The Colonial Fetish…

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sekhar Olympus… Sai World Empire… Lodha Casa Bella… Raheja Exotica… Tanna Mangeshi Elite… Ekta Terraces… Fairmont La Paradiso… Hiranandani Gardens… Poonam HeightsKingston Annexe… God’s Gift Towerz… Ittina Soupernika… Arihant Explodus… Mahagun Depend-On-Us

Just a few names if you scout around for exotic, semantically sublime, neo-classical living in most of our cities today… doesn’t matter whether it is Gurgaon, NOIDA, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai or Hyderabadu…

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When most of my friends and colleagues who come visiting me through multiple airports criss-crossing half the world… the first thing I tell them about what they would see… is an India – a Country of Contrasts… a strange mix of tolerant co-existence of exoticities…

  • temples with scented walls, sandalwood doors and gold adorned idols… yet uncouth young and old spitting and urinating not too far away from it…
  • tall Manhattan-esque towers with glitzy glass facades where you cannot know what happens inside… and blue tarpaulined shanties right next to them where everything is visible to the naked eye in microscopic precision…
  • crowds of people all around… yet myriads of lonely lives…
  • chaos rules the order of things… yet people crowd temples and mosques to find peace…
  • and the most contrasting… the Government is on a name changing spree of cities, towns and streets with names and no names… to anything that might sound extravagantly Indian… and the average Indian finds supreme saintliness through a festooned fetish for anything that remotely sounds voguish French, Italian, Spanish, or an equally anachronistic Greco-Roman…

It’s chic… it’s kicky…!

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“Why do you want to rent an apartment here… look at the name… “Mahavir Pratishtha”… it doesn’t go with your multinational job and a lifestyle… the courier guys can never get the name right… moreover, you cannot even call your dog Mufasa any more here… you have to give him an Indian name…” my realtor friend Bansal had advised me when I was changing cities… and jobs… a few years ago…

While I eventually settled on “Ganga Satellite” (GS) in Pune… owing largely to the fact that being from Gurgaon… I was used to spaces and the GS provided for that space for starters… but over the next 2 years and a half that I lived in GS, I could neither find Ganga flowing past my housing complex… nor did the Satellite help in alleviation of any pain caused by an oft breaking down wifi… and the perennially defunct Satellite TV broadcasting…

Instead… I spent 3 monsoon seasons full of a foul stenched, mosquito infested nullah that ran just outside the campus… so much for the Ganga… and so much for a Satellite…

Over an era of living in Apartment complexes of all sizes, shapes and forms… and names… I tried getting under the skin of the ‘nomenclaturing’ in our housing sector in India… particularly of the colonial connect…

Until the springing up of Ramdev Baba’s multi-million cottage industry… “Make In India” seems to have acquired a peculiar distaste… particularly of quality, dubious as it always was… none of the Indian brands… more so if Indian sounding… never seemed to have instilled the confidence in the first fifty years of our so called independence…

Add to it the Gandhian (of the Bapu variety) generations always cribbing about the “Country going to the Dobermans and the Chihuahuas”… and how life would have been great if the Queen continued to rule the country… albeit from London… and everything superlative was associated with continental Europe… or Amreeka… and later Kanedda… and still later, Oz land… and how privileged, HS (High Society) up-man-ship usually manifested when the shopping bags were from Harrods; H&M or YSL…

With the world getting flatter… what with glitzy malls… world schools… hi-tech hospitals… and Bittoo Meat Wala renaming himself and his khandaani (ancestral) business in Pritam Pura, Delhi as BMW… the only industry that was left behind and crying hoarse was the housing industry…

With privatisation… communities of “builders and developers” as most of them liked calling themselves… started usurping acres and hectares of land to “colonise” the Indian in us – to provide that “sar pe chhat” (a roof above the head) – a quintessential Indian middle class dream…

Now, how can you have “colonisation” without an umbilical “colonial connect”… especially with English… and anything else “phoren” (except Chinese)… being the lingua-franca that binds a Subramaniam… and a Subroto… and a Sukhwinder…

You cannot expect a Subroto, who sends his children to Global World School… and on Sunday evenings has his dinner at “Mashima’s Kitchen” at Phoenix Market City mall… to live in “Mahavir Kutir” all measuring 4 floors without elevators… how uncouth…

So… for Subroto and Subroto alone… Mahavir builders have “Mahavir Icon”… the latest razzmatazz in Suburban Mumbai…

