What is in your mind, O VIP?
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

What is in your mind, O VIP?

May 11, 2024

Of our bondage to vagaries of our mind

You cannot always be a hero, but you can always be a human being. —Anon

It is well-known to all educated people, specially students of Political Science, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Moral corruption included. Contrarily, absolute power also enables the powerful to repay the debt of gratitude to those who were good to them in times of need.

Recently, I was having dinner with an old friend who had seen some of the high and mighty among our Indian politicians and thought of sharing his unusual story with my readers. To me it held a mirror to the vagaries of human mind — of mighty or meek.

The timeline was 1975-1977. A tall political leader, who had fallen from power, was to catch a flight from Kolkata to Delhi. Since the flight to Delhi was the next day morning, a room was sought in the government-run (PSU) Five Star Hotel. Since there was no room available and the Hotel’s General Manager could not provide the room, the powerful leader (rather adamantly not preferring other hotels) spent the night sitting in the chair at the airport lounge.

Come 1980. This politician had risen and came back to power. Then one day a team of officers from the Central Government visited the PSU Hotel in Kolkata (which had said ‘no room available’ to this politician), to check if indeed all the rooms were occupied on that cold Kolkata day when the politician spent the night in the lounge.

Fortunately for the General Manager of the Hotel the records clearly showed that indeed there was no room available. God knows what would have befallen the General Manager if the records had showed otherwise.

I guess, a powerful leader may forgive but will not forget a good or wrong done to him or her.

In another case, the same leader was attending an official banquet hosted in honour of a visiting foreign dignitary in the Hyderabad House, the State Guest House of the Prime Minister of India.

The banquet hall was too cool for the comfort of the Prime Minister and it was perceived by the staff but nobody could do anything in the given situation.

Then a liveried waiter brought a shawl, placed it gently over Prime Minister’s shoulders and withdrew. Years passed and the Good Samaritan waiter with a sense of time was promoted as the General Manager of Hyderabad House. Whether it is apocryphal or a “fake news” it is not known. Let it be.

Sometimes it becomes difficult to manage the personal needs and  comforts of VIP politicians. I have heard that once a VVIP politician in office came to Mysuru and was to stay in the PSU Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel. The very special suite, exclusive for such high-octane VVIP was reserved. When the VIP arrived he was conducted to this suite but his wife asked, “Where is my room?”

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The General Manager was flummoxed at such a question and was in a quandary. However, he soon accommodated her in the special Governor’s room. Since the Governor was a fine gentleman, there was no problem for the General Manager.

In the same hotel once the VVIP politician’s driver went to the formal banquet hall for breakfast but he was asked to go to the canteen as per rules. Later the VVIP sat in the car to leave and as courtesy asked the driver if he had breakfast. The answer was a moan. The VVIP, a scholar and a cultured person asked the driver to go and have his breakfast and return. Surprisingly, the VVIP waited in the car till his driver returned with breakfast in the banquet hall.

The General Manager knew the “game” played by the driver and did not want any problem for himself. I was told, it was always “kaan mein daalo” (whisper into the VVIP’s ears) cunning of the drivers of VVIPs           that others in service should keep in mind.

In another interesting episode, once a VIP politician, out of power, had gone to Kolkata and checked into a hotel. As could he expected there were about 20 party workers following her. The security at the hotel stopped the crowd of party workers. Unfortunately, those were the days of communist rule in West Bengal and a party activist slapped the security man. In no time, about 250 staff and workers of the hotel went on a lightening strike and demanded apology from the culprit who hit the security. There was commotion and anarchy. The General Manager did not know what to do. The VVIP politician was already in the room. Then a message was sent to the VVIP about the prevailing situation saying the VVIP would not get any service in the hotel because of the strike.

The apology was offered, the situation returned to normal and the VVIP got all the service from the hotel.

As I ruminated on these VVIP episodes in our country, I was reminded of a similar, but positive, episode I had read long back. It was about an octogenarian couple, owners of the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel (I think) in New York. The couple was driving to a destination far away and suddenly there was heavy rain followed by snow and sleet. It was getting dark too. They decided to drive into a roadside Motel for overnight stay.

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When they walked to the lobby there was the Manager who was poring over a newspaper. The old man, drawing his attention, asked for a room.

“No,” he said without lifting his head from the paper.

“Sir, we are too old to drive now and it is also too cold,” said the old man.

The Manager put the paper down and said, “I told you there is no room. Sorry.”

The pleading of the old couple did not help. At this point a clerk in the desk told the Manager that he would spare his room for the old couple.

“But in this cold where will you sleep,” asked the Manager.

“I am young. I can sleep in this lobby on the sofa,” said the clerk.

“Okay. It is up to you,” said the Manager and the old couple spent the night in the Motel in that clerk’s room, thanked him and left on their journey.

A couple of years passed. The clerk of the Motel got a very richly produced envelope with the gold encrusted emblem of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and the clerk’s name neatly written on it. The Manager who saw the letter was surprised.

He thought that somebody was fooling the clerk. How could a clerk get a letter from the owner of such a famous hotel, he asked himself. He then asked the clerk  to open the letter and read its content.

The content was still more suspicious and unrealistic. It said there was a vacancy for the General Manager’s post, he (clerk) was selected for the position and may visit the office as soon as possible.

To the Manager it was a laughable letter and asked the clerk to put it in the trash.

However, the clerk thought after all lady luck could smile on him too and decided to take  a chance: “If the letter is a hoax, I will see New York and return,” he said and landed in New York with the letter.

Lo and behold. It was no hoax. The letter was from the old octogenarian couple who had a couple of years back stayed in his Motel when he acted as a Good Samaritan.

I think the moral of the episodes narrated above tell us that one may be a VVIP, very powerful and wealthy but sans that humane quality, one gets diminished as a human being.

Hari Om

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