Sunday, November 20, 2016

Book launches & Fantastic Beasts in my Home

It's been quite a couple of weeks.  In between the regular commitments, launching both my new books 'When Love Finds You' and my first kid's book ever, 'Peanut Has a Plan'  - and this along with travel to Mumbai for a work conference and some serious effort at racing against time to get ready not one, but two presentations for an important discussion.

Quick round up of whatever has stayed with me through the blur -

1. Atta Gallata is a wonderful store in Koramangala Bangalore - they stock only Indian authors, which is very, very refreshing. (And by the way, have you read this piece on the elitism in Indian media written by my publicist at Harper's?)Did an event there last Saturday, it's a warm, wonderful place. If you're lucky enough to live in my favourite city, check it out. The funny part is it turned out to be started up by a first cousin of my batchmate and friend from IIMB!

                   Holding forth at Atta Galatta Women's Web Event. Books all around and a live audience. Never happier!

Women's Web had organized this event and it had an audience of 50 very engaged women who asked great questions on the theme of 'Women at Work.' My co-panelists were the impressive Vaishali Kasture, Partner at Delloite, and Malini Gowrishankar, Entrepreneur by day and VO artist by night, who did an impromptu reading of my book blurb.

Here's a link to a video of Vaishali asking me a question about being multifaceted.
Here's an article they wrote featuring me prior to the event.

Some other pictures from other recent events -

     Gurgaon Moms event at Cafe Nowhere. That second one above is me and Amrita, my favourite book marketing person of       all time. See how she's finger-pointing even as I show affection? Typical.

  With a special bunch of bloggers delighted to be in conversation at an actual publishing house office, Harper's office in Noida. 
                             With Manasi (my editor) and Amrita (aforementioned publicist) at the Truly Madly Office.

2. With all of this, I happened to be out last weekend and missed my younger son's Papad's school performance. Which would have been quite heart-renching had I actually missed it - because thanks to technology and timing, I managed to sit in my hotel room at Lemon Tree and watch the whole thing on FaceTime. My husband very sweetly arranged for enough battery and front row seats so that I didn't miss a moment of the stage performance. The kid was somewhat assuaged by my recounting of the whole thing, including his rather shy dance on stage and the fact that he 'fell down once but jumped up immediately like a Jack in the Box.'

I was glad to be here this weekend because this time it was Pickle's performance. He too was in a dance and had an actual real dialogue which he delivered with great panache even though he stood just to the right of the spotlight so only his front-row parents could see him. I must say that even though technology is wonderful, it was great to actually be here and be with him during the entire morning madness of 'Will you PLEASE get on your Khakhi shorts, and for the love of God, do NOT wear that white shirt until you've finished your breakfast.' This was Vijay, of course, I couldn't care less but it was nice to be able to hear all the yelling. The performance was both short and sweet and then we were home for the afternoon; and in the evening, we went together for a musical performance at the school where Peanut and I learn music for a 'Terrace Jam' which was also great fun. Even though Pickle & Papad found Soya Katori packets meant for twenty people and finished them all by themselves - after sweetly handing around single pieces to the rest of the audience.

3. I cannot quite believe how Peanut is already behaving like a teenager. She's reading like crazy most of the time around the house and a big help when it comes to managing her six year old brothers, except when she ignores them stealing Soya Katoris and except when she actually decides to turn into a six year old herself and then it's like managing triplets-gone-mad.

Here's some of the stuff you get to hear from her -

(After she finishes explaining to Papad that great can also be written as a g-r-8) '...And There's a Lot You Don't Know About Growing Up, Boy' - followed by a condescending pat on his head.

(After complaining about how she's getting tired following me around the mall, and hearing about the store we're going next) Oooh, Shopper's Stop? Great, I thought you'd NEVER stop!

I just took her to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and what a movie it is. Please go ahead watch this one (Vijay and I also took the kids for 'Trolls' which was thoroughly enjoyable too but can't compare to this one).  This flick had the kind of special effects around Magic that would have lifted the Harry Potter series to the next level, in my opinion - and very good casting too. We had a debate about whether all of us should go but my six year old twins saw the trailer and opted to stay home themselves and just watch TV. Kids today are pretty smart. So it was just her and me because Vijay's decided to traipse around farms on the weekends, and we had a great time together. We were both less irritable without the men in the family around.

