The story of a futuristic hotel

Ritu Bhatia Kler talks about the literary creation of her father, HOTEL FUTURAMA AND OTHER STORIES, why did they go in for the change of the title and more

Rajinder Mohan Bhatia started his career with The Oberoi New Delhi. In 1970, he was transferred to Singapore to The Oberoi Hotel where he spent the next 15 years working closely with Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi. His work by him took him around the world, thus making him a world traveler with many stories to tell. His close friends and family benefitted from hearing them over many a lively soiree and later in life through his memoirs and anecdotes. When he returned to India, in his new line of work, he continued his passion for hospitality as a hotel consultant and sometime post-2005, he started a monthly newsletter, United Hospitality. This was emailed to a list of hoteliers, friends, business associates and people he had met along the walk of life.

In 2007, he started writing the story of a futuristic hotel and would send chapters in emails. He had desired to publish it all in a book along with other short stories he had written on various life topics, some serious and others as observations of human nature and life in general. As his time was spent writing more stories and finally a short novel, Ten Days After My Death, the attention to getting it published was put aside. It was only after his own leaving the mortal world and the situation of lockdown that his elder daughter, Ritu Bhatia Kler, took on the challenge to publish his book about him, Hotel Futurama And Other Storiesand fulfill his dream.

Why change the title from Hotel Bill Gate to Hotel Futurama?

Hotel Bill Gate was written as a story that was emailed in chapters to friends and associates in Mr Bhatia’s mailing list. When we decided to publish it in a book along with other stories (as Mr Bhatia had voiced his wish to do so), we felt the use of ‘Bill Gate’ may not be appropriate on international platforms. Therefore, the name was changed to Hotel Futurama in line with the theme of a futuristic hotel. This change was done after Mr Bhatia’s passing away.

Did such technologically advanced hotels exist in the USA when Mr Bhatia visited them or was it a work of creative imagination?

The story is a creative work and such a hotel did not exist exactly. However, there are hotels in the West with large room inventories and larger size than we have seen in India till now. It is possible that some automation may have existed back then which Mr Bhatia might have experienced but there was neither robotics nor AI back then when he traveled in the 70s and 80s. The story was written later in this millennium.

Mr RM Bhatia with Lata Mangeshkar at The Imperial Oberoi, Singapore

What points did you keep in mind while taking “the liberty to add a few more possibilities in the guest room and bathroom to bring it up to speed” but still maintaining the essence with which Mr Bhatia had penned it?

Since the story was written for 2015 and we were publishing it in 2021, we had to keep in mind that certain aspects of hospitality have progressed. If you read Chapter 2 which describes the hotel room, it is all written by my father and is a bit ahead of its time for hotels in India. I have only added the few lines that talks about the bathroom mirror having a defogger and lighting control that can be brighter or dimmer. He had written about a computer in the guestroom and I have described it as inbuilt in the table. He had written about a palm size control for opening and closing the curtains and I have added it could control other features in the room – since this is true today in luxury segments via iPads in the room.

His story was ahead of its time with access control through the mobile phone and it’s only during the pandemic that some of these ‘sensor based’ mobile use and face recognition technology are being further explored out of necessity. Of course, we are yet to get to the stage of the use of just our finger as an access control! You have to read the story to understand what he talks about.

To answer the second part of the question – this was done only for Hotel Futurama and all other stories have been kept as original. My role was of editor and compiler and I wanted his stories from him to remain true to what he wrote.

There must be examples where technology which Mr Bhatia mentions in his original work had come into use at hotels, especially in India when you decided to take his creative work to the world. Can you share some for us please?

Post-pandemic, the sensor based faucets have increased in usage. Greater importance to technology as well is being now given. The guest room facilities Mr Bhatia writes about having come into practice like automated controls. Internationally, the linkage of hotel menus and hotel information for the guest and viewing your bill has been integrated with the TV. In India, the information is available but bill integration is in some luxury segments only.

In kitchens, he has written about use of convection, microwave technology, UV technology, refrigeration systems and even waste management – ​​all of which are now used in the hotels. He also wrote about kitchen being a “most pleasant environment” and a “huge kitchen was a pleasant smooth working busy place” which is true in today’s branded hotels that ensure better work environments for their staff, not only in kitchens but in facilities of staff cafeteria and lockers and other training areas.

Mr Bhatia with Mr PRS Oberoi (second from right)

Tell us about the other stories too…

While there is no one theme in the other stories, I feel they all have a life lesson or an observation of a situation with a subtle message. The stories are written in an easy way that all ages can comfortably read and I think that is necessary when one wants to impart a learning or give a subtle message. While my father was an avid reader of good literature and vast topics, he kept his writing style lucid.

Tell us more about Mr Bhatia, as an hotelier and as a father.

I would like to quote from the Foreword written by his close friend, and a hospitality expert himself, Mr Narendra Verma, MD of Hospitality Consultants (India) Pvt Ltd: “While reading the descriptions of the hotel and its facilities he goes into details of each aspect of operation from which it is clearly evident, that Raj was expressing his love for Hotel business as a whole, gathered over years of experience of working in Hotels and by seeing many hotels of different sizes, designs, types and operations. His description and explanation of the Nouvelle Cuisine gives away his liking for food and also the knowledge gained as F&B Cost Controller during his tenure at The Oberoi Hotel Delhi. Subsequently, his desire for him to learn of the details of the costs of construction and operation indicates the information and data that he required for comparing with his figures for him when designing, planning or costing of new hotels.

My father’s love for his work and the hospitality business made me unknowingly fall in love with hotels and hospitality as well and I found myself linked to hotels too throughout my career. He worked very hard and traveled harder. But the times he was home he made it a point to play board games with us and go for Sunday picnics. The memories are very vivid even today. His was a good example of a parent spending “quality time vs quantity time”. However, the most important thing that we, my sister and I got from him as a father, was the treatment and belief that women are equal and can achieve anything. We never even got a sense of special treatment nor that there was an extra effort to make us independent. The concept of having to prove yourself as a woman just didn’t come our way. Maybe it’s something one experiences when they step into the world. At least at home we were brought up to be confident and given all opportunities to learn and grow and it was a given belief that we would be working women and choose our own path. And this came from both of our parents.

I think I understood my father, “the working man” more as an adult since he was also an advisor to me in my career. Till he was into his late 70s, he would be diligently at his desk at home at 9 am till 6 pm. His professionalism was perfect. He always gave advice when requested. He would also say – ‘Listen to what others have to advise, then do what you feel is right.’

It’s not always hunky dory when your father is an advisor in your company and we had our times of disagreement. I think as I have aged and I grew in experience, the difference in opinion widened. But, at least, I knew I had a listening ear whenever I needed it any time of day! My father loved to entertain and we grew up in a home with the unspoken understanding that “guest is god” even if that guest is family coming for dinner. Everything had to be perfect. A few types of snacks and a myriad of dishes and desserts were a given. Our family always remembers the gatherings and parties at our house. The parties were mostly for families and close friends. The parties were full of warmth and love and not ‘social dos’. Also for occasions to celebrate like festivals.

My father traveled a lot for work but as a family we mostly traveled to India (we were based in Singapore back then when he was with The Oberois) and visited a few places on short holidays. Again, the love for traveling filtered into us more through his stories of the exotic places he had been and the souvenirs we got such as Tahiti, Hawaii and as a child, even Australia was exotic! He has written his travel memoirs as well for the family but that’s a story to share for another day!

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