We relocated to Hyderabad fifteen days back. This was after living in Mumbai for over 20 years. To be precise I had arrived in Mumbai on the 1st of January 2002. Between completing my post graduation at Bhubaneswar (September 2001) and moving to Mumbai (January 2002) I had stayed for around four months with my parents at Hyderabad (dad was posted at Hyderabad in 2002). So in a way this is a closing of a circle, technically I had gone to Mumbai from Hyderabad and now I am back here.
This story though is not about my journey back and forth. So we moved to Hyderabad because Sonali quit her job, of 17 years, at Mumbai and switched to a job at Microsoft’s R&D facility at Hyderabad… I anyway being in a location agnostic profile did not have to think too much about moving cities. This story is not about that truly inspiring journey of absolutely stupendous growth of a 4 foot 10 juggernaut from being a star performer as a call center agent to someone who is considered a rainmaker in the IT Security Industry (though to be fair there really must be a story about that journey as well at some point but then I know she’s not done yet so I’ll just hold off on writing that one for now). This story is about some really remarkable people who have made me feel very fondly and emotionally about a line of work that we barely ever even stop and think about. The hospitality industry.
The decision to move in the middle of a raging third wave of the pandemic was taken months before the third wave was even in the zygote state. The decision to stick to the planned move was taken in the middle of the wave because frankly how far ahead could you realistically plan if at all planning were a possibility any more. Microsoft is a generous employer and they had booked us into a serviced apartment at the Sheraton Hyderabad for a month. Enough time to let us explore the city, identify where we would like to stay and where we would like to get the kids enrolled etc. etc. On our part we had made a road trip in November to get the admissions done and general area where we would be putting up identified. And then came the third wave. We were at the airport and while paying for the 17 kilos extra baggage (for heavens sake 20 years at the worlds best city ought to weigh at least 17kilos over the allowance) and we were all wondering are we really not being stupid traveling by air encountering two international airports. Anyhow we got to Hyderabad airport and Saif our designated driver was standing in front of Coffee Express as agreed upon. He efficiently maneuvered us and our excess baggage out of the airport and into the huge truck that he had brought to pick us up. Without too much conversation and just the right amount of talking he deposited us at the entrance of the Sheraton at Hyderabad.
At the hotel we were met by Yaman, a well mannered boy from Kalyan (yeah I did say small world but I’ve said that multiple times during the past 15 days now) who was promptly joined by Kriti because Kriti had already been in touch with Sonali regarding the arrangements and had answered question we had had during the days preceding D-day over email. So here we were on a particularly cold evening of the 15th of January beginning to feel the warmth of a new beginning. The two of them helped us fill out the mandatory Covid self declarations and then with a nice watermelon juice aperitif tucked away we were taken up to our palatial two bedroom flat within this really nice facility. The apartment was fully equipped, to the gills and then there were phones in each of the three rooms with express instructions to dial zero and ask for anything and everything that came to mind. We used that phone once to get a sewing kit sent up (they knew kids were coming so no sewing kit in the rooms), once to have a stapler sent up when Ira in the middle of her online class realized she needed one for a project she was doing. Other than that, apart from food and beverages (that too very rarely), we had pretty little use for the phone because the people at the hotel were so considerate and well equipped that more often that not they would make the thing available even before you would articulate the sentences and dial 0. Artificial intelligence has nothing on staff so well trained and sensitive they pre-empted our every need. I proceeded to set up my coffee counter in a corner of the kitchen because let’s face it some addictions are worth paying excess baggage for and also no one so far has been able to get me coffee that tastes exactly like what I make so yeah there in the corner of the kitchen I set up my coffee contraption and belted out our first cups of manna in the new city.
The serviced apartment came with breakfast and dinner buffets as well and boy what an experience we were up for. Great food was just part of the story. The staff was so sensitive and yet so agile. Janani stands at the top of the list, a wonderful youngster who I feel will grow really fast or at least should. She kind of adopted us as a foster parent. The kids actually had conversations with her about their exams and what they were studying. On days when the kids would have early classes or could not come down for breakfast at the buffet Janani and the others would first ask us almost in an accusatory tone “only you two today?” and then proceed to pack a hearty breakfast for the kids which we were to carry up to the room and give to the online class waalas. She also organized a pretty decent flat top coffee but then I am an impossible to please coffee drinker…. though I will never say anything less then “wow this is great coffee” for the effort. Without having to be told and actually at times making me feel a little embarrassed she would clear away the plates. I mean I would have absolutely loved to carry my used plates to the disposal bin but then I guess there has to be a logic behind not letting or expecting guests to carry their plates to the disposal. The other staff was equally amazing, it’s just that we encountered Janani more often somehow. She has an amazing amount of sensitivity and compassion that I feel is bound to count for a lot in this industry. Once we ran into her in her civvies and she was still as charming and warm. Told us this was her first off in 15 days and her plan was to cook for herself. Man I tell you this is such a wonderful world where kids her age have such responsible plans lined up. She had gone shopping for veggies and chicken and was going to spend her only off in maybe a month to cook for herself. Simple, powerful and wholesome. One realized that if you peel away the layers of formality we are all so much similar and how end of the day it’s the simple things in life that really matter. All the razzle dazzle and what gets one really happy? One human interaction.
