When my senior colleague advised me to take a break from the everyday rut of office and home and pamper myself a bit, I balked.  For me the ultimate and the most exquisite, luxuriant extravaganza was a spa retreat.  Though not completely unaffordable, yet chewing on the idea made me feel immensely guilty as I was not comfortable incurring lavish expenditure on myself.  My colleague suggested a Five Star lunch/dinner. I hated Five Star hotels and told him so. He was appalled. I added that I could enlist multiple reasons off hand justifying my well- nourished hatred. He was curious. I elaborated:

(1)     I have to be my best self which I am mostly not in the habit of being (all smiling sweetness, yuck!)

(2)    I have to be best dressed (read formal best) – a complete antitheses to my concept of comfortable wear (of shabby and oft worn casual clothes)

(3)    I have to be conscious of my table manners which I consider a torture when it comes to enjoying delightful savouries. Eating should be the most uncouth affair of salivating taste buds left free, frivolous and frolicsome – food and me and nothing else in between.

(4)    I have to be soft spoken, polite and indulge in exchanging pleasantries with sophisticated society – an exercise which did not amuse me much.

(5)    I have to spend hours in the dimly lit, claustrophobic interiors of the restaurant preceded by equal time wasted in traffic ridden roads – the thought of it makes me shudder.

(6)    Anything out of place and non conventional will raise so many “parlour-arched” eyebrows. No uncontrollable giggle, squeal of unkempt pleasure or insistence upon non-conformity to the customary and the proper. The cutlery is not supposed to clatter. I am not supposed to slurp down the beverage.  The knife should follow the right direction while buttering the toast. I should know how not to clutch the spoon like a handle bar but be dainty and ladylike. And what if it still slips out of my fingers sliding past the scalloped spread under the table – the tinkle resonating like a cannon blast in the room filled with hushed conversation and suppressed laughter. My impish imagination does a hurdle race mulling over the scene.

No! No! No! Bahut problem hai baba! Five star hotel a big no-no for me!

As I shook my head in vigorous resistance to the proposal, a drape drew apart to allow me a peep  down memory lane – my maiden visit to a Five Star Hotel. I was posted in Kolkata, (then Calcutta), at that time. In those days, I used to travel in over-crowded buses. On one such trip to office I was crushed and crumpled  inside a jam packed rattler so badly that when I got down I found that my saree had a hideously visible tear right on the top fold. It was too late for a repair job which could now be done only after reaching the office. But as they say man proposes but God disposes.  Something else was in the offing for me at the office.

As soon as I stepped in I was told to get ready for a visit to this Five Star venue to oversee certain VIP arrangements for a high profile conference.  There was no scope of declining as my Executive Director was waiting for me. He was to approve the final arrangement. So refusal was out of question. Before I could blink my eyes, I found myself sitting beside him in his car.

My ED was a thorough gentleman. If he was aware of my discomfort (which I was sure he was) he did not let it show to save me further embarrassment and continued a casual conversation till we reached the hotel. I could feel the doorman’s contemptuous stare at the gaping hole on my attire. I cringed perceptibly. The manager who was showing us the arrangement was too busy impressing my ED. I could not make out whether he noticed the tear or not but I for my part could not concentrate on  his enthusiastic prattle. I was more than self conscious. Even the creepy, crawly ant was far better off than me. Unfit even to occupy a millimeter of space on the shining marble floor of the spacious banquet hall!  An ugly blot on the face of human civilization! An obnoxious stench rising from the polluted stream that I passed by going home every day! My under-the-breath-self-castigation knew no full stop.  I exhaled deep and long when the time came for us to leave the premise.

Ironically, thirteen years managing the hospitality section of a thriving PSU, visiting Five Star Hotels soon became as commonplace as eating Daal Chawal for lunch/dinner. While discharging my duty I had to inspect all those nooks and corners of the glamorous joints which those who go gaga over the glam quotient of the premise would hardly dream of visiting – the kitchen quarters where the chef and his assistants sweated it out preparing mouth watering delicacies, the housekeeping section where promising interns from reputed institutes completed their internship doing menial jobs, the front office which steamed under the pressure of providing accommodation to corporate and non-corporate in peak season and the well worn props of the banquet hall  before these got carefully wrapped  in snow white satins and matching pink sashes for the benefit of  the elite oligarchy of the city. All hotels of the capital looked alike (except Hotel Imperial which boasts of a heritage and also a priceless collection of original sketches and paintings of pre-independence era which was recovered by a waiter from a heap of junk about to be discarded by the Hotel Staff) and the people running them  appeared to be having  uniformly stilted mannerism. More than a decade later, I thanked the Lord profusely when my assignment changed for good.

