To say I never know what’s going on in the Tri-City is an understatement.
At least once a day, in the midst of relative calm, there is a sudden rush of movement which everyone else seems to know the reason for. This results in a lone British voice asking plaintively to be informed of the situation, as I’m bundled into a car and driven to the nearest meeting, hotel, press conference, restaurant, or gurdwara – or even just driven aimlessly down the highway.
We’re off to the Marriott!
Case in point: a few days ago, I woke up to Mrs. Mogul announcing that we had a press conference to get to. This I already knew about. She also started packing three suitcases with the speed of a whirlwind. This was slightly confusing.
After a little verbal prodding, I discovered that, prior to press conference attendance, we were also going to JW Marriott, where we’d be staying. Apparently no one had thought to inform me that we’d be there for the next four days as well.
And that’s how I found myself following a porter and the first baggage trolley to ever carry my possessions through the Marriott’s winding corridors. In terms of hotels, I’ve always said I don’t care much about where I stay; as long as there’s a bed and an averagely clean bathroom I’m usually set. But I think this a result of not staying in enough five-star hotels, because as soon as the porter opened the door I was actually giggling at the awesomeness of this place.
Once the door closed behind me, I spent at least 20 minutes carefully examining what the Marriott had to offer me. The selection of amenities were pretty sweet – facial bars, loofah, shower cab, bathroom slippers and vanity mirror were all present – but the automatic wardrobe light and remote controlled curtains were more attention grabbing.
Plus the classical music that started playing as soon as I inserted the key card in the wall.
There wasn’t time to linger though – almost as soon as I’d taken a running jump at the huge white double bed (the child in me is still strong), there was a knock at the door.
“Flora? We have to get to the press conference. Hurry please!”
Off the bed, out of comfy leggings, into the god forsaken jeans and straight downstairs in a very smooth lift to an air-conditioned car, where my first meeting with DJ Amely awaited.
A Ukrainian photo shoot
I’d visited the Chandigarh Press Club a few times before, and had enjoyed my fair share of crispy samosas and hot tea while the requisite ‘celebrity’ talked to the journalists. However, I’d clearly never been there when a 22 year old Ukrainian DJ in a tiny white dress and 6-inch Christian Louboutins was also in attendance.
Gone were the samosas and the tea, the paper plates and the casual expressions. In their place was a group of the most excited faces and alert camera lenses I’ve ever seen, as Miss Ukraine was ferried (slightly totteringly in her stilettos) from the Club’s gardens to the very edge of the swimming pool around the back of the building.
Luckily, the slightly calender photoshoot-esque location was offset by a few young boys trawling the pool for leaves and debris. Pretty classy. But the photographers clearly thought this didn’t matter: for the next half an hour, the poor girl smiled and posed with hand on hip and bum on metal railing, as she tried valiantly not to slip on the tiles and go for an impromptu dip in the murky water.
The press conference inside was equally strained. DJ Amely did her level best to respond to a flurry of questions about her taste in music – and why she was a DJ when she looked more like a model than anything else. Nice.
When we headed outside to leave, it was apparently time for more pictures, with a gaggle of photographers all intent on their perfect shot. Not one of these perfect shots overlapped with anyone else’s ideas, which meant that eventually, as a photographer stood by a kid’s bicycle and fervently proclaimed how good our Ukrainian friend would look while straddling it, I had to step in as photographer-berater.
“I’m sorry but she isn’t taking any more pictures today. No more.”
You could practically feel the camera-related pain emanating from the Punjabi reporters. But the Louboutin pain was more obvious, and Amely threw me a grateful glance as we herded her into a waiting car, requisite Ukrainian boyfriend bringing up the rear.
Living at the Marriott
The next four days passed in a flurry of activity. We made our home in the hotel’s airy lobby, and gave completely inappropriate territorial stares at anyone who attempted to encroach on our motley collection of sofas.
In the mornings, we gorged ourselves silly on the hotel’s breakfast buffet, which included smoked salmon, miniature glass bottles of beetroot juice, crispy crunchy dosas, and my first taste of cheddar in four months, which left me salivating at the cheese platter.
We worked through the days, making calls, sending emails and getting rather irate about previous mistakes to do with tickets and guestlists that we’d forgotten about.
