Not another Review!!

Not another review! What makes this different? Well, for starters, the person(s) reviewing stuff here are people who grew up in a world thats far removed from "the Reviews on Gruyere cheese and Asparagus..." In other words,
1. We love Amul butter - the salted yummy thing better than all the 'sophisticated' imported butter in the world!
2. We love the gooey, drippy sweetness of Indian sweets
3. We have, at some point in our lives, ate spoonfulls of Milkmaid conensed milk - right out of the can
4. We understand food and wine pairing (Courtesy the persistent lecturers in Hotel mgmt college), but would rather have chilled beer or the exotic looking potent cocktail with our spicy chicken tikkas or fish fries
5. Prefer to use words like 'delicate' for silks and 'sharp' for tools... NOT food!
6 Are dying find product which make lives easier for working mothers, wives, girlfriends or considerate (also read that as hen pecked) husbands and boyfriends!

So go on... pour your heart out about stuff you liked or hated!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Of Sex, Marriage and all that comes in between

Isn't it funny how deep down inside, we are all drawn to words that are scandalous, or even taboo maybe? I think its in our DNA to be interested in everything we are told not to be! (Remember the forbidden fruit?)

Falling within the same logic, we discuss here a three letter word so powerful that it could overturn governments, could drive entire kingdoms to ruin, had evolved into an art form that ruled from behind closed doors and silken sheets, and is today the nightmare of practically every parent with an adolescent child. Yes, my dear friends, we talk about SEX !

Firstly, the thoughts expressed in this discussion are only the author's (yes, I insist that I be called an author even if not a single story that I sent to publishers have seen the light of day) opinion, and anyone who may have any issues with that......... well, there's nothing much that can be done about that, is there? 

This post is an attempt to win a prize from an Indiblogger contest while also trying to get into some heated debate in this chilly winter :-). So please feel free to voice your honest (but void of any hate words) opinions here.

The debate is age-old actually, especially for us Indians - Yes or No to Pre-marital sex. Some points to ponder:

  • Fact 1 : We are obsessed with marriages. We plan, save, pinch pennies, borrow money (hell, maybe even steal it), sell our souls to be able to splurge money on weddings. Weddings that (we wish) tied up two people who barely know each other, in the midst of decked up relatives whose primary focus is the bride's jewelry or the 64 course menu laid out for attack.
  • Fact 2 : A marriage is everyone's business (except the bride and groom, ofcourse).  From the ancient aunt who cannot hear well, to the pompous cousin who has a word of advice for every problem, and lets not forget that nosy neighbor who has an ear glued to all the gossip doing the rounds.


  • Fact 3 : We are also obsessed with virginity. Especially of the womenfolk. We are so focused on that V-word that we ingeniously connect everything we possibly can, with it. We have devoted entire lifetimes to proving that watching too much 'foreign' TV, wearing 'western' clothes, studying beyond kindergarten, or even eating chowmein can affect the longevity of Virginity. Ask the local 'thauji' if you don't believe me.
  • Fact 4 : Again, the womenfolk's virginity is everyone's business. From the pharmacist selling birth control pills, to the landlord who looks disapprovingly when a single woman walks in late to the house, to the entire clan of Hindi serial saas-bahus. 
  • Fact 5 :  We are a fast growing nation (pun definitely intended here), we have proven to the world that we have indeed put the Kamasutra to full use. We are populating extremely well, especially considering the fact that sex is considered a taboo. That, my friends, is the definition of irony.
After putting all the above pondering points together, I would like to step into the age old pre-marital sex debate. 

I all honesty, I have only one argument for the debate : How is it anyone's prerogative, except for the two people (or more, what the heck - this is no topic to be prude !!), to decide on whether sex between them is right or wrong? In other words, the entire debate's existence thrives on only because people do not mind their own business!!

Another perspective to all this - how does marriage suddenly sanction sex? Doesn't marriage then only become a tool to ensuring easy (and 'approved') sexual contact?

I think sex works differently for different people and hence the approach will be different - while some cannot imagine sex without emotions hence call it love-making, others may have a more physiological approach to the act. While some may believe in waiting for 'the one' to have sex, the others may be more willing to experiment.

Either way, the only thing required for the good ol' romp in the sack is consenting adult partners - and let me reiterate - marriage and consent are two separate words, one necessarily doesn't come with the other - so why the fuss?

