Thursday, November 27, 2008
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?
The two paragraphs in quotations are not my words, but words of a journalist from India describing the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.
"Anyone, anywhere who has visited Mumbai will be gasping at the sight of a burning Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel. That is because it is not your average hotel.
If a momentous infidelity is being committed on a given night, or a billion-dollar business deal being inked, or a recklessly brilliant idea being hatched, there is a fair chance it is being committed,
inked, hatched at the Taj. Mumbaikars who can afford it have their most romantic meals at its Wasabi restaurant, accept marriage proposals in its Sea Lounge, land job offers in its coffee shop."
Just three and a half hours before this tragedy began to unfold, I was interviewing a candidate, in the very same coffee shop mentioned by the journalist, for one of our most senior positions in our company, our Director of Finance. To me, there was not a more fitting place to conduct such an interview, and the location was convenient to another appointment I had in the city.....actually just right around the corner from the hotel.
I arrived at the Taj at 4:10 in the afternoon and was dropped off by our Chairman H.P. Rama. I have become accustomed to the heavy security at the hotel, and after making my way inside the lobby, introducing myself to the candidate, I suggested the coffee shop, as the lobby was packed with guests and there were no empty or conducive places to speak. Although I had been in the hotel once before....(see my earlier blog entry on Mumbai)I was not aware of the location of the coffee shop and I stopped at the front desk to ask directions. After finding our way, I asked for a quiet table in the corner and after purchasing some bottled water, we settled in and discussed the details of our company, it's strategy, our needs and he discussed his background and how he felt he could contribute. Any of my former colleagues would tell you that my interviews are traditionally marathons for a candidate, but today I was racing against time and the horrendous traffic in Mumbai.....and I glanced at my watch twice.....as I needed to allow ample time to catch my flight. Our meeting concluded after an hour and a half or so, and after paying for the bottled water, I strolled out of the front of one of the most elegant hotels in India, in my suit and tie feeling great about the candidate and knowing that I could still make that flight in time. As I was walking, a young Indian girl, a street beggar, took notice of me and began walking along my side and making conversation...she was just one of the many that wait for tourists and beg for money, i was pulling my computer bag in one hand.....put my hand in my front pocket to avoid being a victim of a pickpocket scam, and chatted with her as I walked. She asked where I was from, and I stated "Delhi" and she said she didn't think so, and I was joking as I walked along, asking her if she could tell by the color of my hair or my skin.....until her proposition...."I do not want any money from you sir, but could you please buy me something to eat". I asked her how old she was as I neared the office I was heading too, passing up the street she wanted me to turn down; she stated she was 18 years old.....she looked 13 or 14, and she was street smart, confident and articulate.....I told her I didn't think she was that old, but I enjoyed the conversation, and I reached into my pocket and pulled out a 100 rupee bill, said goodbye, and disappeared quickly upstairs. I checked my watch....5:45pm; if we got going by 6pm I would be in good shape.
This was not just any flight......but it was a flight that earlier in the day I was complaining about. Amit, Director of Technical Services and I were traveling together from Delhi to Mumbai, but I had opted not to stay the evening; my original plans were to fly in early and leave as late as I could. In order to accomplish this, I had originally scheduled myself on two different airlines.....I was told that my morning flight had been changed...and my departure time shifted by only a half hour, so I was not concerned, but I wasn't informed, nor had I realized that my departure time had changed from what I originally had requested. I was trying to pack in as much in one day as I could. With that said, my original plan was to conduct the interview in the evening at the Taj, as I thought my day was mostly going to be spent at the office of the architect for the hotel in Vizag, with Amit.
As a matter of fact, our Deputy HR did not confirm the interview until almost 8:00pm the night before I left, because my plan was to have the candidate meet between 6:30 and 7:00 and get started.
I was actually upset, because this interview was important, and I even told the Managing Director that I didn't think I was going to be able to conduct the interview as planned. I reluctantly told Ranjeeta to schedule the appointment at 4:00pm, and in the back of my mind I had planned to call and cancel if it became necessary.
My plane took off at 9:15pm.....and I was in the air about 30 minutes when the terrorist attack took place;not having any idea as to what was taking place. I learned about it from Ranjeeta, who sent me a text message that I responded too that I had just landed, and then she called concerned and told me what was going on and that she was watching the events unfold on TV. She had arranged my meeting at the Taj and knew I was at the hotel earlier that day.
Had my flight not changed, I would have more than likely been at the hotel, waiting for the traffic to weaken, while interviewing the candidate.....I had no luggage to check, and I could have pushed it. But it did change...a change I was upset about....I can't explain why.
And I will never know, if the attack was actually planned earlier in the day, and that they were delayed and the plans changed on that end....pushing the planned attacks to later.
I took a picture of the receipt for the bottled water and I grabbed a picture of a burning Taj hotel from the Internet.....the first two pictures you may recognize from my earlier blog on Mumbai; a picture of the cupola of the Taj towering above some typical buildings in old Mumbai, and a picture I snapped from the car as I was driving past marveled by the beautiful architecture of the building.
Since arriving in India I have never felt unsafe, but then again, I have not placed myself into situations that were dangerous. I have avoided crowds, and gatherings of large numbers of people,etc.
A brush so close to harm such as this, and the odd circumstances with my flight, affirms my faith that I have an angel or two watching over my well being. Yes three and a half odd hours is certainly TOO CLOSE, yet I have a sense of COMFORT knowing that I am being well looked after from above.