And each evening was spent entertaining Miss Ukraine and her boyfriend, a stocky tattooed man of few words but a lot of laughter, despite not understanding much of our collective English. And we played with the curly haired baby whenever the excessive ticket stamping, numerous mass email sendouts and lack of immediate cold coffee provision just got a bit too much.
Then there were the more surreal aspects of our five star stay – like enduring two ten year old boys shouting Hindi song titles at each of my ears while I typed out the renamed tracks for Miss Ukraine’s DJ set. Or having the same DJ scroll through her facebook pictures (where she’s mainly clad in leather bikinis or dresses made from vinyl records) and pointing out excitedly which outfits she made from scratch.
Who would’ve thought a Ukrainian DJ would also be a seamstress?
Or even finding myself hoisting a toddler on my hip, and handing over a wad of 50 thousand rupees wrapped up in a pair of hippy trousers to the two businessmen on the hotel lobby sofa. With as much dignity as I could muster as they unrolled my trousers, removed the money, and gave said trousers back to me.
Then there’s the story of my friend being requested to drive a woman away from the Marriott at around 5am, who asked him for money and eventually disclosed her ‘lady of the night’ status. The poor kid barely knew what a prostitute was, much less how to be her getaway driver.
Basically, the life of a hotel dweller is one hell of a wild ride. And we were right in the middle of it.
The night of The Bling
But the event that we’d all been gearing up for finally came around on Sunday, which saw me driving to the airport to meet our star performer, Neeraj Shridhar, and his wife, who were flying in last minute from Delhi.
This was, incidentally, the first time I really felt like I was somehow working in events management; opening doors, becoming excessively polite and putting on a rather affected voice to ask questions of the musician. God knows, I didn’t feel like myself!
Then came the soundcheck for both performers – which was both my first experience of a soundcheck in general, and also the first time I’ve ever seen thirty Indian technicians staring open mouthed behind a Ukrainian girl proving her DJ worth by scratching the decks. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I totally made a judgement on her skills which turned out to be completely unfounded – the girl was GOOD. Which only served to heighten my excitement for the evening to come.
Sadly, we’d been so busy for the whole build up to the event that there had been no time for clothes shopping, which is why I found myself welcoming dressed-up guests in the only ‘dressy’ thing I had the foresight to bring with me on this trip – a Primark top/dress and a pair of black leggings.
Foresight might not actually be the best word to describe it…
So I wasn’t dressed nicely. But I was ok with that. Mainly because I was too stressed to be anything other than ok with it.
Our initial plan for ticket organisation turned out to be a big old mess, as we tried valiantly to check off every ticket from a purchasing list, restamp every ticket with ‘The Bling”, tear every ticket before it, and its bearer, was allowed through to the event.. it was a tad stressful. Not to mention the pair of 6 foot 4 bouncers who were daintily holding hands across the gangway in an attempt to stop guests rushing through, which served to distract me somewhat.
But somehow it all worked out well enough, and we were free to enjoy at least part of the concert. I shuffled my feet to Neeraj Shridhar, avoided being hit on by a few elderly Indian men, and danced jubilantly to DJ Amely’s set along with the majority of my fellow event organisers.
Sadly all existing pictures of me dancing at the Bling are way too sweaty and heinous to be blogged in public, so you’ll have to make do with a scene of the general ambience…
And then it was over, just like that. After six weeks of what seemed like an interminable amount of planning, re-planning, and back-to-the-drawing-board planning, it was finished.
Which meant that, suddenly, it was my last day in the Tri-City. A self-imposed last day, definitely; I felt like I’d started to really overstay my welcome, and ultimately I was more than ready to get back on the travelling road again.
Saying my goodbyes
So I spent a lovely last day hanging out with some of the people I’d met; eating Dominos, drinking coffee, driving around in various air conditioned cars, and finally dealing – of course – with yet another bus delay, which saw me spending two hours driving around in a friend’s car and eating car park takeaway as we waited for the 1am bus that was supposed to arrive at 11pm.
If you haven’t eaten spicy instant noodles, bread omelettes and chai, served through your car window by a grinning child, then you really haven’t lived.
And so I finally find myself in Himachal Pradesh, up in the mountains, amongst the yogis, the hippies and an endless supply of chai. I’ve already been here a week and the time really does fly when you’re balancing yourself on bricks and bolsters.
Let’s just say that my introduction to the world of hippy yoga has already been an eye opening experience…