Well… while Mahavir gets iconic… mom and pop bucket builders are equally having a field day… “Rohan Vasanta” at Whitefield in Namma Bengaluru has taken the double barreling of naming residential projects to a new high… of 14 floors – so to say…

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Meanwhile… my friend Monty Manocha is getting busy to launch a Solar Energy project in Hissar and Rohtak… he tried doing that 10 years ago when he was in India… the Haryana Government had spurned him away at that time… this time he has come through to the same Government as a businessman based in London… introducing latest in German technology… to produce power at 3 times the cost of what he had proposed 10 years ago…

Nothing has changed in his project proposition… except that now, he is a London based businessman… with vested interests in his home country… wanting to put his finger in the Great Indian “Make In India” pie…

“Brown Colonisation” – it’s time, you might say… and the last I heard, his project has sailed through…

And Bansal, my realtor friend… had gotten Manocha to live in the Great Indian “Saini Sky Villas” in Gurgaon…

Happy Weekend…

Ravi Kodukula

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The Loyalty Program…

Friday, May 20, 2016

“Sir – have you stayed at any other Shangri-La property in the past? That will help me add points from your current stay to your existing membership,” Robin offered…

I was checking in at the Makati Shangri-La, Manila, last Sunday… and like every other hotel that I had checked into in the past… and never cared about the rewards points that my business to the hotel would bring me… on this occasion too, I shook my head…

Robin looked at me… head to toe… literally falling over the reception counter in the process of doing so… and looked back at the information that he had about me on the Registration Card that he had pre-filled… all the information that my travel agent had provided at the time of booking… and everything Robin and Shangri-La were able to extract from Google owing to the tons of electronic dust that I leave through my Fursat Friday…

I may not be a celebrity… nor a SPATT (Special Attention) category that hotels normally put you in… like in all such cases when you have either given them shit loads of business… or you have given them assloads of pain in the wrong part of the anatomy, through an unrelenting demand on the hotel’s ‘service libido’ that it prides itself in… or on its nervous system, which is most perennially fragile to ‘pesty’ guests…

But I definitely know that the information that Robin had… qualified me as a high profile traveler… an inescapable hotel hopper… a pure-play cargo hold passenger in airlines… and who rents a Hertz Tuktuk upon landing in Bangkok… and a Bajaj Auto-rickshaw to go back home in Navi Mumbai…

Well… Mumbai for now, till the Navi Mumbai airport comes up in the next 30 years…

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“It’s high time you retired these Sahara / Jet-lite / (now operated by Etihad) aircraft,” I said to Sahil…

Sahil was my cabin attendant in the Bangkok-Mumbai mid afternoon flight yesterday on my way back from Manila… and together we tried pulling out the food tray from the side of the seat…

Loyalty has its privileges… being a Jet Privilege member for years, saw to it that I was comfortably perched in 1A right at the front of the aircraft… just that, this was the same aircraft Jet Airways uses in the India domestic sectors… where 1A means you are elbowing your neighbour in Seat 1C…

However, loyalty could not help me pull the right strings… er… the food tray out of its hold… it had to be inhumanly extracted with a wrench… and then the rest of the flight was full of apologies that one lives with… and suddenly how you turn a darling of a SPATT for the entire cabin crew…

Conversations ensue… it is always good witnessing the pride, profusion and pomp with which the hospitality industry continuously keeps striving to make you feel the King… and Sahil wasn’t far behind…

After all… Loyalty must have an albatross of Royalty in it…    

Sahil is a Hotel School graduate from Anjuman-i-Islam, Mumbai… has been all over the Emirates with the finest in the hospitality world… Ritz-Carlton… Hyatt Worldwide… Marriott International… before landing into… er… flying into his current job with Jet Airways…

Sahil wanted to be a Sommelier… an interest that he had to bury because he was moved into HR at the Ritz-Carlton… against his volition… but because he was good at wines…

“I was a Trainer… I hated it… I had to read a lot… Books… Standard Operating Procedures… and most tiringly, People… can you imagine, Sir, I had to read people…!”

As matter of fact-ly as I could, I told Sahil… I am a Trainer… and I have been one for many years now and how I value the profession… how I have invested in it for a lifetime… and how meaningful it has been… how noble it is to be able to teach someone what you know… how fulfilling it is when someone spots you in a mall and runs over to you with reverence and thanks you for all that you have taught them…

“Loyalty has its Rewards, Sahil… I now lead organisation wide efforts in this part of Human Resources with my current employer… a loyalty towards my profession…!”

