‘We Will Spring Across This Hurdle’

The future will be what it will be. Personally, now that we’ve flattened the curve, my answer is for healthy youngsters to go about kick-starting lives and businesses. With all precautions. Find some answers.


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Business World Hotelier

I’d like to start with the famous line from Mark Randolph’s book on Netflix. “Nobody knows anything.” It’s as accurate as a bull’s eye for Corona.

I’ve consciously and deliberately, quite forcefully, avoided all the hundreds of theories about Covid that have done the recent rounds on various media. Avoided them like the plague itself. We don’t need the wisdom and grace of a Nobel laureate to sort the dilemma for us. We messed up our soil. We messed up our water. Still not satisfied, we screwed up our air waves. It would seem we couldn’t go further. But no, we were more ingenuous. We worked really hard to weaken our own natural defences. We started spending more of our awake time on screens. More couch. More chair. More drooping head and shoulders. More dependence on things humankind lived without for millennia. Screen before you really opened your eyes. Screen till you slumbered. Screens work well indoors. They’re anathema to movement itself. There have been a clutch of mental illness cases that have bobbed up in lockdown weeks. Only to prove a point. We’ve been bringing it on ourselves for a long time. We chose lockdowns well before PM Modi was forced to make the choice official.

So what’s the answer now? Good question. Nobody knows for sure. The government has shown decisive leadership in its handling of the epidemic. The future will be what it will be. Personally, now that we’ve flattened the curve, my answer is for healthy youngsters to go about kick-starting lives and businesses. With all precautions. Find some answers. If a case of Covid rears its head, then handle it with all sensitivity. With the right medical care. Don’t seal the city.

I possess none of the erudite and brilliance and prophesy of a Yuval Harari or a Thomas Friedman. Or the sheer vocabulary of a Shashi Tharoor. I am essentially, I will say, a farmer in the hospitality industry. Simple. Basic. Not too prone to window dressing or sugar coating. A survivor against, and amidst, all odds. My job now, more than ever before, is to stay afloat. Stay alive. To see tomorrow. And another morrow. And another. I am not yet ready to lay out combat strategies. I’m busy making sure my weapons are well oiled. These are extraordinary times. There will be pain. Acute, cutting, piercing. There may even be some dismemberment. I need to be able to stand again. I’d like the path ahead to be free of litter. I know that’s not possible. I know I have to go through agony. I see landmines. I do see them vividly. I’ll outmanoeuvre them.

India carries a heavy burden of jobs. Hotels and hospitality more than most businesses. The effort must be to find solutions where largescale job retentions are a cornerstone. Corona will have a huge socio-economic impact. Bigger than we’ve ever seen in the last 50 years. State assistance must focus on the weakest section of society. Feed them. Shelter them. And provide the framework for them to return to work. Today, only 17 of Sarovar’s 83 hotels pan India are operating. Most only on bravado. All of them need to come back to life, for employees to work and survive. We have hotels used as isolation centres, as testing centres, as a home for doctors and care givers. We’ve prepared and given out free meals from our hotel kitchens to those who couldn’t fend for themselves. We’ve given out grocery packets to allow people sustenance and self – esteem. We’re proud of our small but useful contributions. We will continue to make these, at nil or minimal income, for as long as is necessary. In turn, we’d like to be looked at with compassion and care. If someone is unfortunate and tests Covid positive on our premises tomorrow, we’d be involved in all necessary reaction, all precautions and a swift response. Without paranoia. That is the only answer.

We will bounce back. Very certainly. Humans will always seek human contact. Intuitively. Zoom and other video versions of meetings will continue to carry traction. But the social human will resurrect and rise again. It will take time. It will need a vaccine for a comprehensive conclusion. But it’ll happen as certain as day and night. For the morrow, large biz cities will recover faster. Others will follow. Leisure with easy driving access with thrive. Hotels dependant on international travellers will need to re- engineer themselves to survive. Court and seduce the desi traveller. Travel across the seas will be less frequent and more expensive when it gets underway. And will be fraught with complex visa and isolation rules. Smart hotels will engage with their guests well before their arrival. And curate stays to guest comfort and safety. I’m not talking luxury here. All hotels, without exception. If they are to survive. Human contact at the physical plane will recede. No more a bevy of pretty girls opening doors and showering smiles. Life’s set to be a touch drab for all of us.

Personally I’ve never been a believer in holding out a begging bowl to the government. This is the time for an exception. From the Centre – a one year waiver – not deferment — on loan repayments. Principal and interest. From States and UTs – electricity billing on actual usage; three month waiver of municipal taxes; license fees, etc. If we survive the government lives healthy too.

We’re well prepared to open all our hotels at no notice. We’ve trained and trained hard. Virtually. Engineers. Housekeepers. Chefs. Delivery menus. Room dining with negligible human contact. Social distancing. Squeaky clean hygiene. WHO recommendations and standards. Limiting numbers in every area, including meeting rooms. Buffet concepts mummified. The list goes on.

Extraordinary times bring out the extraordinary. We are better prepared, fitter and leaner in every aspect, physically in tune, mentally sharp and agile. We will spring across this hurdle towards survival.