This was a piece I wrote back in college. I had just finished my Industrial training at the Taj and it was quite an experience. This article won me a couple of prizes and was published in the Express Hotelier and Caterer.
MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP
It was one am and I was dutifully trying to pick up a clearance tray,
large enough to have its own pin code. I had faithfully reported to work at nine in the morning and really had no idea what I had put my foot into. I was tired. I was miserable. I was feeling lower than a snake’s bellybutton. I was, an INDUSTRIAL TRAINEE.
The personnel department had handed me a training schedule that morning. I was supposed to stick to this thing at all costs (or so I thought). So, as per the schedule, I reported to the coffee shop at the hotel at nine am. I had no idea whatsoever what my timings would be, and somehow assumed that I would be released at the end of eight hours. Released, is an excellent choice of word, because the first thing I discovered was that I was now a prisoner of the System.
THE COFFEE MUG
I greeted the captain of the coffee shop with a very propah “good morning sir” and was warmly welcomed into the organization with a curt nod. The first thing he told me was to pull my stomach in and stick my chest out. I began to feel faintly miserable, because this was beginning to feel like boot camp. Anyway, I did as told and stood to attention with a look of intense concentration on my face. The captain looked me up, down and sideways and then politely asked me if I had swallowed a pin. I replied in the negative and then he asked me where the devil my smile was.
Being the bright fellow that I am, I produced one that would put the aurora borealis to shame. From that moment on, I went about all my duties at the coffee shop with this dazzling smile plastered on my mug.
FORK IT OVER
Mise-En-Place, Mise-En-Place and some more Mise-En-Place. For those of you who came in late, the term Mise-En-Place means keeping things ready in their place. Throughout my training period in the food and beverage service department, I was wiping stuff. Wiping stuff morning, noon and night. Since stuff is such a broad term, I shall specify that I wiped dry cutlery and flatware of all shapes and sizes imaginable. Have you ever tried wiping the tines of a fork? For the uninitiated, that is what those poky things on a fork are called.
At times, boredom struck and it struck bad. I had to resort to looking at the people around me through the tines of a fork and pretending they were in jail. Anyway, that’s enough about Mise-En-Place. Seriously, that’s all forks! I was now on my way to the kitchen.
THE GREAT BRAWL OF CHINA
The day dawned bright and clear on people from all woks of life. The bugle blew and I literally found myself in the soup. I was in the midst of a raging battle between the chef-de-partie (read Chinaman) of the Chinese kitchen and the chef-de-partie of the south Indian kitchen. The Chinese accused the south Indian of being a mere “Tiffin center Wallah” while the latter accused the former of being a foreigner in our land. In one enlightening moment, I realized that Nehru should have resolved the Chinese issue more thoroughly back in ’64. The fact that the “chinaman” was born and brought up in the by lanes of Charminar was of no consequence whatsoever! The great fight incidentally happened to be over a mystifying object known as a “dhapoo” which turned out to be a long handled ladle! It eventually turned up in a corner of the continental kitchen.
If you think my troubles were over, you are sorely mistaken. Shortly after, I lost my watch in the Paneer Butter Masala, my scarf in the grinder and my sanity in the bakery. Not one to give up easily, I marched on regardless with my shoulder to the wheel and my nose to the grindstone. I think it was Al Boliska who said, “Carry on in this fashion, you will end up with a very sharp nose, my friend!” I heeded his advice, and quit the kitchen the very next day.
OF DUSTERS AND PILLOW CASES
I was now a housekeeper. This was one job I found easy. Neatness came naturally to me. It was one of the fine qualities I was born with. A sense of order is.. Oh, what the heck! It was deeply embedded into my psyche by my mother, who has an obsessive-compulsive cleanliness disorder. I found that the easiest way to clear a room was to simply fling everything down the laundry chute. This system worked flawlessly until one fine day, I threw away somebody’s monogrammed underpants. I spent half a day digging through dirty laundry trying to locate the blasted things. Unwashed yet! Time is a great healer and the unhappy incident was soon forgotten. I trod the straight and narrow path for the next couple of weeks and made beds and dusted and vacuumed until I went blue in the face.
“How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!”
Did you know that its not just a toothache that can make your jaw hurt? Smiling ingratiatingly nonstop can do it just as well. A huge amount of energy had to be expended on making just the right impression because this is where we laid out the red carpet. Best foot forward and all that! I realized that all that training had turned me into a smart, suave and debonair young man entirely capable of convincing a complete stranger that our hotel was simply the best. Answering the telephone in my best British accent, checking in and checking out guests (sometimes in more ways than one!) was just up my street, my piece of cake, my cuppa tea- you get the picture right? This was the Grand Finale to my six-month stint at the hotel. It was a great learning experience and a milestone in my chosen career of a hotelier par excellence.
The hospitality industry, dear readers, is serious business. It is a perfect blend of gruelling work, integrity, team spirit and a dash of good humour – shaken, not stirred.