This is a post written for a contest in Indiblogger and Poonaam Uppal's True Love - A Mystical True Love Story

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Surprise

The best love stories are the ones that stay in your heart, reminding you that when all is lost, you still have stolen moments of life with each other. My appreciation for life has been shaped by two very important people in my life.
Perhaps, of all the precious metals found on earth, Platinum, the strongest, the purest and the rarest of all, would be a representation of their love. This is a tale of their Platinum Day of love.

It was almost dawn. Time for his walk, which he knew was an essential part of his routine – a routine which kept him sane in the worst of times. It was cold for this time of the year, but he liked winters.

She was fast asleep. He adjusted the sheet around her a little more snugly, shut the blinds a little more tightly, and tip-toed out of the room. No need to wake her yet, he thought.

He walked to the little grocery store outside the compound walls, and smiled at the waiting shopkeeper. “Helllooo Saar!” the grocer was excited. “I have all the stuff you asked for. I am sure Maydam will love the pastry saar! I told the bakery to get the exact same flavor you asked for.”

He knew it was not exactly the kind of fluffy sponge cakes that she liked, but this would have to do today; they were miles away from a good confectionery shop. He would have to make the best of the situation - and he would do that!

He took an inventory of all the things the shopkeeper had handed over to him, while ticking off from a list in his wrinkled hands. “Paper plates, paper glasses, paper napkins, candles, balloons, pastries, and Sprite………Okay” He mumbled while putting the list away.

As he walked back into the compound, he met a few of the new friends he had made here. They were all happy for him, and promised, yet again, that they would be with him by 10 o’clock – just a couple more hours left.

He left all his edible purchases with the housekeeping lady, who promised she’d keep it in the fridge till they needed it. The balloons he gave to the guard, who was only too glad to get it ready to be put up before the party. Both of them were very excited with the little celebration that was due to happen in a couple of hours.

He looked at his watch, frowning. Only an hour before she would be awake! He needed to hurry up and visit the barber and be back before she woke. He all but ran out of the building, and went into the barber shop, which was still getting ready for customers.

*                             *                             *

Before she opened her eyes, she made the same wish she’d been making every day for the last few days. “Not here. Not today. Not anymore.”

She was not alone. He was right there, grinning from ear to ear, just as he would every morning. Being here in this place, did not change that. But he looked different – she couldn’t place it, but there was something about him that was not the same.

“Happy Birthday!”….. they all shouted in unison, smiling at her.

That’s when she noticed the balloons stuck on the stark white walls, the streamers on the doors and the platter full of her favorite pastries. Her room was filled with people – some of them in white uniforms, some in uniforms like the one she wore – pink and grey. Some even wore the same grey scarf that she was clutching tightly around her head.

Her eyes watered up, as they searched out the pair of eyes that were filling fast with tears too – his. She finally discovered why he looked different when he bent down to kiss her.

The cap he was wearing had now disappeared, and she touched his shiny head, his lovely salt and pepper hair shaven off completely. “Happy Birthday darling…… Surprise!!!” he whispered into her ear, while wiping away fresh tears from her eyes. “We’ve won again – and we are going home today.”

She laughed now, her attention drawn away from the grey scarf, uncaring that it slipped off her own bald head, unmindful of the tubes and wires around her cancer-ridden body, and completely, absolutely in love with the man in front of her. They had been married for over two decades now, but this was truly their moment of love…… Pure, Rare and Eternal.

This is the story of my Mom and Dad, and the love they shared, which triumphed over each time, for over a decade after my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Our rendezvous with snowfall - Shimla

We are besotted with snow. The whole family. And the fact that in spite of bone chilling winters every year, we never get any snow in Delhi makes us even more obsessed with the idea of it. Hence we did the unthinkable during the coldest months of the season - we went to a hill station!!

As is the usual style when my family (read that as a research-obsessed hotelier husband, a finicky mom and food and fun obsessed kids in tow) plans for a vacation, we went into critical analysis mode on this as well.

