A date with Daddy-ji
Like father, like son. For 14 years, doorman Jaswinder Singh has seen history walk past the doors of Taj Mahal Palace, just like his father, Nidan Singh, who held the post for 23 years before he did
When you walk into one of Mumbai's landmark hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace, it's easy to spot a tall, burly man in a crisp white uniform and white turban, who greets you with a smile at the main entrance to the hotel. He opens the door of your car for you, folds his hands into a regal namaste, greets you and says, 'Welcome to Taj Palace'. His fierce moustache contrasts his warm gesture and smiling eyes.
Nidan Singh, Jaswinder Singh's father, in uniform at the Taj Mahal Palace, MumbaiFamily ties
Born in 1969, 46-year-old Jaswinder Singh joined the hotel, in Mumbai on May 8, 2001 when he took over from his father, Nidan Singh, who retired in April 2001. Singh senior had worked for 23 years, since 1978. "In 1999, my father sent me to work with Taj Bengal, Kolkata, where I was attached for 18 months after which I had to leave because of personal problems. When he retired in 2001, he got me here to replace him. My younger brother worked in Taj Land's End for three years; my mama (uncle) worked with Taj Bengal, Kolkata for 10 years and then, Taj Mahal in Delhi for 10 years; he has now retired. My cousin is with Taj Delhi now," reveals Jaswinder Singh.
Jaswinder Singh (aka Daddy-ji) at the gate, Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
"I am grateful that I am here because of my father. I would come here as a boy, to see how my father stands, how he attends to guests, how he drives. A lot of guests talk to me thinking I am my dad. A guest once commented on how I am still here and I look the same, but he was talking about my father," he laughs. "When other employees tell them that I am his son, they are very happy to learn this," he adds.
Members of the hotel staff lovingly call Jaswinder, 'Daddy-ji'. "Earlier, they would call my father 'Daddy-Ji' because of his age. When I joined, they began saying 'Chhota Daddy'. Now that tag has stuck and most people, including officers, address me as 'Daddy-ji'; sometimes, even in public, and guests wonder if all my children work here," he says, bursting into peals of laughter.
A day at the doorOn a typical day, Singh is at the gate on an eight-hour shift and works for six days a week. He regrets that he had finished his duty and left for the day when the fateful attacks happened, at the hotel in November 2008, as he could have saved lives.
"My father was in the Indian Army for 15 years in the artillery department, before joining the Taj. It gets you used to the stand duty and made it easier for him to adapt here. We have learnt a lot here and the best part is that we continue to learn. We bond with the guests, which is very pleasing. It's not a job where you work like a machine and go home. It's not that we just open the door; our department is security. We notice movements of guests and the goings-on in the hotel, we learn to gauge people, sort out valet parking issues, baggage and help guests who need to find their cars. The porch is my responsibility. If a guest is irritated at the entrance, that feeling lingers," he quips.
Sharing a little trade secret, he says "We are the face of the hotel; the dwarpals. The first and last face you see when arriving or leaving. Even if a guest is in a bad mood, we still manage to make him smile. We ask him how he is and tell him that we have been thinking of him, and hoping that he'd pay a visit. It makes them feel good." The hotel gets many celebrity guests who recognise Jaswinder Singh. Navjot Singh Sidhu, Vijay Mallya, Sunny Deol come to his mind, who like to meet him whenever they visit. Jaswinder, in turn, recognises their cars and their bodyguards.
Heart, mind and soul
"Sometimes, guests who own 10 cars forget which car and which driver drove them on that day. Within 20 minutes of the guest going in, we figure this out. When they come out and request to ask for the car, I tell them, "Sir, your driver Ram with the car number 4688 has come (for example). They are very impressed with our memory. Roughly 15-20 days ago, there was a guest who came with his parents, I knew he had got a different car that day, but I remembered his old car number. I told him his old card number was 2525. He was impressed; he said a lot of good things in English," he laughs. "He also didn't remember the old car," says Singh with pride.
In May, Singh will complete 14 years of service. When we ask him about his next generation, he is happy to tell us that they are all doing well. "My elder daughter is studying Physiotherapy, which she will complete in the next few months. She recently got engaged to a boy from the Punjab Police, my elder son is in the Indian Army; my younger son is going to study business in Australia. He works there too. Recently, he even offered me some money," he gushes. "I wanted my youngest son to work for Taj, but you know how kids are these days," he tells us, hurrying out as his team calls out to him for assistance.