Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
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Usha Uthup looking forward to meaty roles in Bollywood

Usha Uthup has been enthralling listeners for over 40 years now with hit Bollywood tracks like 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna', 'Ek Do Cha Cha Cha' and 'Ramba Ho'. She now wants to do more roles in Hindi films

New Delhi: She took the audience by surprise appearing in “Saat Khoon Maaf” and singer Usha Uthup says she is looking forward to some meaty roles in Bollywood now.

The 64-year-old singer played a loyal help to Priyanka Chopra's character in the film directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. She even lent her voice to the hit song “Darling” in the film.

“I am waiting for good roles, looking for something meaty. In the meantime I have done a bit of acting in Kerala and Bengal. I hope I get some offers in Bollywood, another good role like I did in 'Saat Khoon Maaf',” Usha told PTI.

She has been nominated in the best playback singer category along with Rekha Bhardwaj for the track “Darling” at the upcoming International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards. The song has already got her a Filmfare award this year.

“I hope I win the IIFA award too,” said Usha.

Besides being nominated, the singer is going to perform at the IIFA Rocks in Singapore on 8th June, the night before the awards ceremony. She will be performing in collaboration with Leslie Lewis and Hariharan to mark 100 years of Indian Cinema.

“The combination of me, Hariharan and Leslie Lewis is amazing. Who would imagine the three of us teaming up? Our performance is a tribute to 100 years of Indian Cinema. It's been a real tough call short-listing songs from so many decades and from among hundreds of hit tracks,” she said.

This is the first time she would be collaborating professionally with Lewis and Hariharan. Usha says she is looking forward to the performance as they have been friends for years.

“It is really amazing because we have all been great friends for so long. I have had various opportunities to jam with Leslie when he used to perform at the Oberoi in Mumbai.

“Once in a while he used to bring his guitar along and we would jam together. He is an amazing musician. We’ve never done anything together professionally. This collaboration is something I am really looking forward to,” she said.

She has been enthralling listeners for over 40 years now with hit Bollywood tracks like ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’, ‘Ek Do Cha Cha Cha’ and ‘Ramba Ho’. She recently sung for “Kahaani” and “Don 2” besides “Saat Khoon Maaf”.

Usha says her singing career is the most happening right now. “I have been working since 1968, its been over 40 years now. People ask me, ‘What? You are still singing?’

“But its not ‘still’, it’s only now that I have really started singing, now that things are really happening. It's just fantastic. I couldn't have asked for anything better.

“I get very excited when people are shocked by my energy and my passion for work. I know that I am quite an inspiration for the younger generation. They work so hard and I do believe I am a source of inspiration for them as they think, ‘If she can do it at that age, we can do too’.”

Usha says she is busy travelling and performing stage shows besides appearing in reality shows.

“I am busy with a lot of shoots, reality shows. My basic thing is the stage, I keep performing. Between travelling, trying to take a nap on the flight and working on the shows, it’s just an amazing life. I couldn't ask for anything more. Life is really on a high right now," she said.

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America gets back to normalcy after the 9/11 attack

While the US was limping back to normalcy, the hotel industry had to deal with lower tourist business. The 41st part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

As the TV channels continue to relay all details of the aerial attacks carried out by the hijackers, viewers continued to spend sleepless nights and asking themselves how such a thing could have happened in the so well-protected and defended American soil. They had no answers, but as experts on terrorism spoke on the subject, it became apparent that everyone had to become vigilant and remained vigilant all the time, so as to prevent any further and future attacks. We became alert enough to contact the security personnel for assistance when we had the least doubt.
 
In the midst of all these, two incidents took place in the hotel when I was on duty. A guest needed immediate medical attention, as he called for assistance from the manager on duty; I called in para-medics right away (911) and then proceeded to the room. There I found a frightened Mr Jackson with a small kid, and a lady lying listless in bed; in less than three minutes we had the emergency personnel attending to her. After they carried out the medical check up, we came to know that, she, being a diabetic had not had a bite, and was literally starving for food! I had the chef coming in to the suite and got the type of food that would bring her back to normalcy.  Once she had her mouthful, literally, she was ok.