Another remarkable encounter was with Vipul the front desk manager. He is from, wait for it, Goregaon! Vipul Bhosle, Didn’t I say I had to use small world so often these past 15 days. The first house I ever rented, when I started living on my own at Mumbai, was at Goregaon. We had come down to meet the real estate agent at the bar. Vipul caught us on the way up after we had signed the rental agreement for our new home and been handed over the keys. He wanted to find out how was our stay going and if we needed anything at all. We ended up laughing and talking about Mumbai for a full 10 minutes right in the middle of the reception area with all the traffic maneuvering around us! He told me about the best places to hit up for authentic good food around Hyderabad. He also told us about the Bengali aunty up on the 11th floor in his building who makes killer chicken curry (not). IT was like running into a long lost friend and then digging up the goss on the city. Always such a fine thing to meet people who know the place where you’re coming from when you reach the place where you are headed to. Those are the best friends you could hope to make because lets face it they have been here for a while now and can help steer you away from bad experiences based upon their knowledge of your past. Hopefully we will stay in touch and if not then also I guess this will be a very long cherished conversation. It helped make us feel more at home at a place which is new for us. Vipul for his part is away from his parents and family who are still in Mumbai. I hope at some point work makes it possible for them all to get back to the same city again… hopefully, greedily, I hope that city is Hyderabad…
Abhay, the main man who has made these past 15 days seem like a dream. Yeah well I had started running 10km every day and given up sugar completely for the past 2 months. All in preparation for the meeting with Abhay the generous! Abhay is the head chef at the Sheraton. Abhay is from Angul in Orissa. Bhubaneswar is in Orissa. Abhay recommends going to Puri beach at least once. Sonali and I used to live in Bhubaneswar between 1995 and 2001. Puri beach (or Konark beach) were 2-3 times a week trip for us. Abhay came to talk to us almost daily at the dinner table. Last night I detected a hint of an accent and on a whim asked him directly “are you from Orissa Abhay”. I swear I almost detected his eyes watering up. He is an exceptionally generous person. We knew about Angul, his native place, from when we were kids and studying in college (or more like measuring the road distance between Bhubaneswar and Puri). Did I tell you about that small world reference? Yeah I did didn’t I. Tonight we were treated to chef specials that Abhay put together. We exchanged numbers and I have promised to call in advance so Abhay can prepare something special for us whenever we come over. He also says very generously “cake will be from my side on all birthdays”…. just wow.
There were so many other people who made life very comfortable during the past 15 days. The gym instructor who rushed to sanitize the treadmill every evening before I entered for my 40 minute run. The housekeeping boy who tolerated our extremely obnoxious and embarrassingly noisy kids while he did a thorough job of putting the apartment right side up(after the kids had been turning it upside down all day and all night). The valets, oh my God don’t even get me started about how very stupid I feel about not having tipped them for their services. I thought I would do it at the end when leaving however now I know there would be someone who I would miss. Those guys were so good, the valets and the doorman as well. Just made you feel like royalty even though I was driving around in a car that hadn’t been washed in 17 days (well ok it was washed today evening so I guess 16 days). For some reason I feel these guys who are your first contact with the hotel are the real start. Though before I forget there was the strapping young lab at the end of a leash (yeah read that again) who used to greet the car every time we came back from a tiring house hunting trip. Brought a smile to my face every time I saw the beauty jog up to the car and excitedly sniff for contraband… yeah well I did sneak past a non alcoholic beer but I guess he wasn’t looking for wannabe contraband! And yes finally (I guess) there were the 12 peacocks that loiter in the backyard of the place. Just mind blowing to wake up to so much beauty.
We have moved into our new rental accommodation today, however Microsoft had generously booked the service apartment for us till the 10th of February. We figured we would give it one more day, for the new house to get set up, and then check out tomorrow (today now as per the clock) evening. I am writing this sitting at my old work desk at the new house (in a new old city). It’s 0036 on the clock and yet all I can think about is the people who have made this move so easy (to think I haven’t even mentioned the amazingly efficient and professional movers and packers of Santa Fe Relocations). I am thinking of how these people have made the transition so smooth and how during each interaction I have realized that this is such a painful industry. You are supposed to be warm and caring and sensitive and considerate and then suddenly just like that the guests are gone you need to quickly get over it and reconnect with a new set of guests. Just as you were getting to know the previous guests better they walk away to maybe never come back again or maybe just on birthdays and special occasions. For the guests it’s a great experience that they would tell all their friends about (like I am right now), maybe it’ll generate business maybe it wont. But for the staff I wonder if they become immune to the cruelty of the assembly line? Maybe that’s what is taught at Hotel management school, to be genuinely warm and connected and yet not feel torn when a dear friend (or someone who had started feeling like a dear friend) goes away. I guess the other thought or hope is that everyone who has experienced the sensitiveness of your outfit will come back to experience it again so this isn’t really good bye after all. Sonali and I for instance have decided that when we do retire it would be at a hotel. We’ll just get a serviced apartment and spend the rest of our lives post whenever we do retire at a hotel. This has been a plan for quite some time so yeah well who knows we will be back to pester the good folks at Sheraton Hyderabad, if they so choose. Until then there will definitely be birthdays, anniversaries, Abhay cooking up something exotic or some or the other occasion. Until then this is not good bye.