMS and Skype ousted ISD – imagine the savings that customers have been accruing! Technology is busy replacing traditional systems and, in some cases, inadvertently making people redundant. As hoteliers we are in a fast paced, dynamic industry and the need to update our skills is paramount, else we will go the way of the good old steam boilers, made irrelevant by the high efficient combi ovens/cooking mixers/flexi chefs. Within half a decade the entire range of traditional steam generators/cooking vessels got replaced.

When we talk of updating ourselves, we are not talking about the basic skills such as PPTs, mails or simple Excel, but of the more advanced tools. For example, Acad, which is used extensively in kitchen designing, is slowly getting booted out by Revit software, in the field of architecture.

We use technology to obtain guest feedback in a stylish, yet effective, technologically driven manner. Today, the traditional papers are out and smart tabs are presented to the guests – the boss gets the juice in real time! The old housekeeping boy’s trick of chucking the GM feedback card kept in the room, because he felt that there could be a complaint, is no longer possible today.

Technology- reducing costs

Technology has played a great role in bringing about cost effectiveness in the industry:

1) Self steam generating equipment like cooking mixer machines, combi ovens, etc. have proved to help reduce fuel costs by 40 per cent. The traditional steam rooms/generators have been done away with, resulting in space reduction and the avoiding of huge equipment costs.

2) The tilting pan mechanism has replaced the huge handi (vessel) washing ritual at the pot wash! No more back-breaking episodes.

3) We use PPTs for Skype meetings; this has resulted in lesser printing costs. Personal travel, too, has been reduced to a majority extent.

4) Online travel portals such as MakeMyTrip.com, Goibibo, etc., popularly called OTAs are a major source of room business. The hotel can save significantly by allowing a reasonable discount structure, while finalising the E-contracts. This leads to large reduction of legal fees cum banking charges. The monies are directed straight to the hotel’s account; even before the guest checks in. How cool is that? The accounting follow ups and costs are well under check.

5) Smartphones: The handy mobile phones have touched our lives in every angle, and are yet another invaluable opportunity to improve our customer service, and for transfer of information. All the hotel chains worldwide offer guests the ability to check in and out, select their room, check maps and make extra requests or purchases, from their smart phones.

6) Smart appliances: Sylvan Labs, the Bengaluru based automation company, offers high tech facilities such as lighting, temperature, blinds, alarms, TV, radio, etc. through a single tablet device, or from a single app that guests can download and login to, from their own devices. This has proved very effective in our Jayanagar hotel.

Guest technology

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It’s predicted that the advent of futuristic hotels is just around the corner, and, when that happens, our experience will be not just an away from home one, but one of an alternate reality which may include check-in kiosks, holographs, and infrared sensors that can control literally anything. Robots could possibly start stirring Martinis – bond style, not shaken. The cherry could be a LED plum, not the juicy type we are used to.

Technical updates should enhance the guest’s experience to create the wow factor. Social media and the internet has made information readily available, and reviews – good or bad, can have an immediate effect on a hotel. Lady guests, especially, do online searches on references before proceeding to book – statistics show that the numbers have increased from 18 per cent in 2013 to 46per cent in December, 2015.

Some of the latest innovations really help:

  • Guest customised Check-ins facilitate seamless experiences and reduce costs. Staff members are not needed for the guest’s check in,
  • Few hotels are already built with techno walls, which enable 100 per cent audio streaming and 200 per cent Wi-Fi effectiveness.
  • The Hi-tech music lamp is, again, a great feature that allows guests to listen to music via Bluetooth or recharge mobile phones. They might even be able to activate phone calls through flat screen television. In one of the hotels here in Bangalore, we can even order room service on the TV!
  • Shower walls which turn from clear to frosted at the touch of an I-pad.
  • Smart keys are great sources of seeking room guest history. They can also have functional roles such as to open the room’s windows and doors. External assistance which leads to huge power and man power costs, can be thus avoided. A must for any smart hotel.
  • Motion detectors instruct the thermostat to adapt the temperature to keep it optimum, thereby controlling the net maintenance costs.

