Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taj - The hotel that was...

The nightmare is finally over, but it has left behind in its wake a long series of sleepless nights for thousands of us.
Eight years can be a long time, but I still remember the day very clearly. Uday and myself were conducting a series of workshops for Taj employees. The workshops inevitably threw up references of workplace and often both of us would be found wanting in our understanding. Finally after about seven workshops, we were invited to visit Taj and were promised that we will be shown that part of the hotel which guests never see. We got to spend the whole day in Taj, going through its countless service passages, labyrinthine corridors and spiral staircases.
At every corner, some enthusiastic staffer who had been on the workshops would come running to greet us. At every kitchen the chef would want us to wait and taste his fare. Their hospitality was overwhelming, and had we agreed to the chefs' requests, we wouldn't have gotten past more than three kitchens in the whole day. So we kept declining politely and moved on. The stores, the laundry (which finally solved my childhood mystery - how do hotels never run out of washed and ironed bedsheets?), the back offices, everything.
On one of the workshops, I casually asked a young executive - so what is so special about the hotel, how is it different from so many other five-stars? Pat came the reply - "why, it is older than even the Gateway of India! It is not just a hotel, its an icon. For me, its my second home." I don't remember his name, and today I don't even know where he is....
The same holds true for the Oberoi-Trident. I have walked through the doors there countless times to attend meetings to discuss the workshops that we did for them. During any of my visits after the workshops, the story was same like my Taj visit eight years ago.
Stories are trickling through the press as to how the hotel staff time and again took care of the guests even when they themselves faced imminent danger to their lives. Some of these stories will never be told - of unsung heroes who lived and died doing what they always loved doing - looking after the guests they treated as their own personal guests. They lived the old sanskrit saying - अतिथि देवो भव - guest is God.
Some day, I am sure, I will go back to The Taj as well the The Oberoi. It wont be the same ever again. The memories of last week will remain etched in every wall of the two hotels. And yet, I am sure, some things will be exactly as they have always been - the amazing attitude of the staff. Right now, I can only bow to all of them in respect.
I stand corrected - the title of this post should be 'The hotel that was, and will be.'

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