Life as a room service manager those days was extremely satisfying, but pretty hectic and stressful. Imagine serving hundreds of breakfasts in the rooms between 8 and 9:30 am! We would have a little lull before the storm at 7:30 am, having sent those millions of bed teas. The Taj’s promise of serving tea in three minutes flat was the most challenging task for me. Lift pantries was an idea floated, but not much avail. Some shoe string guests would add on to the woes by asking for hot water and lime wedges, to be had with the tea bags they had brought from home!

The ‘In Room Dining’ (IRD) kids are a lucky lot, nowadays, as they have the convenience of a sumptuous coffee shop breakfast buffet, easing their ops! I was always tired, yet sharp from the previous day’s dinner sessions, which would finish at midnight most times. 

The Taj believed in VIP courtesies – a rule written on stone. Pamper them with all kinds of trollies, platters, multi decks, et all. All individual likes /dislikes had to be taken into consideration and written prominently on the notice board. 

The VIP parties in the suites delicately arranged on the candle-lit trollies was another life shortner. I had developed quite a few strands of grey curls at the ripe age of 26 years. They would end up standing like steel spikes with all the tension.

One step above was the VVIP guest, either corporate super weights or Taj bosses like Mr Ajit Kerkar. My F&B manager, Mr Mohan Kumar, would go red in the ears and cheeks when he was expected – he would literally be on the frying pan while we were hung just above the fire. His handsome face would have developed a solid jaw, stiff with steel nerves for those few lucky days. 

The VIP trollies contained well thought out assortments of imported liqueur, soft drinks, exotic fruits (mangosteen, dragon fruit and japani phal), Swiss chocolates, et all. The inspections from the boss was another game of thrones!! However, for me there was an exception to these VIP visits – Mr JRD Tata. The moment I would hear of his arrival, all my tension would automatically evaporate and I would eagerly wait to see his gentle, kind face. I was always asked to escort him into his room. 

As per standard Taj SOP, I had to explain the string of goodies lined up. He would say, “Venu, my young man, I have no interest in all this pampering, just leave a couple of warm water flasks. Yes, a very light dinner tonight. You know my tastes. I will quickly go down to say hello to your GM, N.R. Daruwala”. NRD was my most fav GM during my entire Taj stint of 12 years.

“Yes, Sir I will bring your favourite Mumbai khichdi, along with warm milk mixed with haldi (turmeric, now an all-time favourite, thanks to Corona) and honey,” I would say. I would then send a quick pager update to my boss MK and hope that he would go home, since the next day was going to be a mini Tsunami.

The scene during the morning F&B session would be one of theatrical excitement – red cheeks and ash trays filling up rapidly. “Listen boys, Mr JRD is hosting a dinner meeting for Mr Xerxes Desai at Vijaynagar hall. He is the MD of Titan watches, a Tata company. What’s more, our own Mr Ratan Tata has graciously accepted the invite.” Boss would say. 

“Venu, escort him to the Richmond suite and check the amenities personally.” He ordered. More trollies! I replied, “Sir, he is also like our JRD; doesn’t care for those fancy trollies, except some cut fresh fruits, maybe.” 

“I know that my dear room service manager, however we need to show our respect and courtesies, which you know so well,” and with that the smart man would give me the ‘you dumb head’ expression’.

The big moments for me were always those few minutes before the actual start of the event. The Tata bosses would always come early to have a chat with us boys. 

I received Mr Ratan Tata at the entrance of the Iconic Vijayangar hall, famed for its massive mahogany carved pillars. I was promoted as a personal valet for the two gentlemen for that eclectic dinner. “Venu, you are here again, we just met in my room with your famous fancy but unending trollies.” Mr Tata teased me and held my wrist. 

Looking down at my wrist, he asked. “Oh, you don’t have a watch? Don’t like wearing one eh?” He teased me again. I replied shyly, “Sir, my wife works at Titan, she is vice president Mr Amitha’s secretary who is helping us get a big discount on the upcoming moon phase watch being launched in a month.” 

He nodded and gave a don’t worry gesture. He chatted with us for some more time. Don’t ask me how and what happened, but my wife presented the watch a few days later! Inexplicable.

Dinner was served, I ensured that I was just a discrete shadow of Mr JRD. Every slight turn of his would bring me to him promptly. Dessert was announced. Arputraj, the master coffee cocktail barman made an amazing presentation in front of the guests. Applause. Mr JRD turned and I was there next to him in a flash. “Venu, don’t feel up to a heavy dessert. Can you give me something light?” It was strawberry season. 

“Sir, may I bring some fresh strawberries with roasted almond ice cream,” I asked. His face lit up in appreciation. The shining EPNS cup landed in less than three minutes. Wah Taj! He finished the ice cream quickly, with the berries were still half eaten. He asked for more ice cream. I served him just a half scoop, knowing that he is a light eater and I am responsible for his health. Gone too soon, he asked for some more cream! I served him again a half scoop. He looked up smiling and said, “Well my boy, why are you so parsimonious?” There was silence. I blinked for a moment, but replied very confidently, “Sir this is English almond ice cream, not the Parsi style!!”

There was a thunderous laugh from all the dignitaries, I didn’t know which way the lightning struck. I stood there paralysed and stiff, with enough passive strength to bite my tongue hard. One glistening tear made a secret entry. Still smiling, he said, “My boy parsimonious means being stingy and not my Parsi style.” He patted my hand reassuringly.

That one-word advice of a life time from the great man had struck a chord that very instant; well I would be a wordsmith one day…


Venu Rao

5th August 2020.

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