It’s a hard choice to make, flying back from Mumbai at 38,000 feet. I always love the flight home: the hard work is done, the deadline met, the deliverables delivered. All you have to do now is check what’s up with the in-flight entertainment, have a bite to eat, and try to get some sleep before bumping down at a chilly Heathrow the next morning. (No matter what season you land, Heathrow is always chilly if you’ve arrived from Mumbai.)
“Can I persuade you to try the Miserable, madam?”
I wish I could tell you I was brave enough to try the Miserable. I have no idea what it was supposed to be. Mousse? Meringue? Malpua? Or perhaps it really was an instant gateway to despair, a short-cut to anguish, pain, and unhappiness. The sweet taste of the accompanying raspberry coulis might be the last moment you knew happiness on this earth (or a bit above it, in my case).
So, just in case, I chose the cheese.
Another outstanding example of customer-service memory was at The Oberoi in New Delhi. I was there to meet one set of people, and in the evening serendipitously ran into a friend from home — she was treating herself to a little luxury before embarking upon a walking tour of Nepal — along with her friends. I joined their party and ordered a gin and tonic (you have to: the quinine in the tonic has strong anti-mosquito properties; at least, that is what I always tell myself).
The waiter demanded precision in the ordering. Ice? No Ice? What type of gin? What type of tonic? Were olives required in any number? A slice of lemon? Lime?
November 2012. The Oberoi Gurgaon.
I was staying at this hotel for a catch-up revive weekend between business weeks in India. The hotel staff are at their busiest during Mondays to Fridays, although they normally have weddings and social stuff going on at weekends. Not the weekend of the November I stayed there, however. Starting on Monday was the most astrologically auspicious week of the whole year for weddings. Anyone who wanted to get married in India that year probably got married that week. Newspapers had headlines: “Wedding Week Approaches“. In Delhi alone, they were estimating 5,000 weddings a day.
Despatched to the Himalayas to report on a spa, off I went. Who could not love an airport that is called Jolly Grant? This is the official name of the airport in Dehradun. I looked for plaques containing explanations of the name on arrival but couldn’t find any. So I have been unable to verify whether the airport was named after a local hero, is a misprint for Jolly Giant (possibly Jolly Green Giant), or was a jolly grant from the Brits back in the day (before 1974, anyway, when airport was built).
View of the terminal arriving at Jolly Grant (from plane, explains why a little foreshortened)
The arrival was one of the times that my composure was wobbling. I had no mobile phone signal. If there was no-one at the airport holding a card with my name on it, what would I do? Hike through Uttarakhand on foot like the pilgrims around me? Charter a copter? The options seemed few. (I could probably have sequestered a minicab, I admit.)
But there was the man with my name on a card. All was well.
Off we set, and all was suddenly … interesting.
A member of the housekeeping staff at the hotel where I am currently staying just knocked on my door to enquire why I was not eating my fruit. I spared them my “What is fruit FOR?” lecture and explained that I was not a fan of green apples so hard that they defied attack with any provided knife and napkin.
The offending fruit
The cheerful member of staff noted this and asked me which fruits I would prefer. I mumbled something about bananas. Oh, and apples.
“Green apples? You have green apples.”
“Plums?” he asked, optimistically.
“Yeah,” I said. “Put me down for some plums.”
“Your profile has been updated, madam,” he beamed.
This means I now have a “fruit profile” in one of the leading hotels of the world. This can only cause me harm when the privatised UK NHS system accesses the file, which one day surely it will.
“I see you didn’t eat your plums in Bandra Kurla. Deduct two points.”
A sensible banana (ie tiny)
“But I ate my banana,” I will shout. (I will omit to mention that said fruit was smaller than a teaspoon. Because WHAT IS FRUIT FOR?)
The taxi driver taking me to Mumbai airport was initially nonchalant. He arrived at my hotel at the requested hour early on a Sunday morning, turned up the air conditioning, provided me with a small bottle of dubious water and asked, just to check, as we hit Mumbai’s inevitable stationary traffic, despite it being a very early hour on a Sunday morning: “What time is your flight, Madam?”
“One o’clock,” I said.
He was baffled. You are required to turn up early for international flights these days, so that staff can consult databases to see if you might be harbouring a bomb in your carry-on, or so that they can sell off your seat if you appear to be non-committal about actually undertaking the journey you have booked and paid for (happened to me once in Delhi). My driver considered the timings and was appalled. “But you will be one and a half hours early, Madam. One and a half hours early for the three hours early.”
I knew. I also knew that there was little to do at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport that I hadn’t enjoyed doing on a previous trip a few weeks before. I wasn’t getting to the airport early for the shopping; I was getting to the airport early because I didn’t want to miss out on the plane that was taking me HOME.
“I am a nervous traveller,” I said. “I like to make sure I am on time.”
I was in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival that honours the birth of the much-loved elephant-headed god. “Have you seen the celebrations, Madam?” asked my driver.
I admitted I hadn’t. I had been in a recording studio every working day and had made sure to finish with the team before 3 o’clock so that voice artistes, sound engineers, my Hindi-speaking guru and myself could get back to our respective lodgings before the streets clogged up with families taking their idol to bathe in the sea.
“Then I will take you to see the god.”
We went to see the god.