Firstly we wanted to travel by train. After two or three cancelled train trips (blame it on two careers and two school schedules) we were really looking forward to this one. So plan on train we did! And this is what the itinerary looked like:

1. Delhi to Kalka by Howrah Kalka Express : An overnight train starting from Delhi at 9.45 pm  (ideal for working people, as you wake up in your destination)
2. Kalka to Shimla by the much spoken about toy train (a must experience for kids, more so because it has a lot of historical importance too)

Kalka - Shimla narrow gauge railway line
But all planning can go fly its proverbial kite when God disposes, right? Trains were getting delayed by more than 20 hours due to the fog, and this called for some intelligent decision making (yup! time for the research crazy dude to step in again!). So we decided to cancel our train tickets and take the Volvo instead. (But we retained the return tickets, keeping our fingers crossed for better weather during our return a week later)

That turned out to be a life-saver. There are atleast two operators for the Shimla Volvos. One is the Himachal Road Transport and the other is Himachal Tourism operated. We (err..... he) researched and found that the HPTDC (tourism) ones were better. We boarded the bus at about 10 pm, and it was a warm, comfortable journey (with two stops) to Shimla, while the outside temperature was close to zero. We reached Shimla at 7.00 am, to a beautiful mountain sunrise.

While we have seen many hill stations nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of the summer capital of British India. The well inhabited hill station has all the quaintness that one associates with the erstwhile British Raj, while being surrounded on all sides with wondrous sights of the mountain ranges.

No snowfall yet, but there was excited jumping up and down when we saw frozen icicles of water on little waterfalls all through the road. Good start for us city dwellers.

A strategy that has helped us get the maximum out of our vacations have been to avoid staying in the primary tourist destination, and go to a lesser known, more pristine location which is close to the tourist destination. Thus, while we were in Shimla, we did not stay in Shimla town, but a little away from the crowd in a little town called Mashobra, 12 kilometers from Mall Road (the tourist hub in Shimla).

The drive from Shimla to Mashobra, on the famed Hindustan - Tibet highway (takes approximately 45 minutes due to the hairpin turns) is a breathtaking experience in itself, and we had many squeals of excitement when we spotted monkeys, horses, and icicles on the way.

We stayed at Club Mahindra Whispering Pines, which warrants a separate post (which will come in a little while).

From Mashobra, it is just 15 kilometers to Kufri, the mecca for all snow lovers. It is a fun filled location for skiing, sledging and other hazardous sport like slipping and falling on frozen ice (which I can assure you, is much more painful than it sounds). Enterprising young boys and girls of the local population (yes girls too!) are willing to act as your guide and teacher for a small fee, and I fully recommend that you take in that experience. Though Kufri is more popular, we decided to take on the higher up Narkanda for all our frolicking needs (Yeah, yeah, we are collectively courageous). More challenging, but more fun.

We had a young girl of 15 who coached my daughter and my son on sledging (or tobogganing, which the correct term, apparently). She was a fun person, who also helped my over enthusiastic son trek to the top of the snow clad mound (we were huffing and puffing, and refused to trek with him) and then slide down the way we've seen Calvin and Hobbes do. (Had to admire the little fellow's courage). I contributed to the whole excitement by slipping and falling on ice a couple of times, nursing my bruised bones and ego. (Word of caution - the trek from the taxi drop off to the actual site of all the fun is quite long and treacherous - on ground with slivers of frozen ice. Wear sensible footwear.)

While Kufri has many hotels and restaurants, there aren't as many choices in Narkanda. (There was a hilarious moment when we banged on a good-looking hotel door for lunch, and a rueful guy comes out to tell us that as all the water pipes had frozen, they had no service that day!!) But we did discover a fine Himachal Tourism hotel with a good restaurant and bar (called 'The Nest') in Narkanda, which we almost missed. The service may be a tad too slow, but the food is worth the wait.

The Nest - Narkanda

The Mall Road in Shimla is much like the Mall Road in Nainital or Mussoorie. The difference, perhaps is in the buildings. There are beautiful buildings (now either a museum, or a theatre or the municipal office) which have survived from the British times. Add that to the throngs of people walking on the streets, and it feels like Christmas week all the time. (A word of caution. The mornings, even in winters are quite sunny. But the moment the sun starts setting the cold winds set in - quite a sudden transformation of the weather. Remember to carry enough clothing, even if you are warm in the mornings.)