Personal tech skills set

We must constantly endeavour to get the latest tools towards creating work-life balance skills. The road to success on the personal tech front is quite simple:

1) Social media or business sites such as LinkedIn: We, hoteliers, need to be clearly responsible in choosing our social media platforms carefully; this needs to be based on the target audience, and not on a ‘me too’ approach. Facebook is still the favourite site for promoting the hotel’s F&B services or facilities, through quality pictures and catchily designed posts.

2) WhatsApp groups: Again a great tool for ease of communication, eliciting direct info from our hotel guests. A simple message or a well-designed picture/art work can be sent promptly. Care has to be taken that you don’t get into the sending forwards mode, or else the guest will simply WISH you out!

Seventy six per cent of the respondents’ in future smart cities such as Bengaluru, Gurugram and Raipur, feel that hotels need to quickly adapt to the new guest check in options or log out. We are heading to a high-tech era where hotels will have smart tabs replacing guest folders, smartphones in place of room keys, apps for remote controls and receptionist with Samurai or Confucius Robots.

As in any other industry, technology in hotels is a necessary partner – use it judiciously and reap benefits, or ignore it at your own peril. This reminds us of the famous statement that the VP of Nokia had said in an emotional outburst, “Ladies and Gentlemen, with deep sadness we announce the closure of our ops, but want to stress on the fact that we didn’t do anything wrong!” To which, one of the smart reporters retorted, “Agreed Sir, but Nokia didn’t do anything right either – i.e. you people didn’t update your technology.”

Venu Rao
Director – Peacock Hospitality.

A Hotelier’s Love Life

shareI had recently attended a seminar where the Guru said,“Your life is transient and temporary; the only thing you take back is love. Your actions are remembered.”It set me thinking, both on the personal and career front. Do we love our work, people and the company? Of course we do – if there was no love, the work we do would be meaningless and mechanical. But, we are so caught up in our manic schedules, that we don’t spare enough time to ponder over these thoughts, or go deeper into them.

So, let’s pause for a while and reflect on the various love components in our work environment. This could be the success intelligence we need to evolve. Let Revpars and recipes go to the deep walk-in for a while.

 

Love your Work

jobWe spend much more time in the hotelthan at home – in fact 72% more.So, our love for work is natural. Of course, there are a few who are forced to work by their Hitler bosses, but these are exceptions. Our primary reason for work is the love of it;the driving force – not the need for survival.

Lord Hanuman’s love for his work is legendary and iconic; everything else would pale in comparisonto the task given to him by the Lord himself. He sought special skills,executed the job and reported to the master. He travelled over the sea,cunningly avoided the demon Lankini, and tracedSita Mata. He practised the strategy, ‘look before you leap.’ He appeared as a baby monkey, so that Sita Mata wouldn’t get scared, and he burnt Lanka – all in a bid to save her. We know the story, but what we can also learn is that the enormous risk he took was for the love of work.

It is for this love of work that we go miles to move our careers up in the hotel. If Rafik Shivji rose to the level of Director of Orange County, from that of a humble entry level staff, working with the Taj and The Oberoi earlier,it was because of his hard work and the love for it. Studies prove that 65% of hotel employees rise to senior levelsin around fifteen years. Similarly, aTandoor chef works in an environment where he has to face 350 degrees of heat constantlybecause of the pure unadulterated love for his cooking.

One in five people in India love their job so much that they would work for free, says an international survey by the online career firm, Monster India. According to the survey, 55 per cent of workers in India love their work — placing India third in international happiness rankings, behind Canada (64 per cent) and the Netherlands (57 per cent).

 

Love your Colleagues

loveWhile competing with our colleagues can help us rise in our careers, complementing them will help increase the bond of love tremendously. Our work is smooth when there is cooperation and bonhomie. We split the huge task blocks into bits and bytes and, in the process,share love. There is a kind of internal satisfaction when this is achieved amongstcolleagues. A sense of belongingness happens. A shift begins.

