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Tunia Cherian

Remembering a hotelier and a gentleman

| Updated on May 21, 2014

The generosity Capt Nair had shown me was touching to say the least.   -  The Hindu

Last week the country lost two stalwarts of Indian industry. One, steel man Russi Mody, and the other Captain CP Krishnan Nair, founder of the Leela group of hotels.

Reading the many tributes to Capt Nair in the press, I was reminded of my own meeting with him about eight years ago.

A reporter then, covering the hospitality and travel industries in Mumbai, I had always found the Leela group to be prompt with any kind of assistance or views sought on copy that I was filing. And if I remember right this particular meeting with Capt Nair was set up at the instance of the hotel.

The Leela group's first property, located on a plot off the busy Andheri-Kurla Road, is an island of green in the area surrounding Mumbai's Sahar international airport.

The hotel, when it opened its doors back in the eighties, was the only five-star property close to the international airport at that time. The Nairs also built their home on the same land parcel. And former employees of the hotel say it was not uncommon to find Capt Nair, a keen gardener, watering and tending to his plants personally.

On the day of our appointment I reached the hotel around mid-morning and was ushered into a quiet corner of the spacious lounge. Soon a cheerful Capt Nair arrived. Hospitable to the core, he enquired about what I would like to have. Soon we settled down to coffee and snacks.

The hotel industry at that time was going through a rapid expansion. Every major hospitality brand was setting up shop in the country and opening multiple properties. Various studies projected a sharp shortfall of hotel rooms and tariffs were sky-rocketing.

Not to be left behind, Capt Nair was keen to publicise the Leela group's own expansion plans. They were developing two big properties in Chennai and Delhi and were upbeat about their prospects in the market.

It turned out to be a meeting that built on the rapport I had with the group. However, there were no ''scoops" to be had that day. So I thanked Mr Nair for his time and took my leave.

It was then that he asked me where I was headed. When I told him that I would be going in to office at Churchgate, he immediately offered to drop me since he was also travelling to South Mumbai that day. Taken aback by his offer, I declined at first, saying that I would make my own way to work. But he insisted, saying that he was going in the same direction. At which point, I agreed.

He happened to have an appointment with the Governor at Raj Bhavan in Malabar Hill that afternoon. Accompanying him was Anna Malhotra, a director on the board of the Leela Group, who also happens to be India's first woman IAS officer. Ms Malhotra soon arrived at the hotel, and we were all set to go.

As his Benz arrived at the forecourts of the hotel, he took the seat in front, next to the driver, while he told us to sit at the back. True, it was not a crush at the back of that huge car, but I asked myself whether there was any need for him to go out of his way like that. Before we set out, he asked his staff whether the cake and the flowers for the Governor were in place. Yes, they were, securely stowed away in the boot. And so we set off.

During the course of that rather long ride, he introduced me to Ms Malhotra. He made it a point to ask me what the media made of the economy at that point. While I am not quite sure what I said, I think I managed to avoid any major gaffes!

When we reached Marine Drive and they had to turn right to drive up to Raj Bhavan, they pulled up at the side of the road and saw me off.

Ten minutes later, when I reached office in a trusty old Mumbai cab, I was still to get over the excitement of the events of the day. The generosity Capt Nair had shown me was touching to say the least.

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Published on May 21, 2014
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