Mall Road Church (Pic courtesy
The Mall Road is where you can shop for Fruit wines (we got back 6 flavors - yummy!!) or other stuff like Himachal stuff like shawls, caps, wooden walking sticks etc. There are lovely bakery shops too (a British influence no doubt), and some must visit places. The fact that no vehicles are allowed into mall road is a boon to all the pedestrians, who can walk about without any worry - especially when kids are running around. This is also the place to stop and ogle at the fantastic fruits (and gorge on them too) like strawberries, cherries, kiwis, apples....

The Mall Road also has a beautiful Church, with traditional stained glass windows, wooden floors and beautiful old world paintings. If it weren't for impatient kids wanting to run off behind the next trotting horse, I would be content to spend a whole evening just looking at the paintings!

More on the snow and the hotel later.....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Britto's Goa and Redemption of faith ......

Recently I wrote a review for a hotel in Goa, which kinda finally looked like a crib session in writing! But something reinforced my belief that somewhere out there, a God does look out for me!! :-)

Ta-Da ......! The Britto's Restaurant and Bar in Baga Beach was an eye opener.

Pics courtesy google images
 A little history first:

  • I had a few waking hours in Goa - most of which was spent in meeting rooms
  • Grumbling me had not stepped on a beach till 9.30 pm, and my local office shook their head sadly when I asked if I could go to a beach at 10 pm
  • Had an intuitive feeling that the hotel guys would ruin my long time fantasy of Goa Seafood....
  • Rebelled and told the office guys that they can either feed me proper dinner, or find me muttering obscenities the next day between training sessions
  • Ofcourse, the office guys jumped down the building and put me and another colleague into a car for the restaurant with an urgency that was new to me :-)
Now, the review :-)

Location : Sigh! Right on the beach! My heart did a quick Dhinka - chika when I saw the thatched roof, the sand which served as the floor, and many many tables with candles lit for effect. At that very moment, I wanted to hug the little Manager of our Goa office, and tell her I was indebted to her for life!!
Pic courtesy google images

There was also this cute curios shop, and a tattoo artist. (After a couple of glasses of the superb house wine, I'd have had a rendezvous with this tattoo artist, had my friend not intervened sensibly)
The tattoo place - pics courtesy google images
Service : Colorful shirts, smiling staff, and a live band. That was the first impression. The restaurant was full (on a week night - but hey! this is Goa we are talking about) and the staff were scrambling about, trying to serve all tables as soon as they could. The live band was strumming out romantic numbers one after the other, and, for the first time in many years, I called up G to tell him I was missing him! (music has this effect on me)

But the thing that yanked my eyeballs out was the confidence with which the service staff handled all sorts of weird requests. Let me tell you mine:

I asked one of the servers if he would reserve our table (we had already placed our orders, and we - no I wanted to go to the beautiful beach on the full moon night) while we wandered around the curio shop a bit. Do remember that the restaurant was packed to its brim. I half expected the guy to shrug his shoulders and tell me to go find food elsewhere.

He was all smiles when he asked me 'Ma'am are you going to the beach?'

Like a child caught lying, I sheepishly nodded my head. He said, "No problem Ma'am."

And with a little whoop, my colleague and I grabbed our purses and stood up. At this, the guy said something I will remember for years to come. "You can leave your bags here. No worries."

Both of us had disbelief writ all over our faces. I asked him if it was really safe - it was, after all, filled with visitors and staff alike. And he said with the confidence of a proud team member "Absolutely safe. You can leave anything here and you'll find it where hen you come back." It would have been an insult to the guy if we still carried our bags, so we left it behind.... with a little trepidation. We needn't have worried, though - everything was intact when we returned a good hour later.

Food (and wine ofcourse):  I am a huge fan of Goan food, and have spent many evenings driving distances in Delhi trying to find that elusive Sorpotel. So ofcourse, the food was good. I knew it would be good. But I had no idea that everything we ordered would be lip smacking good. We had a pork Vindaloo (how can you miss a Vindaloo in Goa?) and a Prawn sorpotel. Awesome - with light fluffy rice, and a local bread called Sanaa. Ofcourse, we had the Pao too, to dab up the gravy.

Portions sizes are reasonably large, and we were stuffed by the time we finished all that we had ordered. Dessert was a luxury that we took only because the menu was so tantalizing. The server smiled and told us to order only one dessert with two spoons - and he was right!!! We ordered a fruit salad with Ice Cream, and it was heavenly! Between the two of us, we couldn't finish it.