In fact, we were late for the movie, and usually getting late gets her goat - I hate being late for anything, and she particularly hates being late for movies. Uber wasn't working for some reason so barely with five minutes to spare, we rushed out of the house and managed to get an auto.

'There's nothing like an auto to spoil your hair.' She yelled over the roar of traffic as we sped along and I held on tightly to her.

'Yeah.' I agreed, pushing my hair out of my eyes.

'And we've never been this late for a movie before!'

'Yeah.' I had to admit. We barely had four minutes to spare although our guy was smartly snaking around traffic and making decent speed.

After a beat, she snuggled a little deeper into my arms and remarked cheerily 'This is fun.'

It took me a moment but I looked at my first born and realised something.

'Yeah.' I said, my grin broadening. 'It is.'

Friday, November 11, 2016

Random Hotel Review: Lemon Tree Bangalore Vs. Grand Hyatt Santa Cruz

So for someone who's been travelling last few days, landing at Mumbai airport to find out that their currency has suddenly been demonitized and that the U.S Presidency has been demon-ized, it's been a rather disorienting week. It is making me even more random and cranky than usual and so I thought I would take this perfect opportunity to do a review. After all, when it comes to my book reviews, at least SOME people seem to wait until they are their randomest and crankiest. Let's say it brings out the best and most honest in any reviewer.

I was at Grand Hyatt Santa Cruz,Mumbai for a conference the last 3 days and last night I flew to Bangalore for an event with Women's Web that my publicist at HarperCollins had set up. I was checked in at Lemon Tree. I was particularly sleepy when we landed and told the driver that we had to go to Lemon Tree, Koramangala. We set off confidently at 9.30 p.m. from the Bangalore airport and about 11 p.m. we were reaching Koramangala when I decided to check in on Google Maps about the exact location of the hotel. Just to be super safe and cautious, I'd look at the printout of the hotel check in details.


'Wait, Manju, wait!' I called to my driver. 'We have to go to Lemon Tree, ULSOOR LAKE not Koramangala!'

'Oh!' said the hapless driver. 'But we passed that 30 minutes ago!'

My immediate reaction was to blame my publicist. How my publicist has put up with me for the two last books I do not know, but I thought it was time to test the relationship even further. I called her up.


'Yes, Yash, you've reached? Okay listen about the blogger's meet tomorrow...'

'No, wait!' I interrupted firmly. 'You told me that I was booked in Koramangala, and I have to go to Ulsoor Lake!'

'I told you the EVENT was at Atta Gallata at 6 p.m., that's in Koramangala. There was no availability of a hotel there, so we put you in...wait, wait, what was it? Oh yes, Ulsoor Lake, Lemon Tree.'

'No kidding.' I said bitterly. 'I distinctly remember you saying Lemon Tree, Koramangala three weeks ago.'

'Yes, But I shared the details with your assistant three days ago.' came the unusually logical reply, followed by mild curiosity 'You didn't look at it?'

'I've got to GO now.' I said coldly. 'On a LONG ride.'

I spent the next few minutes bitterly complaining to any friend who I saw online on whatsapp and of course my husband, until I reached Lemon Tree, Ulsoor Lake. It turned out not to be in the lake (another disappointment) but merely in the Lake Area.

However, my mood somewhat brightened when I saw that it seemed to be a rather well-lit hotel. Kind of living up to it's name, you know? A lemon. A tree. A bright lemon tree. Things in yellow and green, just as lemons and trees should be. And as I went up in the lift, I noted the contrasts between two hotels for the first time involved in the life of a 'living out of a suitcase businesswoman'. These were the following -

1. Grand Hyatt Mumbai was quiet, dark and sophisticated. Lemon Tree, Bangalore was bright, cheery and friendly. The same seemed true of their prices although I hadn't checked the details carefully, but I'm pretty sure that's true.
Winner: Lemon Tree

2. At Grand Hyatt, as soon as you get out of the car, they take away your suitcase and usher you inside, assuring you that your suitcase will reach your room. This forced parting can be very disconcerting for the hassled traveller. I mean, what if my photo ID proof is in the wallet in the very top zipper of the suitcase? I know it's not usual to do that but what IF? At Lemon Tree, they helped with the suitcase but it was always in my sight.
Winner: Lemon Tree.

