>> Could there be any thing more wonderful than attending the wedding reception of the daughter of a couple who’s wedding we had also attended? We couldn’t help remarking on the fortuitous occasion when we received the invitation to be present at the wedding reception for Rohini and Nandan Nilekani’s daughter Janhavi to Shray Chandra at the Leela in Bangalore. After all, we were present when the bride’s parents had celebrated their own nuptials in the ‘80s at the Dadar Catering College hall in Mumbai! When we reminded Nandan of it, the low key and suave IT whiz and Chairman of the UIDAI smiled, “We were guinea pigs at that reception,” he grinned.
“Being flat broke in those days, we were happy to have the reception catered by the institute’s trainee students so we could get a discount.” In keeping with the Nilekani ‘simple living and high thinking’ style we are happy to report that the reception for their daughter was low key and understated. “Even though they could have had every Cabinet minister, film star and top industrialist attend, they made sure to invite all their old friends, people who they would have invited regardless of the Infosys outcome and keep it real and meaningful,” said a guest.
Even so, it was a collection of some of India’s most talented and brilliant people: Historian Ramchandra Guha and his talented wife graphic designer Sujata Kesavan, TV stars Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, biotech entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar, uber banker Uday Kotak, celebrated photojournalist Namas Bhojani and his wife, the NYT writer Sarita Rai, media maven Shekar Gupta and ace bowler Anil Kumble to name a few. The Nilekanis are testimony to the fact that you can have all the success in the world and yet not forget your core values.
On the sets of Shalimar
>> Many decades ago, when we were nigh teenagers and newly out of college we spent half a year in the Garden City on our very first job. On the sets of an Indo-American bilingual film that starred Hollywood and Bollywood biggies like Rex Harrison, Sylivia Miles, Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra and Zeenat Aman. There’s no business like the movie business and we learnt this first hand on the sets of Shalimar. A memorable encounter with the legendary Rex Harrison who we had been sent to inform that a fire had broken out in the Bangalore Palace. “Run Mr Harrison,” we had said excitedly.
We recall the ageing British actor turning to us loftily, putting down his cup of tea, wiping the biscuit crumbs from his lips and saying, “My dear girl, we don’t run, we stride.” Of such stuff memories are made!
The Midnight Call
>> But, of course, the most interesting story about the West End comes from Harsh Goenka whose family acquired the property as part of the Spencer chain of premier retail and hospitality outlets in the ‘70s. “There I was, a young man embarking on my career and given the responsibility of pulling in the deal,” says Goenka, son of the legendary RP Goenka known as India’s original ‘takeover king’. “I received a call from Homi Bhabha who headed the Spencer group at that time, inviting me at midnight to the Belvedere of all places to ink the deal!” he says.
Incidentally, the Goenkas still own the property along with the Savoy in Ooty and have given it out to the Taj for management.
“When I look back all the patience and tact was well worth it,” says Harsh.
125 years of a legend
>> Grand old hotels are fascinating repositories of trivia. And the Taj’s 125-year-old West End is one such. Talking to the hotel’s debonair GM Sanjay Sood we learnt that not only was it a favourite spot for war correspondent Winston Churchill, who smoked his favourite cigars here but that the Rajah of Chettinad who stayed at Room 50 used to have a retinue of staff to press his feet (they were changed every two hours).
This and other facts had us give the splendid property another look. It was here that Warren Buffet recently dined on burgers and cherry coke, here that the rock group Aerosmith was welcomed by elephants and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillian with purple interiors and here that actors Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Julia Roberts stayed during shoots.
Now, upgraded and restored to perfection the hotel, which was declared as the second best luxury hotel in the world by Conde Nast in 2010 has a year round anniversary program of champagne walks, an Art Corridor, a film and coffee table book planned.
Mall days in Bangalore
>> After a lifetime of loathing malls, contrarian as we are, we have become recent converts: an evening spent window-shopping, movie watching, comedy store visiting at Mumbai’s Palladium never fails to please for instance.
And so in that spirit, we spent an afternoon at UB City, Bangalore’s premier mall created by Vijay Mallya’s UB Group and Bangalore’s real estate giant The Prestige Group where we partook of a very agreeable lunch at the al fresco Italian eatery Toscana, surrounded by some well-heeled Bangalore folk. Ladies who lunch, yuppie executives and tourists like us. The salads (especially the Toscana House salad with its apricots and feta garnishes) and the pastas were not extraordinary but completely adequate, as was the Tiramisu and the accompanying Pinot Grigo served at the correct temperature. Bathed in bright afternoon sunshine, and enveloped in happy chatter we were almost transported to a cobbled piazza in Rome, a remarkable feat of the mall’s designers considering we were seated right in the middle of Bangalore’s most commercial district and only five minutes away from MG road! Take a bow Vijay Mallya. Now, if only you could inform the copywriters on your otherwise impressive website that the dire ‘UB City set heads rolling when it was first announced and till date continues to dazzle’ is perhaps unintentionally ill-advised.