The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Friday, April 12, 2013

To Catch the Twinkling Stars

Money can buy beds but not the sleep. Internet can give recipe but not breakfast. A clean dress cannot hide unclean skin; it would stink and itch anyway. Stars cannot hide the darkness of night...and star hotels only prepare one to forget the reality and start believing in seamless lies. हाँ, सचाई छुप नहीं सकती बनावट की उश्लों से / कि  खुशबू आ नहीं सकती कभी कागज़ के फूलों से . And finally, one cannot  fire his or her hearth by pouring hot water into it!
How to ensure continuity of entertainment?

A good question. I wouldn’t have got an answer to it myself had I not got a chance to stay in a star hotel last week. There was this spectacle waiting for me to bump into.

This one is just a picture, a photo opportunity. Take a close look at this.

Okay, done.

Now tell me what is special in it?

A washroom, and a bank of urinals…um…oh yeah, a plasma television above.

Wow, you hit the nail on the head! This one is a photograph taken inside the washroom of that particular star hotel in Delhi. But do we really need to watch TV while facing the pan of urinal? I mean while having a tinkle in the loo? Haha! It’s a star hotel: one shouldn’t forget that. It wants to provide its guests with uninterrupted entertainment streaming in forever! Or else they might get bored and flee for their life.

Well, I see, this constitutes the specialty of the star hotel then. And what about the stay in star hotel that ensures uninterrupted entertainment streaming in for ever?

Aha! It’s quite unforgettable I should say. Look, how it enriched my experience!

The routine started right away, as soon as I reached there. Before entering the lobby of the hotel, I was supposed to satisfy the security fellows standing at the porch and also their X-ray machine. They should get convinced, first of all, that I was a harmless soul approaching their premises with harmless baggage. The security scanning was all over in a trice though. Otherwise, I’m used to the frisking at the airports and so this did not irk me. No issue.

Now the trained receptionist took over. It appeared the fellow was too much trained in hospitality management, way too much. He was to be convinced before I was allowed inside. He was kind of empowered to ask questions, use veto powers, collect all sorts of information. Really, entry into the star hotel should not be made easier. The fellow demanded my photo identity card and I offered my PAN card. That was not enough. He asked for an identity card with my postal address on it. How might I satisfy him? I had different cards with different addresses: My passport done from Patna carried my address as was applicable to me then; my recent driving licence done from Coimbatore had another address to show; my voter card was done from Bhubaneswar and it would show yet another address…and now my visiting card said that my address was Shimla. Suddenly a question flashed through my mind: Am I, then, as ubiquitous as God? Or simply a poor creature with no address? A person living everywhere has nowhere to live, like a person who loves everybody really loves nobody! In loving and living something permanent is desirable, nay essential. I felt disturbed: it was a profound philosophical question to crop up in a very mundane situation. But then again, before me stood the all-powerful receptionist, waiting for my answer and a moment’s delay or fumbling would impel him into the domain of doubts. He could suspect me to be a terrorist or he could take me for a drug-peddler…and he would call the police, Delhi Police. Oh my God! I should really be intelligent to escape the present hassle and satisfy the finicky receptionist of the star hotel. He was smileless and more than that restless. And he wanted to be sure as to where I belonged. I was not sure if I would be able to satisfy the smileless receptionist.

 However, words formed on my tongue just on the spur of the moment and I was convinced that it was the right moment to lose temper while keeping cool.

Keeping cool and losing temper? It should be an impossible state then.

Yeah, but then I did accomplish it.

‘At the moment this is all I have to prove my identity. I’m a bona fide Indian tax-payer, right? Now tell me if I have to check in or not,’ I just uttered it firmly, nay cried out.

And the fellow had no importance to attach to my ultimatum. Rather he was long ready with another quibble. ‘You are booked for two nights.’ And I protested, ‘No, I’ll be checking out in the morning after the third night and that is the minimum duration I have to stay in your hotel to complete my engagement.’

‘Then you’ve to talk to…,’ was his suggestion.

‘Look Mister, as far as I’m concerned, I won’t talk to anybody just to stay in your hotel, right?’ was my reply.

And this time, too, the meticulous fellow with right sartorial mien and oodles of training in hospitality management had no response.

‘I didn’t offend you,’ uttered the receptionist after sufficient interval and his tone was nothing if not curt.

‘You didn’t offend me and that’s right, but you are capable of,’ was my quip.

Somehow the check-in hassle was over. I didn’t have to talk to anybody; the only thing I was called upon to do was to fill up a form and sign, and then sign on another without filling it, and initialing at a few more places…without reading any of them. It was like clicking EULA “I Agree” while loading a piece of application software! And thus I could satisfy him about my ability to pay, my identity, one that should not be trifled with.