In a pre-opening hotel, the staff comes from varied backgrounds – getting them on the same page is quite a challenge. But when love and collaboration become an important part of the induction/ training process, the team’s friendship is sealed steadily. We thus induce a sense of belonging and love.

However, restraint and caution should also be taken with colleagues from the opposite sex – by showering too much love, you wouldn’t want wedding vows to be exchanged instead of ideas. Mixing emotions and work is not ideal as it leads to distraction and complicates the work atmosphere.

Some interesting tips to make your colleagues love you:

  • Smile and greet- bond
  • Learn their tea/coffee preferences
  • Don’t be a work hermit, give few compliments
  • Don’t be an office flirt and tread carefully with newbies.
  • Keep strong opinions to yourself and don’t complain unless…
  • And count to ten….. Inside. You know what I am trying to say!

Love your competition

They are the driving force for our constant creativity. We strive for the on-going competitionbecause of them.Hence, we should appreciate them and learn to accept. Compete,definitely, but collaborate as well. Take the example ofSamsung and Apple who decided to work together to develop new products. This would have been unheard of some 20 years back, but if Apple is to increase its market share to 55%, it needs to complement and cooperate.

As good neighbouringhoteliers, we pass the overflow rooms to our competition hotels during a big residential conference. The idea behind this is simple – we can’taccommodate the huge demand. As they receive our business there arelotsof warm exchanges between the hotels. It’s a win- win situation.

There is astory of an efficient Doctor who really hated competition. He worked extra hard to drive out the last doctor from his village and finally felt on top of the world. Bad luck struck soon and he got sick terribly and died shortly. Alas, there was no doctor to treat him, you see!

Have a look at these proactive actions that can help build a close knit, healthy competition.

  • The general managers can have a friendly lunch every quarter to discuss trends and share news.
  • Sporting activitiescan be organised between the hotels’ staff teams.
  • Hotels can send staff members to represent them at seminars, quizzes and exhibitions in other cities. These hotels should be seen as one to represent their home city.

Simply put, competition makes you confident, creative, compassionate and alert.

 

Love your Guests

love_guest‘Love all and Serve all’ should be our motto. Our love for work generates thelove for our guests, doesn’t it? As our elders say, alochana maadi, which means think clearly and concisely? Love for guests equals to our career, work and everything else. A loving mind equals humble service. Our budding hotelier Ms Jayashree is a true example of this. She goes out of her way to help the guests – meeting and greeting during arrivals, sending miss you messages, maintaining guest history etc.

Some interesting Pointers that can be looked into:

  • Saying yes to guests every time- any time.
  • 59per centof the repeat guests return only due to the great service; in fact they demand to be taken care of by the individual who had been at their service the previous time.
  • 43% still come to the hotel due to the locational advantage or the brand factor, but fade away if there is ZERO love shown by the employees. Recognition and passion are the true bindingfor the guests to stay.
  • Saying yes to guest requests and needs. It can be anything – simple amenity requirements, travel itineraries, etc.

Sometimes we do make the ultimate sacrifice to save our guest’s life – the terrorist attack at the Taj Mumbai in 2008 is a true testimony to this.  In a bid to save his guests, the General Manager lost his family by the time he could get back to save them.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Customers are the reason for your existence, they are the most important elements of your business, and without them the business would not survive even for a minute.’ The love for your work, your colleagues, competition and customershelps create the recipe for a happy work environment. This, in turn, leads to a successful and satisfied one.

Love considered in any sphere- personal or professional angle is like a ray of light. The intensity does not fade even a bit when it’s refracted (competition) or reflected (colleagues and guests). It brings out the luminous streak in us, leading to the next positive step; unlike hatred or jealousy which sets us back.

Venu Rao
Director Peacock Hospitality.