Now having seen and experienced it all, I will not hesitate to walk into the plush premise in a pair of tattered jeans and torn chappals with a carefree shake of a shag and shoulder. Perhaps I may also, on the spur of an impulse, shove a wayward note in the doorman’s surprised palm which shall read something like” I wish to cross over the threshold of life bereft of all modest entrapments picked, prevailed and preserved during the course of life.”

And I swear I will not look back to enjoy the befuddled expression on his face hiccupping over the missive.

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About gc1963

A working woman with interests in reading, writing, music, poetry and fine arts.

23 responses »

  1. vimala ramu says:

    Excellent, Geeta, that’s the way to go. You are so talented and your interest in various fields will see that you will never lack for subjects. Your extensive vocabulary, a very graphic imagery laced with humour is sure to take you places. All the very best to you.

    Like

  2. Wow ! What an interesting and straight out of the heart post Geeta Ji. Yes, such a post could be written by a person like you only who, despite having made an entry into the five star world, is still down to earth. Excellent write-up for sure.

    Jitendra

    Like

    • Geetashree Chatterjee says:

      Jitendraji, as I have said in my post I could not jell with the 5 Star milieu. I felt over-saturated and thanked God profusely when the much awaited change in my job responsibility took place.

      Like

  3. Dear Geeta,

    Your vivid and descriptive style of writing makes the reader wade through it all and come out as if he was experiencing it.

    Good one.
    Shail

    Like

  4. Deepa says:

    Whoa! What style, what vocabulary and what a fabulous write- up. It’s my dream to write like you some day(in the same life possibly :P) !

    Do put this one up on MS diaries as well.

    Like

  5. A tear in one’s dress and no time to repair it and still, you had to grin and bear – admirable piece of writing, especially the uneasy feeling one gets during such a time is portrayed well.

    I lost a job offer on account of a five star lunch. Myself and my co-apprentice, Ms.L (nice lady, God bless her) were offered the position of client service executives in one of south india’s best known ad companies (in 1980s) – to finalise the offer, our prospective employer, Mr.A,took us to the best 5 star hotel in chennai at that time, and ordered two non veg meals and one veg meals for the lady. Even though my brothers had taken me to a five star hotel before, this was the first time I was there on my own, that too eating lunch in silver plates and silver spoons and silver forks. Mr.A was adept in eating the non veg very expertly, like a sauve englishman. I attempted to emulate him, and my efforts at separating the chicken flesh from the bone using a spoon, (I did not know how to use a knife, then, thank God) resulted in the chicken piece FLYING in the air and landing on Mr.A’s neatly ironed shirt and tie. That was how I lost my first job offer. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Like

  6. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Omji,

    I could not help but laugh reading your comment. The message that I want to convey through the above narrated incident is that the glamour enshrouding the hospitality industry is just a glitzy cover underneath which a lot of menial and de-glamourized labour is involved. The pressure and stress lurking beneath the suave manners and dental-cream-smiles are unimaginable. But the worst part is the “ji huzoori” involved in the dealings. The customer is God even if he lodges a meaningless or whimsical complaint regarding services, the staff has to either bear the brunt of it or accept the concocted flaw with a dazzling smile and a “Yes, sir” or a “Yes, madame”. I have seen that happening more than often. Being the “link” between the corporate guest and the hotel, I had to be the deliverer of such messages too. But I had developed a working rapport or bonding with the Hotel staff. Before communicating the unjust demands , I would give them an open choice of not paying attention to it if they found the order too implausible. Soon, my bosses realized that I was not very useful in such matters and they developed parallel channels for delivering such odd jobs. While delivering such goods was considered golden opportunities for furthering one’s career I failed to kill my conscience and en-cash on the situations in hand. Obviously, I lag behind in the rat race of corporate achievement and success.

