At IHM, the most loved and equally hated term was Industrial Training (IT). The anticipation of the outside world, after a year of Gulag conditions in IHM, was the loved part. And hate belonged to a ‘life after’ – an existence subsequent to the pure hellish initiation you underwent vis-a-vis the industry during the IT.
I opted for Mumbai when I was asked for my choice of location in the First Year. Though it did look posh and ambitious for those times, the primary reason was a more stupid one. A classmate of mine, a Gulf bred one, bragged (his ‘non’-exploits are the stuff that legends are made of, this is a story for another time) about his eminent connections in the film fraternity of Mumbai as well as various other fanciful connections which convinced a starry-eyed small town boy like me. Along with me, a few others from the Lemon Hart batch set our eyes forthwith on the proverbial ‘Yeh Hey Bombay Meri Jaan’ and related romantic allusions that you associate with that great city. I looked forward to the liberated, cosmopolitan ‘do’ that it represented and the prospect of meeting Madhuri Dixit (Saajan had been released just then), all based on the claims of this superman.
Then 1993, 12 March happened. Bomb explosions ripped through Mumbai concentrating on various sensitive points of trade and commerce, instantly waking up the nation to a new reality of terrorism. Searock Sheraton, a hotel belonging to the ITC group, was one of these centres and, coincidentally, also the one where I was supposed to do my ‘time’.
Panic arrested the Instructor-in-charge of IT to the point of rigor-mortis and, after much effort that must have included frantic calls to many a flustered Hotel Training Manager, I was the last student that year to be assigned a hotel in a new location – Bangalore. The Gulf wallah, also was assigned the same city (at a different hotel) and, magically, he seemed to know the place, it seemed, from a past life and its attractions too like the palm of his hand. He mentioned something like a Brigade, some street to hang out (in his ‘cool’ parlance) and it dint make any sense to me. After all, a small town boy can only understand so much – IHM itself being a shocker in the first place.
The ITDC Ashok Hotel (now the Grand Ashok, Bangalore after being taken over by a private hotel chain) in Bangalore, all chrome and very bureaucratic, with its trademark fading red carpets and mangy odour in its rooms, was falling off at its seams when I reached there on a chilly October morning of 1993. At least, after the first 10 days, it seemed to me that way. Nobody bothered about who I was and what I was doing there. I was assigned first to the Front Office which turned out to be a fine specimen of how a FO ought not to be run. I never saw the FOM in all the four weeks I was there, his office a temple to a monitor (CPU missing in the red-tape trail; nobody bothered about the fact that the same was required in order for something to appear on the screen and get the task at hand accomplished), and a whole load of report-registers that generally completed the post-modern decor of the room.
I was told to man the Back Office (funny what an extra sound can do to that word) and I was given a chair with a sheaf of booking requests pulled out randomly from a wooden pigeon-hole. In a non-Internet age, most of the requests were over a telephone and, before I knew it, I was talking to potential guests, as far away from the US, and taking down requests. I didn’t have a problem with that – seemed all of a lark – and by 4 pm, I was beginning to like my new life. Then, I looked again at the booking requests which had been taken the day before and a pall seemed to settle into the room immediately. I needed a coffee on an urgent basis as the cardinal principles of room-reservation taught by FO faculty swam before my eyes on seeing these requests. There were no contact numbers to begin with, definitely careless, and I began to assume that the hotel had some sort of ESP to rely on in order to re-confirm clients. There were dates, thankfully, but no instructions about how the payment would be done and, no clues as to whether these requests had come from a travel agent or as direct request.
While I was going about cussing the soul responsible for this faux-pas, the lady from the reception comes in and tells me to man the reception since she had to go for her break. All of this on the very first day, I remind you. The reception looked big enough for 5 people to man it and I stood there alone jittery, bewildered like a first-time trapeze thrust into the limelight to face a wire-swing rushing up to him and an ocean of excited onlookers fixing their stare on his tense, perspiring frame. Since not many people were bold enough to be a hapless victim of state hospitality (the hotel was state-run being part of the monolithic ITDC) in those days, there wasn’t much of guest traffic in the lobby, except for the bored doorman and the equally bored chandeliers. However, this wasn’t enough encouragement for me, so in panic I immediately bent down and started re-tying my shoelaces for what seemed an eternity. I guess nobody saw me and, therefore nobody approached the reception, saving me the ignominy of being an embarrassment to myself and my institute (the italicised part quoted verbatim from the pre-IT briefing by our instructors at the institute before departure to Bangalore).
Once back to the reservation desk, I wondered about the rest of the trainees from the other IHMs whom I had been introduced to in the morning. Since I hadn’t met them at lunch in the canteen, I wondered about their whereabouts, in hopes of settling nicely into Bangalore’s social setting.
Pehli Baar Mile Hain from Saajan (1993)