Sundeep Bhutoria

Welcome to my blog. Do share your views and thoughts with me. Request visitors to keep their comments brief and to the point. I shall respond to you to the extent possible.
Thank you.
ess bee

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Leela Palace Delhi


July 24, 2012: Today morning I arrived in Delhi. For the past two months I am trying to get back to my old habit of taking early morning flights instead of the afternoon ones in order to utilize the working day fruitfully. The afternoon flights aren't really suitable for this.
In the afternoon, I met few friends over lunch at the India International Centre and went for dinner at Jamawar, the northern and southern Indian cuisine joint at Hotel Leela Palace in New Delhi. I was earlier very impressed by Jamawar at Hotel Leela Palace, Bangalore, especially by its elegant Indian decor, personalised services and cuisines.
This Jamawar restaurant in New Delhi is also good with an ethnic Indian decor, looks and style and Indian cuisines. I have visited but never stayed in any Leela property earlier and naturally have not had much opportunity to be at the Jamawar. But now I would remember it for its Pudina Nimbu Sikanji drink which one should not miss.
Tomorrow I'll fly to Jodhpur.
ess bee

Has Kolkata’s nightlife finally arrived!


Last week well past midnight around 2:15 am, I entered The Taj Bengal Hotel along with few friends. We had gone there thinking that at this odd hour Taj would be the only place where we could grab a late night bite quick and fast.
I was more or less sure that the Tandoor would also be closed by now as for dal roti fan like me its important. While making our way to the Coffee Shop I saw two to three different groups of youngsters hanging in and around the lobby.
On reaching the Coffee Shop I found that not a single seat was vacant and the place was buzzing with late night diners having a great time. I always find some familiar faces at the Coffee Shop but for the first time there were none.
Another thing, when we entered the lobby we found that all the lights were on like at the peak hours. I mention this because the last time, few months ago, when I had a late night experience at The Taj, I had found the lights in the lobby were dimmed as per the normal hotel norms after a particular hour, usually 12:30 at night.
So we had to wait at the Hawain Lounge as The Chambers and the Tea Lounge too had closed by then. At that late night hour, not getting a table at the Coffee Shop, we discovered a new Kolkata. In fact, we weren’t the last ones to be there. I saw more groups of youngsters coming into the Hotel even as I was leaving.
There was a time when the city used to have the safest nightlife with no time bar if not the most happening one. As far as the nightlife is concerned, the younger generations in the other metros have always been far ahead of their Kolkata counterparts. But that, I think, is no more the case.
The groups we saw were all very young in modern western outfits and I overheard some of them talking in a foreign accent. I had never seen them before at any other social gatherings and neither were they the house guests of Taj.
Some of my friends, who are regulars at the nightclubs and other events, told me earlier that there is this particular and exclusive Kolkata crowd that is purely nocturnal and are seldom seen anywhere during the daytime. I dont know those who frequent the nightclubs are familiar with these faces or not!
I remember a couple of friends from Bangalore once mentioned to me the same thing having visited one of the nightclubs in the city they were surprised to see the type of crowd in Kolkata. They too told me these groups are rarely seen during day time or at any other events. They are out only during the night.
There has been a sea change in the city's nightlife. During our school days we used hear a lot about the only nightclub Pink Elephant at The Oberoi Grand. During our college days there was Anticlock at Hotel Hindustan International where youngsters used to leave by 10:30 pm as that was the closing hours. I remember very well that even Anti Clock started day parties from 5 pm or so to cater the college groups so they could reach home well in time. But after many years, what I saw at The Taj Bengal was a trendsetter.
I am not sure whether this is a passing phenomenon or the nightlife has finally arrived in Kolkata. Wonder if this is a new trend post late night rule of the Kolkata Police or the summer holidays for which students studying abroad had come down to the city or perhaps the IPL late night bashes that have shown the way.
ess bee

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oh those hotel card keys!