Sahil almost fell off his feet… and onto mine… he was apologetic – profusely again… albeit, this time it wasn’t for the un-pullable food tray… but for having denigrated the Training function…

I assured him that I would not feel bad for what he thought about Training… or the experience that he had had… and that we all make choices in life that we best like… and what we can best do…

I shared with Sahil that I wasn’t born in HR… I started off in Hotel Operations myself and then in Financial Services Operations… till I found my passion in the Training, Development space…

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“So, did you get to be a Sommelier at all then?” I asked Sahil… after about an hour in the Service Area just behind the cockpit… when I caught up with him looking for a cup of coffee for myself…

Sahil got thoughtful…

“I have been thinking after our conversation, Mr. Kodukula… I am toying with 2 options in my life right now… I have a job with Qatar Airways… very similar to what I am doing but with more money and the base location will be Doha… and another, where, with all the money that I have saved, I want to study to be a Master Sommelier at the International Culinary Centre, New York City… what do you suggest?”

“You are not quitting your current job because the food tray is not in its place – I hope” I winked at Sahil…

We had a hearty laugh…

“I have made up my mind, Sir… I want to be loyal to my Passion…” were Sahil’s parting words, when he waved me a Good Bye at the door when we landed in Mumbai…

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Meanwhile… earlier this week… Sunday… Robin at the Shangri-La reception looked back at me with intrigue… till he could not resist it any longer…

“Sir, I will enrol you in the Shangri-La loyalty program… I am sure you will like it when you gain the rewards for your stay with us…”

“I would love that, Robin… and you will be the 37th Hotel Rewards program that I shall pledge my loyalty to…” I said with a smile…

While I count my blessings… and my rewards points…

Happy Weekend…

Ravi Kodukula

DWIJA… and the Conscience Creepers…

Friday May 13, 2016

This week, I dug out all testimonials of my professional qualifications acquired over a life time… most of these were in a digital state… secure in more than one storage source viz., my iMac, iPhone, MacBook Air, 2 (Wireless) Seagate 1TB External Hard Disks and 2 (Wired) Western Digital 2TB External Hard Disks…

And two paper copies of each of the testimonials… one in a laminated state for ‘aesthetics’ for myself… and the other – ATTESTED TRUE COPIES

I heard Kejriwal is coming to check me out and confirm my testicles… er… testimonials are True… Attested… Copied… or otherwise…

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This entire week, I spent countless hours figuring out which other country on this worthy earth of ours, do we have such ‘conscientious levels of an educational caste system’… where an IITian, at the highest self-styled echelon of a grossly self-warped educational system… questions (educational and professional) qualifications of a tea vendor turned Premier of a country…

Quite akin to a BRAHMIN asking a SHUDRA if he qualifies to serve the community… and a country…  

Well, in the contemporary… and available history of the spoken or the written word… I haven’t been able to unearth any such verbal impeachment… except on 2 occasions in the last 22 years…

The first… was my own ‘UPANAYANAM’ or the ‘Sacred Thread Ceremony’ in June 1994… and now 2 weeks ago, Krtin, my son’s ‘UPANAYANAM’

(Upanayana (Sanskrit: उपनयन) literally means “the act of leading to or near”… it is the rite of passage symbolizing a ceremony in which a Guru (teacher) accepts and draws a child towards knowledge and initiates the ‘DWIJA’ (the second birth)… that is of the young mind and spirit… the Upanayana can be performed at the age of 7 or 14 depending upon when the ‘Teacher’ thought he could accept the ‘Pupil’)

On both occasions, I had questioned the sanctity of a ceremony like this one… and more appropriately… the ‘relevance’ of the ceremony and most importantly wearing the ‘YAGNOPAVEETHAM’ (the sacred thread) itself… looping over your left shoulder and the loop crossing your torso and falling on to your right hip…

(‘Yagnopaveetham’ is a triple stranded sacrificial filament joined by a knot that is worn by those initiated into the ‘Upanayanam’. Yagnopaveetham is a Sanskrit word; Yagna means sacred ritual and Upaveetham means a covering. Yagnopaveetham means a sacred covering on the body without which a Yagna or a sacred ritual cannot be performed) 

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Long years ago… say about 2,000 years… the written word has it… that all the pregnant women in the Aryan world in the north of India… were transported to an astounding ‘reserve’… which could well be geographically ‘Pakistan’ today…

