Last month I was in Mumbai for a couple of days. Courtesy the corporate that was playing the host, I was booked in The Taj Mahal Palace & Towers.
The checking in formalities included producing a valid identity, something that was not there when I had stayed at the same hotel in 2004. Must be a measure of precaution introduced after the 26/11 gruesome drama was played out in the hotel, I told myself.
‘Sir, would you mind waiting in the lounge while I get a photocopy of your ID card made?’ the girl smiled.
As I stepped into the lounge, the hostess there offered me a welcome drink, beaming. The fresh lime juice, garnished with mint leaves and rose petals, served in a highball glass with ice cubes, was obviously refreshing on the hot, sultry day.
The girl returned soon with my ID and the key to the room and said, ‘Let me take me to your room, Sir.’ As the lift started its ascent to the 15th floor, she informed me, ‘Your room will be 1505, Sir. It’s a beautiful sea-facing room.’
And that reminded me of another room with a view. This episode was told to me by my friend Suhas Kelkar, manager of a bank branch.
The story is set in the early 1970s. His boss was a man who loved the good things in life – rich food, fine clothes, a game of golf, and the like. Whenever he came to Bombay, he preferred to stay at the five-star Taj, though, according to his service conditions, his entitlement was for a room in a hotel of a lower category. The epicurean that he was, his preference, obviously, was for the sea-facing room.
Like any junior who could not afford to incur the wrath of the boss, Suhas somehow obliged the boss by accommodating this request. I do not know how he met the difference between the bill and the amount the boss was entitled to, but that is not one of our concerns for the present. Let us assume that it was by some sleight of hand which I am not privy to, but the fact is that Suhas kept the boss happy.
Suhas had to, because if he did not oblige the boss, he would find himself posted in Silchar or Gummidipundi, Buland shahar or Vakathanam and a transfer from Bombay was the last thing he wanted.
My friend was at his wit’s end when the boss announced a visit at short notice. It was a Wednesday and boss was arriving on Friday. The test match was on and the Aussies and the English team were in town. The hotel was booked. Not a room to spare even in the neighbouring Hotel Diplomat, leave the upmarket Taj alone.
With no choice left, Suhas booked a room in another hotel, I think, The Classic or The Paradise Hotel, beside the Diplomat. He persuaded the reservation clerk to earmark a sea-facing room for the boss.
Come Friday, Suhas felt jittery as he received the boss in the airport. During the small talk, he brought up the topic of the Test match and prepared the boss for his stay in a hotel other than The Taj. The boss was not too pleased and made no secret of his displeasure.
‘But sir, it is a sea-facing room,’ Suhas tried to assuage the hurt.
Once inside the hotel, he followed the boss who followed the bellboy who led the way, hauling the luggage. The room was on the third floor.
After the bellboy left, the boss growled at my friend, ‘Where is the sea, Mr Kelkar?’
Whereupon Mr Kelkar opened the door to the toilet, climbed on to the throne, and, twisting his neck at an awkward angle, peered through the gap between the leaves of the exhaust fan. Craning his neck further, he spotted a small patch of blue, and with a sense of victory, he announced, ‘There, Sir, the sea is there!’