We also had the house port wine, which is the only thing I drink when I am here. I like my wine sweet, fortified and full bodied. Lived up to my expectation here too. Again here, a word for the server. He ensured the food arrived on time, the wine glasses were refilled promptly and when we discovered in horror that we were terribly late, the bill reached us in matter of seconds. Impressive!

 Cost : A complete meal for two with around 4 glasses of port wine cost us Rs.1300.

The Verdict : The next day was a total disaster, which I have already blogged about, and this little restaurant was the only thing that made me smile when I think of this visit to Goa. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ronil Beach Resort Goa - A review

The organization I work with has presence in over 150 locations in the country, which means there are often sudden SOS travel plans that are required to be done. The presence of an uber-efficient admin department ensures that the tickets miraculously get booked, accommodation and cabs are waiting to receive you, and much of the heartburn associated with official travel is taken care of.

One such split second travel plan was made to Goa. (consider my plight - I reach Goa after a murderous 3 hour flight from Delhi, rush in and out of meetings, and virtually drag myself into bed - only to rush out of Goa the next day - its GOA we're talking about people - and I didn't even seen the damn beaches!!).

Anyway, the closest hotel to the unit I was supposed to visit was a place misleadingly called 'Ronil Beach Resort' - I say misleading, because the beach is nowhere to be seen, and it was hardly a 'resort'. As I have said many times over, the product is important; but much more important is what you do with the product - the service.

In my usual style - the review, ladies and gents:

  • Location : this is Goa we're talking about. Throw a pebble into the air and it will land on a hotel or a home stay. So I would much rather go to a place that has a beach within walking distance. And a place that has access to many other food joints - especially seafood! This resort is located a little away from the beach, and is also a tad difficult to locate if your driver is not a local guy. Also, if you do not have a car, going to any other food joint is impossible, and you are pretty much at the mercy of the hotel chefs (more on that later).

  • Rooms : Well, lets just say that the first room that was given to me, I was aghast, and after a few screaming friendly threats, I was shown another room, in a similarly sad state, but cleaner. The place looked like the owner was just milking the resort without actually investing anything back. Once upon a time the resort would have been a pretty place, with rooms and balconies that overlooked the pool. But today, it needs renovation, and prayers.

  • Service : After 11 pm and before 7.30 am, don't expect your phone calls to the reception to be picked up. And God forbid if you need an early breakfast - in the words of the service staff, "The breakfast starts at 7.30 am. And 7.30 means 7.30." (complete with crossed arms and grumpy face). A sucker for trouble, I decide to see if "7.30 means 7.30..." And guess what - 7.45 am and the chef walks in whistling a tune, hands in his pocket, unaware of the smoke coming out of my ears. I grabbed a knife and stabbed him on his paunch spread some marmalde on a slice of bread (I had a long day ahead, you know! And one shouldn't take out anger on the food....) and then stomped out of the restaurant, and checked out immediately! At the reception, I thought I'd pour my woes out to the grandfatherly Front Office Executive, and he simply said, "Whatever you want to say, you can write in this remarks book." Yeah right! As if the report would reach the right person! In fact, as if the 'right person' cared!!

  • Facilities : The pool was clean. The washroom was clean. (in need for maintenance, but clean). Don't expect fluffy towels and feather soft beds - these are worn out too. Clean, yes. No toiletries to boast of. Luckily I carry my own.... the ones kept in the washroom were not in any sense of the word, appealing.
Verdict : For a rack rate of over Rs. 3500 for a standard room, which can go up to Rs 7000 in season time (October to Feb), this is a place I'd not be venturing into if someone held a gun to my head!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The final verdict of the Resort

Sometimes the trick to an excellent customer service experience is to lower expectations, and then prove the expectation wrong. The only problem with this strategy is that there may be a huge dent on the goodwill of the organization.

Case in point : remember the dude with the crazy telephone etiquette in an earlier post about a resort?

Well some amount of coaxing and lets-see-how-bad-could-it-be kind of spirit (which I suspect is largely due to the fact that G and I just had to get out of Delhi before we shot each other) made us take that daring trip last weekend. And voila! here is the report - as I experienced it.