3. The check in - Grand Hyatt had very polite staff but the guy at Lemon Tree seemed friendlier. Even though I growled at him to check me in FAST PLEASE, he didn't seem bothered and kept chattering at lightning speed about 'wejustneedyouraddressandmobilenumberandsignaturehere.' Also, they didn't pre-swipe my credit card with crazy amounts of money like they did at Grand Hyatt. This is always a good thing.
Winner: Lemon Tree

4. Post check in at Lemon Tree, I was expecting some help with that stupid suitcase of mine (this had eventually turned up in my room, much to my relief when at Grand Hyatt), but the folks at Lemon Tree all suddenly disappeared, and the entire hall was deserted but for me and my suitcase and my struggles. It was kind of a small suitcase so maybe when they think the guest can handle it, they all collectively dive behind their comfy sofas. I'm all for it although I did think that it was slightly rude. On the plus side, I wouldn't have to feel bad about not tipping the guy who brought it up although I could have blamed it on the currency issue even though I never like to tip the guy for bringing up a tiny suitcase which I could have done easily myself.

Winner: it's a Tie purely because of my above confusion.

5. The Hallway to the Room: Grand Hyatt had these mile-long deserted depressing hallways. No one around and yet a zillion rooms facing each other in stoic silence, broken by only by the occasional sound a foreign businessman (soft) talking to an Indian businessman (loud). Don't ask me why they were having business conversations inside the hotel room. It could happen, and it's just my impression anyway. Wait, so basically, the hallway at Grand Hyatt- long, depressing. Hallway at Lemon Tree - I don't remember it at all, which means that my room must have been close to the lift and the hallways must have looked normal and not like something out of the Matrix.

Winner: Lemon Tree. Of course.

6. The Room itself: Now, this is the real deal, right? This is where you spend most of your time when at the hotel? The room at Grand Hyatt looked very posh and all that in the first go, but you very quickly discover that it's designed to irk normal people. I mean, normal people want to be able to see what switch bloody switches on which bloody light, right? I stumbled around trying to get the room to a state where I could actually see, which took me half an hour. And later at night when I actually wanted to sleep, the same switches didn't bloody seem to work anymore!! Every single night I stayed there, I called the 'guest services' and had to ask him which switch was for the light above the mirror, which one for the reading light above the bed. They were completely non-intuitive, hidden inside flowerpots and the like (almost). In frustration, I asked the guy on the third night 'Am I the only one who has this problem?' He replied quietly but honestly 'No Ma'am.' I asked him 'Why do you DO this to your guests? Please give this feedback to should design these things better, you guys aren't here to trouble your guests, right? I mean...' I went on for a bit and to his credit, he didn't hang up after saying 'Hallo, hallo, awaaz nahin aa rahi...' He just heard me out. I feel sorry for hotel staff.
The lights at Lemon tree were all normal and there was even a good ol' middle-class type fan regulator. I didn't notice if there was a fan at all in Grand Hyatt. There should always be a fan. I am a fan of fans.

Winner: This is getting predictable.

7. The bathroom: equivalent. But guess which one actually had the thingy near the toilet seat which sprays water for washing hard to reach places? The only thing that actually SHOULD be considered a luxury at a hotel but of which the absence indicates 'Ooooh we're sooooo western. Use just a tissue like the Americans.' Eww.

Winner: You guessed it.

Okay, so now I'm getting late for breakfast at Lemon Tree so I can't write just yet about whose complimentary breakfast was better. It is clear that the Lemon Tree is the overall winner. The ONLY problem, and it's a big one. You have to pay Rs. 475 plus taxes to get hi-speed wi-fi (on up to six devices). I don't want to pay for free hi-speed wi-fi in a hotel! It is my birthright to get it for free. And what do you mean for up to six devices? How many devices do you expect me to have? I just need it for my phone and my laptop. At best, someone may need it for their tablet as well. So why six? This kind of psychological pricing doesn't work on me, I've been in Marketing for 15 years or something. And now we bring you to the end of this short rant bulletin and head for breakfast.

I hope this helps you to make your luxury hotel stay decision. Of course, the fact that these comparisons are made in two different cities shouldn't bother you, I'm sure it's reflective of the chains all over the country and maybe the world. I love generalizations.

On a parting note: I'm a middle class child of the nineteen eighties and nineties, daughter of a doctor and a government official. I shall never ever be sophisticated.

Thank GOD.