Quality experiences in India
I had one of those rare electric moments this week when I felt completely serene and relaxed, all my worries dissipated and Mumbai was the most beautiful city in the world.
I do not experience these moments:
- Shopping in Linking Road market
- Walking in slums
- Sitting in noisy crowded restaurants
- Crammed inside local trains
- Surrounded by pulses and people and staff on ladders, wading my way through shelves of pulses in a kirana store
But I do experience them:
- Driving on the road from Mahim leading to the Bandra Worli Sea Link
- Sitting in the Sun N Sand Hotel in Juhu outside by the pool at sunset
- Listening to Ghazals at my aristocratic friend’s swanky flat in Breach
- Candy when he throws a party Watching Taufiq Qureshi play tabla
- Having an Indian head massage
I had the rare euphoric feeling this week sat at Juhu’s The Novotel The Square restaurant sipping an Americano as the sun set over the swimming pool.
Everything was beautiful, calm quiet music was playing and I felt at one with my life and existence.
Despite being a new hotel, you somehow feel the history of its Holiday Inn days, when it was frequented by Bollywood stars, in the walls. The hotel already has a certain buzz about it, despite having just opened in July. There is a sense it will soon be the ‘place to be’ once more. I have to admit it is often in five star hotels in India when I feel these moments of serenity.
I had a similar feeling at breakfast at the Taj in Jaipur, when I visited with a friend Craig. We couldn’t afford to stay at a five star, but we could afford breakfast at one – so one morning we left our three star haveli and travelled by rickshaw to the palace.
We wandered up the green lawn stretched out before the hotel by foot and, despite having clearly not arrived in a car, were treated like kings by the well-trained staff. Some Indian musicians were playing sitar, I drank carrot juice and smoothies, ate croissants and had eggs cooked to my choice, the view was spectacular, the service phenomenal and we were both suddenly in love with India and with life.
I get a similar feeling in the Starboard bar at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Colaba: you almost feel the history of the hotel as you drink in the smart white bar. It seems even more special a place now, given the tragedy that occurred there on 26/11.
Another time I had had the same feeling was staying at the Leela Palace in Bangalore on a press trip.
In fact, that very experience motivated me to leave Norwich and shift to India.
I was feeling like a princess wandering around between the pink pillars.
I remember the service was amazing too and I felt like I was on another planet.
I met an American man at breakfast and we got chatting. We both felt so inspired by India, we decided to leave our respective countries and move here. He joined Microsoft and I joined the Hindustan Times.
Its amazing how your feelings in Mumbai can go from despair to inspired just by changing environment. One minute you are in a beautiful moment, the next a slum.
It just proves what a difference being in an aesthetically-pleasing place can make to your experience and mindset.
I was thrilled to see this week that Nature’s basket has opened in Bandra. It sells everything I need, apart from cat food. It is clean and hygienic and has a whole range of imported products displayed in an a aesthetically-pleasing manner.
It makes a huge difference to shopping in the market or at crammed, disorganised kirana stores and has made a huge difference to my life.
The problem with shopping at the market is that you have to go to about six shops to get everything. Some meat shops in Mumbai are rather dubious as the fridges and freezers appear to have hailed from the dark ages, the frozen meat is partially defrosted and the fresh? Well, who wants to buy meat from a whole body of an animal and have it handed covered in blood in a plastic bag? There is one shop in the suburbs where if you lift open a box of eggs, you are greeted by dozens of cockroaches. I just don’t understand why Indian customers don’t make higher demands on some of these shops. In some of the them the staff look so poor, like they don’t even get paid.
Until recently I had shopped at Foodland Fresh in Juhu. It was the only place near me that I could buy everything I needed under one roof for a weekly shop, bearing in mind I need a lot of imported products.
When it closed I was devastated. Literally. I interrogated the watchman outside the empty store and even the staff in the shop opposite and none of them knew why it had closed I texted all my friends in Juhu asking them what had happened. None knew. This left with me no option other than to travel to the Warden Road Nature’s Basket branch – a one hour journey by cab.
Furious, I searched the net and an article on Mint said that Foodland Fresh was closing down most of its stores, quoting staff from there as saying they were unprofitable and the business model wasn’t working.
How can that be when Tesco and Waitrose make a bomb in the UK? So I interrogated the COO of Nature’s Basket. He tells me that their business model works as they stock mainly imported products, which have higher margins than Indian ones. He says that with rents and staff costs, it can be difficult to make a profit with Indian products that have low margins. That must be why so many small shops have fridges and freezers in such dire conditions – to save money.
Now, my life will be much better. I can shop in Bandra where I live.
I am delighted with the new store which stocks what I need: European cheeses, imported wines, healthy brown breads, tacos and gourmet pasta. I no longer need to wonder if the freezer storing the meat I am buying works.
The Novotel, the Taj , the Leela and Nature’s Basket in Bandra are quite simply all places setting high standards, offering stress-free experiences and that is what Mumbai can do with.