S Balakrishnan Column: 'I felt like a teenager on a blind date'

A date where the winner scores with a few crores

Going to my first public auction was a little unnerving. I started off from my home in Chembur to the auction venue, Hotel Diplomat in Colaba, quite early in the morning as we bidders were told to reach the venue one hour before auction time, 10 am to be precise. The auction was to start at 11 am.

I felt like a teenager on a blind date on that cab ride, simply because I did not know what to expect. Maybe, a blind date with a difference, because I did not even know if I was to meet a girl or a boy! When I decided to bid for Rounaq Afroz, a hotel in Pakmodia Street (Bhendi Bazaar) – incidentally, it is called Hotel Zaika, Delhi, now – I had not even seen the property.

I was quite determined though to win the bid, my resolve further strengthened after I got a threat SMS by D-Company from Pakistan a couple of days ago. The threat stated that I must stay off the auction and that I am virtually committing suicide by bidding for the property. I thought it was absurd that somebody can dictate terms and instil fear sitting in Pakistan. And that too, from a man who had destroyed this city in 1993! I wanted to prove that I am not afraid.

To come back to that cab ride, first I thought it prophetic in some way that my cab number was 786, which is a lucky number for Muslims. Then yesterday was 9th, which incidentally, is a lucky date for me.

I reached Hotel Diplomat by 10 am and was ushered into the first floor, Noble Hall, after a stringent security check. It was nostalgia time for me because I used to go to Diplomat so often for excellent Punjabi food and genuine drinks. Now, I do not drink or smoke, but that was a homecoming in a way.

We (the bidders) were served ‘chai’ (not very good, I may add) and at 11 am sharp the auction began. There were seven properties on the auction block, with the sixth being for Dawood’s Hotel Rounaq Afroz. There was one other bidder for this property, which was the Dawoodi Bohra Trust. The reserve price was Rs 1.18 crore, after which it started climbing 19, 20, 21... my heart was hammering now.

The Bohra Trust stopped at Rs 4.27 crore and I heaved a sigh of relief. I knew if it had gone much higher, I who was bidding for my NGO the Desh Seva Samiti (serve the nation) would not be able to match that. I offered Rs 4.28 crore and to my pleasant surprise that was the last bid.

We exited Diplomat at 12.30 pm, after a lunch by the good Gujju auctioneer Ashwin Shah. Post that, I was engulfed by the media when I exited. Then, I went to the Press Club (near Azad Maidan) for tea, and at 4 pm we were back at Mittal Court Nariman Point for final results. There were bids by e-bidding and sealed tenders too. There was an e-bid of Rs 1.52 crore and a sealed tender of Rs 2.52 crore for the same. Of course, I was declared the winner, then!

There is elation but exhaustion too, it has been such a hectic day and never have I spoken so much. Everybody (media) wants a quote! If you sing the same song again and again you get tired.

Anyway, now, I will appeal for funds to raise this money of Rs 4.28 crore. I do have some time to raise this sum, I have already paid R30 lakh at the time of entering as a bidder. I know I can raise this sum through appeals. There will be no commercial activity in this property, I plan to impart computer literacy to kids in the Bhendi Bazaar area through the Desh Seva Samiti.

Anyway, that is all for later, tonight I will sleep like a person who knows it is mission accomplished.

S Balakrishnan is a former journalist and chairman-founder of the Desh Seva Samiti

— As told to Hemal Ashar

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