Ramnagar, a quaint city in Uttarakhand (famous as the railhead for Corbet) is a few hours by train (we started at 10.40 pm from Delhi, and we reached at 5.00 am). At Ramnagar station, we had our cab waiting for our resort in Corbet (10 kms away), as was promised to us while booking. (The first hint of a smile on G's face told me this was good!). The cab was neat, clean, and working perfectly fine, and the driver was a well mannered fellow. (G had started humming by now).

We reached the Club Mahindra Corbet Resort in the wee hours of the morning, and was greeted by a tired looking, but smiling receptionist, who was not in the least like the guy we encountered on the phone. G's look said 'Really? Is this the same place?'

We were checked in pronto, and were even given a choice of room. We were two families - four adults and four kids (between ages 9 and 5). The excitement of the swings and the slides placed strategically in a garden took the sleep out of their eyes, and we had no complaints about waiting for a few minutes while the bell desk collected our baggage.

Location : After checking in, we walked a few minutes, after which we could hear the unmistakable sound of water flowing. All of us looked at each other (much like Christopher Columbus might have done so when he saw shore) with a glint that said "River!"..... The resort is located right on the banks of the Kosi river, and our room was right over the gurgling river. Ofcourse, there was barbed wire fencing (with a warning from the management not to venture into the river) that took care of any curious toddler going right into the river. Over the next two days (and nights) the river was a constant awe-inspiring view.

view from room

Room : Classy, contemporary, and spacious. Straight lines, wood, stone and glass everywhere. Huge bay windows in both the bedroom and the living space. A kitchenette with microwave, toaster, kettle, tea / coffee supplies, crockery, cutlery, bowls and other nick-knacks such as peeler, knife, bottle opener etc. Everything one could possibly need. Clean linen, super-soft beds (five star classification requires a certain mattress thickness - this was adhered to), and a no-nonsense, clean bathroom. Minimal toiletries, but then these days most of us prefer to carry our brands with us - so this is only a small minus. Superb shower head though. (in the words of my luxury-crazed 5 year old - "Feels like someone is giving you a massage")

Of course, after a few minutes of taking in the beauty of the place, we all crashed right into bed, waking up barely to be able to make a quick trip to local sightseeing points.

The swimming pool is splendid. Sparkling clean; and pretty soon you know why - The lifeguard keeps an eagle eye on the people venturing into the pool - whether they have showered or not, whether the ladies with long hair are wearing a shower cap (I was forced to wear one too, which I did so sulking, till G told me how this rule would have kept the pool hair-free and more hygienic).

But the guy crossed the line when he walked up to my 5 year old and told him he had to wear 'huggies' if he wanted to enter the pool. When I looked at him incredulously, he promptly proceeded to explain to me what 'huggies' was. This caused a few irritable minutes of pool-side action (where I challenged the guard to get me a diaper for 5 year olds, and a lot of other unpleasant things) after which the Entertainment Manager (yup! they have a designation like that) apologised and told me to just ensure the kid had his trip to the bathroom before he entered the pool. Again, erring on the side of caution for hygiene never killed anyone, eh?

The pool
Late afternoons are for activities. There was water zorbing, Burma bridge, spider web, table tennis, pool table, caroms, and for the more active ones - some village game (this time it was 'seven tiles')

The evenings are lively in the resort. Every night they have a different cultural activity. We were there for two nights, on the first night we had a DJ and a sweet chap teaching the kids how to dance with easy steps. My little one dancing is a sight I would laugh to, years later too. Of course, how could Mommies be far behind? The second night was a Kumaoni night, showcasing the kumaoni dance and music. This too, ended with all the guests attempting the Ghadwali dance style. And a competition for the kids.

The kids lined up for a competition - the dude in yellow shoes and the girl in white behind him are mine!

Food : There are buffets for the members, and a-la-carte dining for the others.There is also a riverside open grill, which smells great. Food was mostly okay, with the exception of breakfast. Breakfast was a surprise - I haven't had such an authentic South Indian breakfast outside of the region of its origin!

Service :
Every evening, the kids couldn't wait to get back into the rooms - reason? The housekeeping staff would have made lovely elephants with the towels on the beds. The housekeeping staff were the best - quiet, efficient and very observant. Needless to say, our rooms were cleaned thoroughly each day.

