Friday, 24 January 2014

Dhamaka Despite The Clouds: Le Meridien Jaipur Defied Odds to Stage Befitting Finale to Jaipur Literature Festival

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Writers' Ball is the time when the lines dividing the world's leading writers, academics and journalists of varied descriptions and nationalities get blurred as special invitees and delegates to the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) just let their hair down.
Le Meridien Jaipur's team transformed the hotel's vast
 lobby (below) and the 24-hour restaurant, Latest
Recipe, into a party zone in less than 12 hours
for the Jaipur Literature Festival Writers' Ball
In the last three years, this much-awaited finale to South Asia's most important intellectual forum was held at the foothills of Amber, at the property of a Jaipur resident whose forefathers used to be the gatekeepers of the majestic fort that guards the city from its perch atop a rocky outcrop of the Aravallis.
This year, the venue was moved to Le Meridien, the sprawling Starwood hotel close to Amber Fort, which is quite popular in the marriage and conventions market because of its vast banqueting spaces. Le Meridien is Starwood's designated hotel brand for arts and culture, so it was natural for it to agree to host the Writers' Ball. For the JLF organisers, it meant one logistical headache less to worry about.
On the morning of January 21, the day of the Writers' Ball, Jaipur woke up to a dense blanket of fog and slow but nagging showers. The city was wet and gloomy, and the mood at Le Meridien wasn't any better. The hotel had made elaborate plans for an al fresco event with an elaborate dinner spread organised around the themes of salt, spice, vinegar, sugar and chocolate.
The unexpected rain poured water on this ambitious plan, but the Le Meridien staff rose to the challenge. General Manager Sanjay Gupta led from the front; Vikas Malik, Starwood's Regional Director (F&B) for South Asia, was by his side all the time. In less than 12 hours, they transformed the hotel's lobby and attached all-day restaurant, Latest Recipe, and the second-floor bar, which opens up to an expansive terrace, into a seamless party zone, where Jaipur's glitterati quaffed the endless supply of wine and tucked back the delicious circulating kebabs in the company of delegates from all over the English-speaking world.
Festival organiser Namita Gokhale and event manager Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Films slipped in and out of this eclectic crowd, savouring the compliments for putting together an international event that attracted 75,000 visitors across five days. Chugge Khan and Rajasthan Josh, the collective of Manganiyar singers and musicians he leads, kept the tempo high with their energy-infused brand of music. It was too irresistible for the guests not to break into a dance in the lobby. Like everything at Le Meridien Jaipur, the lobby seems to be without an end and it instantly transformed into a dance floor.
Coincidentally, the hotel was also the venue of a marriage in the Kolkata family that owns Emami. Apart from starting the day with their regulation milky tea in earthen glasses, along with toast smeared with butter, salt and sugar, the marriage party let loose a volley of fireworks just as the Writers' Ball was getting into the swing of things. As the pyrotechnics and the accompanying laser show lit up the dark, cloudy sky, all eyes were riveted to the spectacle. Writers' Ball veterans said they didn't miss Amber Fort at all, and everyone just loved the mutton biryani and lal maas, made to perfection by the hotel's invisible kitchen team, from the extensive buffet that ended at one far corner with crispy jalebi and rabri.
For me, the Writers' Ball presented an opportunity to meet hoteliers and learn more about the Jaipur market. Satyajeet Krishnan, General Manager, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, reminded me that his last posting was the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur. Meeting Prashant Gupta in his avatar as General Manger, The Trident, Jaipur, meant catching up and remembering the time when he was at The Trident, Gurgaon. Rohit Dar, General Manager of the Marriott, Jaipur, surprised me by remembering the days when I used to be a regular with my newly-wedded wife at The Palms, The Oberoi New Delhi, where he used to be the restaurant manager. Trust hoteliers to have elephantine memories! The Palms has made way for Travertino and Rohit has risen up the corporate hierarchy. And Tarun Thakral, the suave, never-aging COO of Le Meridien, New Delhi, sounded very happy about the success of his 90,000-sq-ft heritage transport museum at Taoru, which is about 35km from Gurgaon.
This was one evening that had defied the spectre of impossibility. Meena Bhatia, Vice-President (Operations), Le Meridien, New Delhi, got it right when she said: "In life, Plan B always works better."