Last week I travelled to different cities and checked in and out of different five star properties. Those who frequently stay in hotels are well aware of the key cards or the card key system with its magnetic stripe that takes care of various security aspects, including giving users access to the hotel rooms.
In almost all the top hotels, the card key is needed to get into the lifts, other areas and rooms. If your room is on a different floor from that of your friend you would need another card key to gain passage since there are restrictions to free access as an inbuilt security measure.
The major problem that we all face and suffer with the card key is that it frequently malfunctions and holds you up from entering your room. It fails in its basic purpose of opening the door. This can be very irritating and annoying for the customers.
And mind you, this problem of card key malfunction is not specific to India or any hotel chain. It is global. In recent times, a leading New York hotel on the New Year Eve had over 200 guests stranded in its hallways and lobbies for the whole night after a key card system malfunction locked them out of their rooms.
In fact, the card key problem is so commonplace that I am ill at ease walking up the last stretch to my hotel room, hoping and praying that it will not betray me. So many times I and my friends and acquaintances have had to seek the help of the hotel staff and call the room service, guest relations executives (GREs) or the operators to fix the problem of getting admittance to our rooms. Often many times during the day. It is a lockout of another kind.
Bellboys or bellhops scurrying with keys or other overrides to open rooms for locked out customers and guests is a very common sight in almost all starred properties. It also comes in with an almost permanent and universal excuse from the staff “Sir may be you had kept your keys close to your mobile phone.”
The probable logic being that proximity to the magnetic field of the mobile phone deactivates the magnetic stripe in the card key causing it to malfunction. There is no point arguing. At the end of the day, only a fresh key would open the door.
I fail to understand that when the entire hotel industry is aware about this problem of improper functioning of card keys why don’t they put a better workable system in place. In few of the hotels in the Scandinavian countries, I have seen that they give a key and then program it with a particular log, which, I think, is a much better system.
In fact, last week, I was quite impressed with ITC Maurya, the flagship property of ITC group of hotels, when a gentleman from the ITC One Block reception assured me, “Sir you need not worry. This card key will work even if you keep it with your mobile phone.” I heaved a deep sigh of relief because these words were like music to my ears. Something I have been waiting for eons to hear.
My knowledge of technology is a shade above zero. But I do understand one thing that it really grates on you especially when you enter the main gate of a hotel and pass through the security drill with checks, frisks, metal detectors at the lobby entrance and so on to reach your room only to find the card key doesn't work. I am sure that thousands of hotel occupants, who have had a hard time with the card keys, would agree with me.
I am stumped. I wonder if the great technological progress around us has somehow missed out on the card keys.
ess bee

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A whirlwind Mumbai trip

Saturday, June 16, 2012: Yesterday morning I went to Mumbai to meet a senior lady editor from one of the country’s prestigious media houses. I was very impressed with her vision and foresight. I have met so many journalists but am really impressed by her. I was glad that I met her.
I returned to Kolkata in the evening. In Mumbai, while on my way for a meeting from the airport, I had vada pau from a shop near Kirti College in Dadar area. Later, after my meeting at VT, I had a typical Mumbai toast sandwich at the Churchgate. I took the evening flight back to Kolkata.
Just before catching the flight, to kill some time, I went to The Chambers at the Taj Mahal Hotel for a cup of Darjeeling tea.
ess bee

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fine whiskey


Kolkata is privileged to have 24 four of the 252 casks of premium 20-year old The Macallan 1990 single malt whiskey from Scotland, thanks to The Taj Hotels Signature Private Reserve.
This was an occasion to celebrate the fourth anniversary of The Souk, the Afro-West Asian exotic cuisine joint of The Taj Bengal Kolkata on 14th evening, where I reserved the first bottle for my guests (picture).
Among others, present on the occasion were whiskey connoisseur, Sandeep Arora, Taj Bengal General Manager, K Mohanchandran, and others (picture). 
Though I am a teetotaller, I think the guests really enjoyed it.
As per the hotel norms, the bottles reserved would be in the safe and able hands of the hotel.
One can invite guests for a toast at The Taj Bengal. In fact there is a special menu, right from soups to the cigars, that goes with this whiskey.
ess bee

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lovingly Yours and other events