    Thank God ! You missed that opportunity. Having gone through your blog, I do not think you would have jelled well with that kind of world. Am I not right?

    Like

  7. I wish I could say, “Oh That! Of course, I exactly KNEW what you were talking about” – But I won’t, since I ain’t in the hospitality industry, and also since I honestly thought you were talking about the actual discomfort of having to grin and bear a torn in the garment (in today’s view, it could become a fashion statement, I realised anew) – Anyway, after reading your comment, I once again laboriously re-read the piece! 🙂

    What you say is true – I have a few friends in the hospitality industry, and I know the kind of stress that their jobs demand, and yet, they are supposed to be very “hospitable” to even insults at times. I know. And at some point, it becomes farcical.

    Regarding being given odd jobs, developing parallel channels is the best way and that way, but the parallel channel guy should know that he owes it to you, and that you are capable of doing it yourself if necessity demands (In this, I have over my years of service, have some experience myself) But Geetaji, it is NICE that you are not in the rat race! 🙂

    And, regarding the lost job, I must confess that you are right, and that I might have (re) discovered that I am a misfit in that industry.

    Like

  8. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    No experience in hospitality? No, you have not missed much. Yes, I did start with the odd tear in my attire and my genuine discomfort heightened by the situation I was in. But what I wanted to drive at was the way we get intimidated by certain surroundings/people/places which we are not used to or comfortable about, the ingrained snobbery and hypocrisy of the upper echelon of society who frequent such high places. Here I am not advocating discourtesy and flouting etiquettes. But where a tear incurs the contempt of the gate man………..and social niceties have to be maintained even in the face of humiliation and unreasonable complaints, you can well imagine how artificial and stilted that world is. This is the world where money speaks. The more moneyed the customer is, the more weight he throws around and the more is he pampered. Thirteen years into this line function, I am over saturated and find little to speak anything in favour.

    As regards the alternate channels, those were not developed by me but my superior who felt more comfortable passing on their unjust requests through my male counterparts as most found me too strict or righteous. For myself, I had just washed my hands off that task which I was not mentally convinced of. In short, though I continued with the job because of lack of alternative, I was a complete misfit.

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  9. Geetaji, I was in an dept similar to the hospitality industry ( the PR dept of one of the largest orgns in the world) for about 20 years now, and can perfectly understand what you are talking about. 🙂

    But, believe me, Money TALKS, WALKS and BOSSES around, not just in any particular industry – it is all over. Besides, it is society and the media that breed perceptions, don’t they?

    They say that clothes, maketh a man – and I think you will vouchsafe for this truth in the hospitality industry. But let me tell you story of elsewhere :- Some years back, when I was a younger, I took my elder brother (who died some years back in a road accident) who was a doctor, but who dressed very very simply, and was, you can say, almost utilitarian in his outlook and wore only sandals and never tucked his shirt. But all the same, he was a very learned medical practitioner, and a general physician. We both went to a prominent shoe store in Chennai to buy a sandal for my brother. One of the shoe store employees, treated my brother so badly, because of his looks, and delayed showing him the sandal he wanted, so that he can bestow his attention on a young fashionably dressed woman who wanted to know whether they sell shoe laces separately. It was, of course, nothing but the chemistry of physics that was at work, and I will not blame the young genes of that boy. But still, I thought he needed a lesson, and gave him one on how looks don’t reveal the person. He was flabbergasted when he came to know that the person whom he refused to entertain was a learned doctor. He apologized for his shameful behaviour, and made amends. I am narrating this incident for a very simple reason – aren’t we all, of the same cast and mould, when it comes to judging a person by his/her looks? It is precisely this factor that RUNS an entire “white skin” industry in India.

    Sometimes, misfits are more capable of looking at an industry in a very critical perspective – and maybe that qualifies you to become India’s Arthur Hailey by writing a novel on…….Hotels!

    Like

  10. gc1963 says:

    Public Relations………………………….aah! I know what you are talking about.