Now was the time I was ushered to the room so reluctantly allotted to me. But there was no initiative, no offer of help, as if the receptionist fellow was waiting for me to beseech him. Or it was like I was made to wait till the big boss of the star hotel arrived on the scene to satisfy himself that an urchin from the street was not trying to gatecrash. Or maybe, according to the well-trained receptionist, a bona fide tax-payer of India like me should know where to go and what to do and, as such, no formal accompaniment to the room was necessary. Perforce I had to ask, ‘So, how do I reach my room?’ And to that the fellow reluctantly delivered a sentence that he seemed to have long mugged up. ‘You first identify your luggage and then my colleague will take you to your room.’ As a reply it was okay. In fact I expected nothing more than that at the moment. It was already 10 PM and it was time to take rest and not to enjoy the sermons of the reception fellow. The décor of the lobby had no attraction to my drowsy eyes either.

Presently, there came a person to accompany me to my room. He was diminutive but a uniformed fellow whose uniform made him look more grotesque than smart. But the noticeable thing was the velvety-bottomed cart he was pushing. I had only a small cabin baggage and another small bag—and that was all I had. But the trolley-cart he brought to carry my small bags was taller than me and it was to occupy the whole of the lift space. Was it a trolley or a gigantic Chinese fishing net brought straight from Kochi seashore? Maybe, the wheeled cart was brought to carry me up to my room along with my baggage, I imagined. Design-wise, it had two long steel pipes bent into inverted U-shapes and fitted onto its base in such a way that it appeared as though an ‘X’ had been made to metamorphose into a couple of U’s and then get inverted, its elongated hands and legs bent and screwed with the corners of the base of the trolley-cart. And thus the poor X had been made to bend backward and suffer. Was our X doing some impossible yogic posture? Ah! My suffering X, you’ve lost your identity to a couple of Us and you are going to suffer here till eternity—I empathised. Who designed the cart? And why did he make it so big? Then I remembered it could have something to do with the star specification of a star hotel.

The cart trundled into the lift on a mild push from behind by the uniformed fellow and I too managed to squeeze myself into lift. Thus I followed my luggage and the uniformed person detailed to lead the way.

Eighteenth floor: my room was in the eighteenth floor facing another big hotel across the road. Through my window I observed the hotel. The lights from inside its rooms made that skyscraper of a hotel look starry and dreamy and beautiful and enchanting. I had no doubt that what I had before me across the road was a star hotel too…and it could be better than mine, I thought wistfully. Then a quick flash of wisdom made me realise that the other hotel must have more sedulous receptionists with an even stricter regime of security. I remembered the old saying: The neighbour’s wife and the distant mountains are always beautiful.

Agreed, it was already the time to snore and dream but was that easy? Where was the place to sleep in the room? The queen-sized bed was all crowded—there were six pillows already vying for a place on it. A whooping collection of pillows of variegated colours, I say! Why on earth the queen-bed of a star hotel should be the dumping platform of pillows? Nay, they were not just pillows—I thought—they were the maids of the queen detailed to help their mistress in her intimate job of satisfying the occupant! Suddenly I reprimanded myself for going so infructuously imaginative. First things first: to sleep there, the first action that was required of me to accomplish was to remove the pillows—the five of them, but then where to keep them for the night? There was no space in the dingy room to move, not even to stand before the mirror fitted to the wall, and keeping the spare pillows on the floor below was not a civilised choice. There was no table-top television and keeping the pillows on the TV was also not an option. Then where could I take them? Taking them inside the bathroom? Really I had no answer.

Otherwise, going to sleep straight away was not possible. A star hotel had so many post check-in routines for the occupants to go through. In my room there were many things waiting to be read: small flyers with wise words of the hotel management strewn all over, the do’s and don’ts in the shape of instructions to the inmates, the sermons how we might save water by not demanding the towels and linens to be changed every day, how we might save water by using just one mug of water for shaving (where was the mug?), the offer of room service at exorbitant cost, the list of services available—from massage to manicure, the feedback form that promised to make the service better taking the cue from the guests’ suggestions and blah, blah, blah.

I had a great desire to sleep, skipping the reading. But a second thought bothered me: Should I skip them? Or to put it in other words, would it be in my interest to skip them? At least I should read the labels of small ampoules of shampoo and hand-wash and moisturizers and conditioners, or else I would end up washing my face with shampoo. Before going to sleep, I should be wise and well read. An occupant of a room in a star hotel should not expect sleep to come to him unless he had made himself wise imbibing the instructions strewn all over the room, the bathroom included. I decided I must read the literature. And a slow reader like me, with eyes bleary and soporific, took at least some fifteen minutes to read all of them, including the fire escape plan. I’m sure others would require as much time, for the literatures were numerous and scattered all over.