Thursday, July 14, 2012: Day before yesterday late night I arrived in Kolkata from Jaipur.
In Jaipur, after the DNA event Lovingly Yours, I attended a couple of events on Monday evening at the Jawahar Kala Kendra.  
Jawahar Kala Kendra is the cultural hub of Jaipur.  I was there to release a book Jag Jite Jagjit written by Amit Sharma. This book is based on the life of the great ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh.  
With Manesha Agarwal and Jaswant Singh
Along with me, singer Manesha A Agarwal and Jagjit Singh’s elder brother Jaswant Singh were also there (picture).
After the launch ceremony a song, from Agarwal’s album – Padaro Mhare Des – in which Jagjit Singh is also featured, was shown.
Agarwal also shared some special moments she had spent with the legend recording the album.  She also narrated an incident when she and Jagjit Singh missed their flight to Jodhpur.  Jagjit Singh’s elder brother also informed the audience that Jagjit Singh was a religious person.
At the Jawahar Kala Kendra the gathering was more than what my expectations, whatever the reason, maybe the love and affection for Jagjit Singh or the personal rapport of Amit Sharma, Jaipur had never witnessed such a gathering for this type of  book release.
After the book release, I attended another function at the auditorium of Jawahar Kala Kendra.  It was a performance by children who attended the summer camp organized by an organization called NUPUR.  
I was there on the invitation of a veteran theatre artist Sartaj Mathur (picture) who himself is the patron of the organization.
ess bee

Monday, June 11, 2012

An evening of Love, Letters and Legends

It is past midnight or I should say early morning. I just got back from the Clarks Amer Hotel. I was there for the show on Sunday – An Evening with Aparna Sen: Love, Letter and Legends - in which Aparna Sen, actress and film director, read out some of the famous love letters accompanied by thematically matched music from You and I duo Soumyojit and Sourendro.
The first in the series were the letters of former Isro chief, Vikram Sarabhai, to his classical dancer wife Mrinalini. Next were George Bernard Shaw's letters to the love of his life, Ellen Terry, whom he had hardly met. This was followed by the letters or the love notes of Oscar Wilde to his ‘forbidden love’ Lord Alfred Douglas and the long distance marriage proposal by Miyage - one of central characters from the Aprna Sen-directed movie The Japanese Wife - to her Bengali pen pal Snehmoy. Nargis' plea to her `Darling ji' and Ronald Reagan's Happy Anniversary letter to his better half Nancy were also read out by Aparna with aplomb.
The event was organized to commemorate the 4th Anniversary of DNAin Jaipur. DNA is the English daily of Dainik Bhaskar Group.
I had the honour of setting the mood for evening programme by reciting the famous lines from Shakti Chattopadhyay's poem that was used by Rituparno Ghosh in his film Raincoat and translated into Hindi by Gulzar.

Gaye sawan me ye deewaren yun seeli nahi thi,
na jaane is dafa kyun in me seelan aagayi hai,
daraare pad gayi hai aur seelan is tarah behti hai,
jaise khushk ruksaaro pe geele ansoo chalet hai….’