Elephants waiting for a hug!

Similarly, the Restaurant and Room Service staff would go out of their way ensure you get what you want. There is also a little grocery shop within the resort, which stocks bread, soft drinks, cup-a-noodles etc. so that you can have prepare a quick snack in your room. (all this at MRP). A special mention for the chef, who thoughtfully sent us packed sandwiches for our journey back - which was a life saver for a bunch of hungry kids in the back of an Innova.

In short, this trip was like a knock on my head, reminding me never, never to judge a book by its cover - in this case, a resort by the first chap who picked up your call!

Trip Highlight : Full moon shining on the river, lush green grass at your feet, kids asleep after exhausting themselves, G and I holding hands.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Customer Service? Huh? What's that?


As a trainer who specializes in customer service skills transfer, I have a skewed sense of criticality when it comes to any kind of service lapse. Traditionally, industries were either the manufacturing industry or the service industry. But today, a fine line divides the expectations that customers have from products and services.

I know, I know .... 'make a good product and the world will beat a path to your door' - but today, this just isn't enough, is it? Especially when every tangible item in the world is sold with a sense of the intangible - take a look at all the tag lines:
  • 'Drive home a relationship' - for a car brand
  • 'Open happiness' - for a cola brand
  • 'Connecting People' - for a mobile company
And many more such tag lines, that focuses on the people aspect of any product. Clearly indicating how important service is, even for a tangible product like a car or a cola.

Let me give you another example. The government operated 'Cottage Emopriums' in Delhi have much more variety in artifacts and craft-based products than most of its privately run counterparts. The pricing too, is quite fair. However, step into one of the Cottage Emporiums, and the almost empty shopping spaces will tell you a different story; right across the street, Fabindia or Anokhi would be brimming with visitors - both Indian and foreigners. The difference is in the service.

I am an ardent vacationer ; G (the better/bitter half) and I love to grab an overnight bag and vanish from the city whenever we can. Of course, after having kids, we plan much more now, keeping in mind their convenience. Also, since both of us are hoteliers, when we plan, we really plan! So invariably, we take turns in calling up the hotel that we have booked, which gives us a fair amount of insight into their service standards.

Very often, the decision to stay in a particular hotel / resort is governed by how well you were treated on the phone. Let me give you the conversation we had with a front office executive recently - verbatim:

G : Hi! I am calling from Delhi, and we have booked a room for next week. Can I get a confirmation on that?
FOA (front office Assistant) : You booked from Delhi? Then they would have given you the confirmation letter.
G : Well, yes, but I want to know which kind of room you would be allotting us.
FOA : Sir (exasperation already in his voice), we only allot rooms one day before the arrival of the guest.
G : Ok, but I have a preference of a river view room, and if I give you a preference so much in advance, can't you make sure that I get it? (most hotels even block by a specific room, if the guest insists)
FOA : No, we only put the preference one day before. You can call us again to tell us your preference one day before you check in.
G (almost grinding his teeth into a fine paste) : But you can note it somewhere and do it yourself one day before right?
FOA : I may not be on the shift, Sir.
G (doing his deep breathing exercises) : Ok... please make a note next to my reservation request in the remarks column - you do have a remarks column right? Where you put the billing instructions? OK... put a remark there, so that anyone who handles my reservation can see it.
FOA : Fine, Sir. Anything else?
G : The website spoke of activities for the family in the evening. What activities do you have?
FOA : Nothing much, Sir. There is the swimming pool.......
G : That's a facility - what's the activity?
FOA: Ummmm.....errr....... I don't know much about that Sir. Some activity might be there.
G: Can I get a pickup from the railway station?
FOA: Yes Sir. We can send a car to pick you up. It will cost you Rs. 3500/-
G : But its sixty kilometers away! Even a flight will cost lesser! And your website said something about market priced cabs......
FOA : Sir, website says a lot of things.................

At this point, G's face had developed a hue that falls in between purple and red in the color palate, so he just put the phone down and continued with his deep breathing exorcises.

A question ...... Would you take the trouble to visit the resort?

(I was almost tempted to write the name of the resort here, but resisted it, since I'd like to draw conclusions after maybe one more phone call - quite against my standard modus operandi, but we really liked the pictures so..........)