Well, there was something more interesting to do there at the mini bar embedded in the alcove, but that was not to come free of cost.  Yes, hair of the dog at midnight must be expensive, nay prohibitive. There was an electric teapot too, but I could not mark that it was complimentary.
When reading was over it was time to wash and go to sleep. But the bathroom frightened me: it was like a small wardrobe, or maybe even smaller than that. Those who have seen the Hindi movie Neelkamal can recall how Rajkumar the hero is made to die inside a brick chamber that is built around him brick upon brick in front of the stunned spectators! And then he became a singing ghost. आ जा, तुझको पुकारे मेरा प्यार ... The bath closet of the star hotel was not a brick chamber, though, but a glass one. Nevertheless, one would hardly be able to stand there with arms akimbo, let alone do any stretching manoeuvre. Bending downwards to rub legs would be possible but one should take a special position…and with special caution. And what about water? The knobs had all the controls. खुल जा सिम-सिम—One should be careful or else drench himself from scalp to feet. One should be careful to turn the knob or else he would end up singeing himself. I began to cogitate: what I needed then was not an unabridged bath but an ablution, and should I not skip it for a night? It was a star hotel, and here I should not insist doing everything that I was doing when I was not in a star hotel.

And I skipped my ablution. I was not required to sing आ जा, तुझको पुकारे मेरा प्यार….

It was not only the nocturnal ablution that I had to skip; I had to skip drinking water too. The complimentary bottle of water was already over during the tiring one-hour acclimatization process. I still needed a glass of water so that it should compensate, to some extent, the loss of coolness due to skipping the nocturnal ablution. But how to get water? Oh yes, I was already a wise man by now, and my reading of the entire room literature had made me aware who was to be contacted for water. I just flipped the pages and selected the number to dial. But my wisdom made me flip some more pages in that book too. And I got the page where the cost of ordering a water bottle was written. Ah! It was whooping one hundred eighty rupees per bottle, fifteen hundred percent more expensive than its actual cost in unstarred market!

Suddenly, my thirst disappeared. I tried to swallow some saliva to manage my thirst. I felt like a hero in a fairy tale who could forget his thirst in the desert, in the land of fire, inside a bottomless pit, and whenever required. I tried to feel great that I was staying in a star hotel, trying to catch the twinkling stars.
A N Nanda

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Anonymous HK Joshi said...

people are getting bore due to uninterrupted entertainment only. Because of this, western people have developed STRESS and other beautiful and richest illness in their mind. Keep it up, go ahead, all d best.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Welcome, Joshi ji, to my blog and thank you for leaving a comment. It's an encouraging gesture from your end.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respected Sir,
Experience on identity proof is really fantastic.
IP Jaleswar West

10:03 PM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Thank you Singha Babu. I think ultimately our identity is the one the receiver is willing to receive. I think you may agree with me on this.

5:24 AM  
Blogger padmalayaa7 said...

Sir, this reminds me of a saying and here it goes- BAWHADAMBARA LAGHU KRIYA. I have not yet stepped into the lobby of a five star hotel and my eyebrows are raised when I read anything about it. Say it the food, the rooms, the staff and so on.. This narration has opened my eyes and I am no more in the category of DEPRIVED class (of course for stars). Now I dont think myself as underprivileged so far as a star hotel is concerned. This article is an eye opener.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Thank you Padma. There's, in fact, a lot of humour one can always enjoy out of these star antics.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Puja Nanda said...

Hahah! That was brilliant, Daddy!

Over the last 2 years, I got a fair share of opportunities to stay in a hotel on account of work. What I continue to find surprising is the "towel designation" in the bathroom of a hotel. A particular time a year ago, when I was in Brussels, I found 12 towels of 6 distinct sizes carefully folded, some as fan, and some even as flower, at various locations across the bathroom. I was relieved to find my fellow students also discussing the towels on the breakfast table the next morning, and with a collective intelligence of 12 students, we were unable to decipher the towel code! It was only last month when I was buying towels for my own house, I realized that one towel that haunted our discussion for the longest time was a floor-mat to keep the floor dry!

3:16 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Is it so, Puja? I'd also suspected the same but after I had used that once! Yuk! I realised to my horror that the one I used to dry my face was a doormat but not a moment too soon. Anyway, I'm now experienced. The largest of the towels kept on the rack of bath encloser is the bath towel and I restrict my use to that only.

And coming to the table manners, I had once seen that the waiter took the plate away even though the diner [not me!] had not finished his eating. It happened in the dining saloon of a ship somewhere in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. Then the fellow, with his hunger not satisfied yet, protested. And the waiter replied very discourteously that he was not at fault, for by putting his spoor in a particular way the diner had unwittingly given an indication of his finishing with his dining. The poor diner! He did not know the cutlery antics. Even I don't know it. And it is too late to pick up the tricks!

5:30 AM  

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