    I can relate to your story. In the capital and perhaps others too, given the growing consumerism, people are known and “respected” by the clothes they wear, the furniture in their house, the bank balance and the platinum/silver/gold credit card they can flaunt. Earlier, it used to be education, principles, ideals…………………or am I talking of utopia?

    Arthur Hailey of IndiaD) !!

    Incidentally, I like to have chicken (non veg. in general) with my own hands. Am not English enough to handle “legs” with fork, knife, spoon. That is another reason why I am not comfortable with 5 Star treats. 🙂

    Like

    • So, you believe in eating with God given hands and fork? Me too! 🙂 But these days, I have become a vegetarian, thanks to my wife’s persuasion, and now, I chicken out when I see NV! 😦

      And these days, “Flaunt” has got no limits.

      Like

  11. gc1963 says:

    Fancy clothes do attract certain kind of people – my next blog incidentally is going to be on this topic!!

    Like

  12. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Astonishingly similar! I am a very, very infrequent NV eater. But given the “carnivorous” traits of the race called Bengali, whenever in a family GT, my relatives find me going gaga over veg dishes, their faces bear a peculiar expression and lips unequivocally frame the one question which only a Bengali can ask , “Are you ill?” But recently I happened to meet a young Bengali girl who’s a complete veggie. So I am not the only weirdo in the community!!! D)

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  13. Recently, I had gone to a house warming function to the house of one of my colleagues – along with my family. After the usual gifting and showing around the new house, we were led to the dining area – a small pandal type erected outside the house on plain ground – and when we sat down to eat, we realised that all the dishes were non-vegetarian! – I called the persons who were serving, and asked for some vegetarian dish – believe me, not even ONE dish was available that was vegetarian. And suddenly, we three (myself, my wife and my son) became the cynosure of many pairs of curious eyes, invisibly throwing the question, What kind of creatures are you that you don’t take non veg? – Then my colleague came, and, visibly embarassed, he said that there was NO veg food at all! and he hurriedly explained that he had ordered only 20 plates of veg food, and 380 plates of Non Veg food, and threw the next bouncer at me, thus, “Sir, can you not adjust only today, and eat the Briyani without the meat?” – I understood three things then – one, that he understood his target audience (his invitees) very well, that so far, NONE had asked for veg food, and we were the first idiots to ask. Two, that Briyani without meat qualifies as Veg.food, and three, Housewarming functions are no longer “holy” or “sacred” – they serve non veg freely (for all I know, they might have been serving drinks – on the house! – secretly in some corner)

    One more thing I have understood JUST NOW – when you have a title like “tattered jeans” on your blog, you are likely to have more tattered comments on food!

    Like

  14. gc1963 says:

    Enjoying all tattered comments:))
    Curious to know how the episode ended. Biryani without the mutton pieces?
    Some of the diehard veggies over here consider egg as veg. Looking for logic? Gone for a walk!!

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  15. Thanks. 🙂
    The episode ended with us eating some “Kheer” given apologetically by the host, in throwaway plastic cups. (Personally, I had no qualms about eating Briyani with or without the mutton pieces, having been a carnivorous eater before, if I was in a desert and there was nothing else to eat) – Then, I had to take my family for a very late lunch at a vegetarian hotel – all because we observed the social nicety of staying back and chitchatting for sometime, since we didn’t want the host to feel bad that we walked off with just the kheer!

    Egg, is both veg and non veg – I just shared a video on my facebook day before yesterday, on the egg industry – even otherwise, it is available on various sites and channels – So, I feel a vegetarian can always have non-fertilised eggs. This was what confused Gandhi too, when once the doctor asked him to take eggs – and he said even if they were veg, he wouldn’t take!

    By the way, there may be hundreds of bakery products that use the omnipotent egg?

    🙂

    Like

  16. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    I’ll have to go through that video.

    For a change the lunch was preceded by dessert.

    Life is full of varied experiences. But its really difficult to be courteous with an empty stomach. Kudos!

    Like

  17. Sneha says:

    Ha ha , enjoyed reading this quite a bit. How did I miss this wonderful write up? You have such a fine sense of humor.

    Like

  18. gc1963 says:

    Aha! Pleasant, pleasant surprise to find you here. Thanks for enjoying the post..

    Like

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