The evening was appreciated by the Who’s Who of Pink city.
ess bee

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer pangs

In Rajasthan this weekend.
The mercury is soaring above 45 degree C in many parts of Rajasthan and West Bengal too is not lagging behind in this respect. I was in Delhi starting of a week where the rains brought smile back on people's faces.
On Friday morning I got an unusual SMS greeting from a friend of mine in Kolkata “Happy rains, welcome monsoon!” I was a little surprised and couldn't help smiling. During our primary school days we read how millions of farmers across India, since times immemorial, have been celebrating the onset of monsoons like a festival.
But it seems, that the people are gradually becoming weaker and weaker when it comes to braving the harsh Indian summer. On the other hand, the summers are becoming more and more unbearable.
There is a sea change in the way in which parents are bringing up their children. These days even a five-year-old finds it difficult to sleep without air-conditioners. Through too much of nurture, the parents are, unknowingly, distancing their children from the nature. As these `sheltered' children grow up in an artificial environment, they find it difficult to adjust to the changes in the season, especially the summers. Needless to say, they grow up with a weak immune system and are vulnerable to the extremities of the weather.
In the past five years, the Indian newspapers have extensively reported on the vagaries of the weather and the human lives lost. May be, that day is not far off when we would also have 24-hour dedicated weather channels like the ones in other countries.
As per my original plan, I was supposed to drive down from Jodhpur to the 110-kilometer via Merta Road that cuts through the desert tracts. I however, was repeatedly warned by many well wishers about the hot weather and the prevailing heat wave that would surely roast me.
I have spent my few formative years growing up in the desert state of Rajasthan like millions of others. I used to sleep on the roof without any fan or electricity. So I am not intimidated by the the scary picture that people draw about the weather. The Jodhpur trip, however, did not happen due to other reasons.
I read in the papers that the heat wave has this time already killed 150 people in West Bengal alone. I don't recall so many people dying of heat wave in West Bengal in recent memory. I could not help wondering if the weather, over the years, was actually getting severe beyond the people's endurance or is it that the people, who are conditioned by modern luxuries like air conditioners and coolers have less ability or endurance to face the summer heat.
Most of today's work places are air-conditioned. So are many public places like airport, metro rail and the malls. Due to the rising heat, our body gets exposed to extremes of temperatures every time we enter and exit office. According to medical experts these sudden `thermal shocks' and rapid changes of heat and chilled AC environment negatively affect our immune system.
The wanton destruction of trees and the filling up of water bodies are all adding up to our miseries. I read in the papers that nearly five thousand more trees would have to be cut around Kolkata due to the Metro expansion work. I think the natural defence mechanism that shield us from the oppressive summer temperatures is weakening. There are stretches where there are no proper trees to provide shade to the people who fall prey to heat stroke.
Once again, I am reminded of some of the history lessons in school. I had read how Sher Shah Suri, a gifted administrator who took charge of Bihar and Bengal around 1539 AD, had trees planted along the longest high way (Grand Trunk Road) that was being built.
Back to 2012 Kolkata. Another kind of modern highway is being built – the Metro. But there is a major difference. We are not longer planting trees, we are just hacking them off.
Anyway, I wish you all a happy rainy week ahead.
ess bee

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Meeting with Mrs Alva

In Jaipur. I met Mrs Margaret Alva (picture), the newly-appointed Governor of Rajasthan, at the Raj Bhawan this morning. It was a courtesy visit. I took the opportunity to brief the Hon'ble Governor of the activities of Rajasthan Foundation and also invited her to Kolkata.
The Governor, whose family is known to me, was very warm and affectionate.
This was my first formal meeting with her and I was very impressed. I look forward to another meeting and invite her and also to have her in my events as the chief guest.
Margaret Alva has filled in the post in the state which was long due as Shri Shivraj Patil was holding the additional charge of Rajasthan since the last Governor's tenure came to an end.
ess bee

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Next stop, Jodhpur

From Delhi: Yesterday I had a series of meetings with different people from the cultural and literature fraternity in Delhi. I was supposed to take a flight to Jodhpur today afternoon but could not.
The reason for going to Jodhpur is my plan to drive 100 kms into the interiors to meet Vijay Dan Detha, the ailing writer who, earlier, could not attend the function in Jaipur on the 24th of May due to ill health. I was supposed to felicitate him then.
Yesterday night I got a message that his brother expired and as per the traditional customs, the family would be in mourning for 12 days.
I had no option and had to call off the Jodhpur trip by a day which meant a free day in Delhi for me after a long time. I have also cancelled the other appointments in Jodhpur area, including the one with His Highness Maharaj Gajsingh ji, whom I was supposed to meet this evening.
Man proposes and God disposes is indeed a fact. Somehow or the other, the last minute changes in my travel itinerary always comes up which creates a lot of hassles that I have to tackle and sort it out.
ess bee