The ‘reserve’ was self-serving in all ways… the prospect mothers were well cared for in all respects… and with so many prospect mothers under the same roof, the environment was very conducive for coming together of all the necessary ingredients for making the mind, body and the soul of the new born astonishingly sound… and laying the perfect ground for the child to be a bright, excitable citizen of a progressive society…

And the mothers were sent back after the child-birth to where they came from… while that may be heart rending for many… for many more, it laid a faultless foundation for a society where nobody knew the parentage nor the genetic make-up of any citizen in the society… when the adolescents – both boys and girls – went back to the larger society when they were 14…

But before they went back… they were put through various tests… qualifying and certifying them to be fit for purpose of serving the larger society…

These tests were based on what the children went through in their formative years at the ‘reserve’… the education prepared them for TEACHING and TRAINING the society – the art and science of life… for PROTECTING the society and the citizens against foreign invasions and keeping internal peace… for CARRYING OUT the craft and practice of TRADE… and lastly and equally importantly SERVING the larger society in its administrative setups…

Everybody at the ‘reserve’ had equal access to the learning and the training methodologies and the available knowledge sources… but growing up to 14 years of age… and based on mental and physical faculties and the interest that they had in one art, science or craft over the other… each child mastered what s/he wanted to…

The society needed them all… and this was one of the most enviable frameworks in governance for many centuries that the ancient Aryan society had modelled hundreds of years ago…

At the time when the adolescents were put through these ‘tests’ and were certified to go back to the larger society… they were put through ‘DWIJA’ (to be twice born)… where in an ‘UPANAYANAM’ ceremony… they wore ‘YAGNOPAVEETHAMs’ of differing folds to signify a ‘second life’ that they would live…

This second birth would seamlessly integrate them to do what they are good at… for the larger Benefit and Service of the society…

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Just as Modi, the OBC (Modi’s family belonged to the Modh-Ghanchi-Teli (oil-presser) community, which is categorised as an Other Backward Class by the Indian government)… and Modi, the Tea Vendor at the Vadnagar Railway Station… could become the Prime Minister of the country…

Modi completed his higher secondary education in Vadnagar, Dist. Mehsana, Gujarat, in 1967, where a teacher described him as an average student… yet, a keen debater, with an interest in theatre… unlike Kejriwal who was always a top-of-the-class academically-endowed student who weaved his way into IIT Kharagpur…

Modi had an early gift for rhetoric in debates, and this was noted by his teachers and fellow students… Modi preferred playing larger-than-life characters in theatrical productions, which has influenced his political image… Kejriwal with his social skills has won many awards including ‘Ramon Magsaysay’ and ‘Mahan Lodu Award’ (I am not saying this – Wiki is)…

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As unfortunately as the monumental work-class model paved way to the world-class caste system in our country… slowly and gradually, the Kejriwals of the world, through times, became self-serving CONSCIENCE CREEPERS of the society…

The ‘reserves’ vanished and ‘reservations’ took over…

Shudras or the ‘SERVING’ class… lost that equal right to ‘DWIJA’ and ‘UPANAYANAM’ and the ‘YAGNOPAVEETHAM’

Till Modi became the Prime Minister… this is the true relevance of DWIJA for me in current times…  

Happy weekend…

Ravi Kodukula

The Holdall…

Friday May 06, 2016

“You push all the kids in one by one… 4 of them… then the big steel trunk… and the two suitcases with the canvas covers… that small bag that you needed to deliver for Neeta Aunty in Delhi, given by her brother who is your neighbour… those two sizeable bags with home food to last for 2 days… that ‘Surahi’ – the earthen water pot… and the big, burly HOLDALL…” said Rajat, my good friend, in an off the cuff, innocuous soliloquy at the lunch table this week…

“And suddenly you discover after the train moves… the holdall is in… but Munnu, your third child… is lost somewhere in between the food bags and the HOLDALL…”

Rajat lived many years in the same small government owned, ‘Locomotive Town’, Chittaranjan, in West Bengal, where I spent the first 7 years of my life… the dainty, brick painted, flat-floored town of the 60’s and 70’s… where you could get into your neighbour’s house in a neighbouring street considering it to be your own… no fault of yours… they look the same exact as your house… and most of the time, waft out the same smells of a quintessential middle class living…

I haven’t been to Chittaranjan in the last 30 years but I am told it still is quite the quaint town the way I had last left it… no brick turned out of place and no smell altered… and still flat floored, for two reasons… one – the government is wary of the creaky concrete on the floor above the ground floor as the Railways contractors are infamous using any cement but the best… and two – if the locomotives suddenly started flying they would not take any substantial runway through the small town before they are airborne…