The Budding Hotelier

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Circle of Knowledge

Experts say that the percentage of knowledge that a human brain can hold is less than ONE percent of the available information in the world. We fail to realise that 99% of the available knowledge is actually the blind spot. We don’t know that we don’t know!!  We are constantly trying to narrow this gap. Only a few extremely brilliant people scale up to the two percent knowledge mark.

I read an interesting article about photons the other day. It said that a photon takes a million light years to travel from the Sun’s core to the exterior but takes mere eight minutes to reach us. It also spoke about a parallel universe existing alongside us, where time travels in the opposite direction. Imagine going through the human life sycle in reverse order death-old age-adult-teenager-child-baby-foetus; basically tomb to womb. Wouldn’t it be amazing? So the big question then is – What are we? How do we evolve best practices of reaching out to our guests?

It is a known fact that, the more knowledgeable we are, the experience of the guest will be that much better. Lets discuss a few simple ways of improving our knowledge.

Think big-Think small syndrome

Dr Abdul Kalam always advises youngsters to ‘Think Big’.  He is absolutely right. Thinking big literally opens up the mind and helps us achieve goals beyond imagination. One could easily develop that idea into something big. For example: turning a dynamic reservation system into best BAR rate portfolio like the OTAs. It may have the potential of spinning in lot of revenue and making your hotel a market leader. The key is to make that start. We hear success stories of ordinary people coming up with very successful hotel projects. They were bold enough to make that start.

Thinking small is equally important. Even a small idea can work wonders.  Something like the Japanese Sashimi. You just take one gulp and you are done. You are supremely satisfied and the taste lingers on for a long while.  Similarly a tiny droplet gradually becomes a wave. The wave is neither big nor small but is an integral part of the ocean. Our thoughts shouldn’t be limited by the size of the idea.

Internet

As we know, Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge; something like a giant communication bottomless pit. One can Google almost anything and get a result instantly. Of course one has to use it with discretion. However a search engine can just provide you with information about how to solve the problem but cannot actually solve it for you. So, Google cannot replace a smart hotelier.

A lot of people claim that they google themselves when bored. I tried it myself and was amazed at the hundreds of Venu Rao’s in the world. Luckily, my profile pops up in the top ten. All credit to SEO optimisation. So, the Internet does give you information on almost any subject but you actually need a human to use the information practically.

Travel

A thousand mile journey starts with just a single step but the amount of planning that goes into it is unimaginable. Even with all the planning, there is so much you learn on the actual trip. And, if its something like a conference, there is an information overload.

Travel plays a part of a game changer in our hotel industry. A large percentage of guests are well travelled and well informed. We actually learn so much from them.

Conversation

We have grown up listening to different people talk, be it our teachers, professors, political leaders, parents, siblings and so on…  This has an impact on our thinking either positively or negatively. Engaging in a positive conversation can be a good source of information and can be productive. For example: the quick morning meetings or briefings.

Guests are a big source of knowledge, since they come from all walks of life. Engaging with guests works like a double-edged sword. While it keeps us abreast of current trends, it makes the guests feel special as we spend more time with them.

I am reminded of my conversations with my grandfather when I was a teenager. When I would ask for pocket money, my grandfather would say, “Don’t ask for any pocket money my boy. The future is bright when the money is tight.”

Reading habit

The current generation is still growing up with books, but soon a time will come when books will be outdated. Information might soon be stored in a small chip in our body. Books have always been a tremendous source of knowledge and entertainment. Enid Blyton was one of my personal favourites as a child.  Vivid descriptions in books like Famous Five hold good even in today’s Internet world. How can one forget comics like Phantom or Mandrake?

Even religious books are a valuable source of information. It is through these books that we discovered how various civilisations survived the test of time. Whatever religious beliefs we have today came from these books.

To cut the long story short, we should constantly try to improve our knowledge.

Reading is good, doing is great

 

Venu Rao
Director Peacock Hospitality.