Monday, June 4, 2012

At the Italian Day function in Kolkata

ITC One Lounge - ITC Maurya Delhi: I arrived in Delhi this evening as I have lined up a series of meetings for tomorrow. I shall go to Jodhpur Day in the afternoon.
Last week, apart from Vidya Balan's event, I also attended the 48th Italian National Day event at Hyatt Regency Kolkata. In recent months, many new diplomats have taken charge in Kolkata and I hadn't met any of them. It was good that I made it to the Italian Day function as I got a chance to meet the two new lady diplomats
Abida Islam, Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata and Irina K Bashkirova, the Consul General of Russia, respectively.
I also met the Italian Consulate team in Kolkata, including the wife of Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori. I am planning to invite the new diplomats over dinner and get to know them in person.
I shall miss the Russian Day party at The Park on the 9th of June as I would be out of Kolkata.
The evening at the Hyatt was a modest affair, in the wake of the recent earthquake in Italy, in which only select 100 guests were invited. What made the evening very special was the excellent food that was prepared by a Italian Master Chef Pauletto Massimiliano who was flown down from Italy to rustle up Italian delicacies for the guests.
ess bee

Sunday, June 3, 2012

An unpleasant event

Governor M K Narayanan, Vidya Balan, Alka Bangur and others
Mid last week I felicitated Vidya Balan, the winner of Prabha Khaitan Puraskar 2012, with a shawl designed by Sharbari Dutta especially for the occasion. Sharbari di, Kolkata’s leading fashion designer, excels in designing traditional dresses.
Vidya Balan came down to Kolkata to receive the Puraskar at a function organized by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce Foundation at The Park.
Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal, Shri M K Narayanan, who gave the award to Vidya Balan, said in his inaugural speech, “I feel doubly privileged to felicitate Vidya Balan, who is from the same town in Kerala to which I belong. I am glad that Prabha Khaitan Foundation has put in place an endowment that supports women’s initiatives across a broad spectrum and also rewards women achievers.”
In a lighter mood, the Governor also said, “I usually don't watch films, but I saw the film Kahaani twice. For all my years of service at the helm of Intelligence Bureau (IB), Vidya made me out to be a terrorist in her film.”
The Prabha Khaitan Puraskar is given to a woman achiever for her outstanding contribution to the society and for furthering the cause of women in India. Vidya Balan, the youngest recipient of the award so far, was chosen for the Puraskar by an eminent panel of judges for her contribution to the cause of women and the girl child.
Vidya is a closet philanthropist helping thousands of underprivileged girls each year with her charity work.
Representatives of TV and Print media at the event
From a general or public point of view the event was a grand success. Some of my friends called up and complimented me for the event. I also get few such SMSs. But to be honest and fair, I am personally not at all happy with the manner in which the program was conducted at the venue. 
There was a lot of avoidable chaos caused by the media as no proper arrangement or encloser was available for them. The security arrangements for the guest and celebrity were also not up to the mark. There was at one point a stampede-like situation at the event.
I had very categorically informed and requested in advance the main organisers of the function to ensure adequate security given the celebrity status of Vidya Balan and the presence of West Bengal Governor and the first lady of the state. I was assured that top police authorities were informed and there was no need for concern. I was told that as far as security is concerned, personnel would be deputed on both side of the dais. I was surprised that not even a single security personnel were there in the whole venue by the organisers. Thanks to the Governor’s personal security who managed the situation.
The award function turned out to be one of the most disorganized and chaotic functions that I have ever associated with. There was lack of decorum and the management of the event was poor. What was despicable was the fact that some of the hosts competed and jostled to get their pictures clicked with Vidya Balan and even went to the extent of getting their relatives and commercial products clicked with the hapless actress. Their thoughtless and shameless behaviour added to the chaos caused endless embarrassment to me and others.
Vidya Balan thronged by the members of the organisation
Thanks to The Park banquet team personnel who arranged for a timely backdoor exit for Miss Balan through the kitchen.
This kind of behaviour from members of an organisation representative of the city’s industrialists and elite business community is unthinkable and deplorable. Though I was not a part of the organising team, I felt I owed an apology to Vidya and the Governor Shri M K Narayanan and the first lady Mrs Padmini Narayanan.
ess bee