But something has changed…

With all the renaming drama in the country and the zeal and enthusiasm with which we have added more and more trains to the already burgeoning network… the ‘7-up Toofan Express’ that I used to take to travel across the south east of the town to Howrah (Calcutta – OK – Kolkata) and north west of Chittaranjan to Delhi… is now called ‘13008 Udyaan Abha Toofan Express’…

Now… for the LANGUAGE enthusiasts like me… the ‘Udyaan Abha Toofan’ could be a blasting blooper of all times… in my own humble leanings towards Hindi as a language I would interpret that as a “Splendorous (Abha) Garden (Udyaan) caught in a malefic Storm (Toofan)…

And… for the LUGGAGE enthusiasts like Rajat… the ‘HOLDALL’ has disappeared, not just from the family’s entourage… but the dictionary too…

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“Leave that alone… we will put that in the HOLDALL…” shouted my father… “and that one as well… that can definitely go into the HOLDALL…”

Come May… and the sweltering heat… and the impending summer vacations… the plan in urban-middle-class-nuclear-familied India was plain and simple… take to the numerous trans-state trains that criss-cross the largest railway network in the world… and get to your ‘native’ place…

Now… ‘native’ was a very convoluted word in my mind in my growing up years… till I read of American Indians and Aborigines much later in life… I was convinced I had a much better place value in my own country…

For an Odisha-born, Telugu-speaking, 7 years in West Bengal and living in Delhi ever since… my parents kept it amply clear… native was where their parents lived… where their siblings lived… a definitive connect that way, miles away… my parents ensured we had a good reunion every summer with our roots…

A good part of the plan was to start the banter at the dining table weeks in advance… being employed in the Railways it was routine for my father to contour our dinner time conversations to a 7-up delayed that day by 7 minutes… or the AC Deluxe train that started from Howrah lost its way and ended up at New Jalpaiguri… or those 250 odd people caught at the railway station exit gate without valid tickets…

“This country is going to the dogs, I say…” my father would say… that was a good 40 years ago… well… he has since stopped commenting about the state of the country and that of the Indian Railways… he has run out of vocabulary…

With a week in the looming for the journey… my mother would pick up the energy from the heavy smoky air in the kitchen… the sweet meats for us during those 2 days of the journey… and some with added preservatives for our relatives when we reach our native place… and enough other foods with varied levels of preservation duly stamped for taste, texture… and trademarked for the 8 odd meals that we would have during the journey… before we again had home made food cooked by maternal and paternal aunts when we reached our destination…

And the biggest celebration was always packing the luggage… the clothes for a month long vacation… dumped into the VIP or Aristocrat polycarbonate suitcases… and the suitcases themselves covered with freshly washed canvas covers, often made from the army fatigues… that were stitched by the neighbourhood tailor… you see… while the polycarbonate protects and carries your clothes… but for a life-lasting polycarbonate… you need to protect it with an oft washable canvas clothing…

Trust me… I still have that VIP polycarbonate suitcase at home… 40 years old… has lasted a lifetime… still going strong as a relic in my attic… all because of the canvas cover custom-stitched by my neighbourhood tailor… 40 years ago…

A day before the trip… everything is in place…

All except the HOLDALL… that is always the last to be packed…

“We need to pack those 4 bedsheets… bedcovers… inflatable pillows… some newspaper… those slippers… ah… ok… those wet towels that we can dry on the window… when the train moves they dry fast… what… some clothes that cannot go into the suitcase… ok… shove them in here… what else… ok… those steel chains to lock the luggage to the seat corners so that the luggage will not be stolen…”

For my father, who was the self-appointed director of packing the luggage… the HOLDALL was the command centre… the 5 ft by 2 ft canvas discernibly spread and open… with all sorts of travel items conspicuously spewing out from all ends of the HOLDALL…

“Where do we put these toothbrushes and toiletries and all, Nannagaru (father)…?” I would ask just before we left home…

Well… I knew the answer… but I just want the affirmation… for the austerity of the HOLDALL…

I don’t have the HOLDALL at home anymore… but my travels today are conveniently upgraded to wheeled luggage… Brooks Brothers cached in as the latest…

Rajat’s mention of the holdall this week though… brought back memories of many Mays of my life… Thank you Rajat…

Happy weekend…

Ravi Kodukula