There was a continuous flow of security personnel, mostly in incognito, who were either staying in the hotel or visiting, meeting top officials. Patrol cars continued and uniformed personnel were everywhere, particularly in the capital.
 
Like all other hotels in the area, we too were limping back to normalcy but the business from tourists had suddenly died down completely.
 
More information was being given out in the TV channels about the hijackers; discussions and debates about what would have happened if the air traffic controller had not ordered all the aircraft down to the ground, and closing American airspace for all traffic, except for the authorized ones. There was also heated debate on how Dick Cheney, the vice-president had, at one time, ordered shooting down even civilian aircraft if it was a victim of hijack!
 
The rush to check in normally starts just after 3pm and by 6pm, the flow reduces a great deal, and it is about time when we close our refreshments at the Lounge in the Club level.
 
It was at this time, I took a call from a guest who appeared angry and upset. As I gathered from his voice: “Are you the manager?” “Yes, I am, what can I do for you?” I replied. “Come to my suite, right away!” he ordered.  I asked my colleague to man the desk and went to 502 in a hurry. The door was locked, after three knocks and calling out the guest’s name, I opened the door, when he literally shouted that I do! Front office supervisors become manager on duty and we had the master key to open all the suites.
 
When I opened the door, I saw the guest, sitting in a chair, with both legs up, in a kind of squatting position!  When I enquired as to what happened he began: “How can you have rats on the fifth floor?” I apologized, and started looking around, only for him to turn round and say: “It sneaked through the door”. I called both the housekeeping and the engineering department to come to the suite immediately. He wanted to vacate the room and go to another hotel! I pacified him, had the front desk check and allocate a nice suite on the Club level, and within the next ten minutes had him shifted, and some 2500 bonus points in the Club membership. It was difficult to assess how rats or mice could travel to high floors; the only way these could come in is through the grocery and foodstuff that guests buy from supermarkets, and leave the packages outside!  Yes, some guests cannot stand these rodents or roaches!
 
I did not know that hotel managers got together once in a while to hold luncheon meetings. I learnt later that this was one of the regular means of exchanging notes on the problems faced in the industry and how they were able to overcome. Well, it seems that on one such occasion, someone had spoken about me, as a dedicated member of the team, which was pleasing to hear, from the GM of Holiday Inn International, when he called me up!
 
He invited me for a chat and after an hour or so offered me a managerial position in the hotel. At the very outset he made it clear that I should be prepared to work six days a week and could choose a day for a weekend holiday!
 
When I returned back, as my rapport with our GM John was good, I consulted him on the offer.  He praised the hotel as being neat and well run, and suggested that it may be a good idea for me to apply ‘economics’ to the annual salary package offered!
 
I took the hint and worked backwards, only to find that there was hardly any difference in net realizations. Even if one was offered $100,000 per year, it would simply amount to getting $50 an hour. However, instead of working 40 hours a week, managers were expected to put in at least 50 hours a week (20% less wages as a result!) and there was no compensation if the work responsibility drags on even for a longer spell! I declined with thanks, though I kept in touch with him.
 
There were some more details that were made public on the Shanksville crash in Pennsylvania, where the passengers put up a heroic fight and prevented the plane from reaching anywhere near the capital. The last minute telecalls were broadcast and whole scene was heart-rending. Likewise, nearer home, the passengers on the ill-fated aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon had also been given permission by the hijackers to speak to their loved ones, and these conversations really numbed our feelings, and built anger against the perpetrators.
 
Bill Harvin, who was my colleague at the Courtyard, had moved on and one day I received his call asking me if I was ready to take a managerial responsibility in a DC hotel! And, it happened to be 4 Points Sheraton. I believe ‘Sheraton’ as a brand is owned by the Starwood group and there were many other brands that were part of it. Sheraton had the Geac System in operation and it was not an easy one; yet, if one mastered it there was no other system that would be difficult to handle! Bill was the FOM, and he was offering a divisional manager’s opportunity and set up meetings with the top brass. 

I was offered the position, but mulled over the idea for a couple of days, including consulting John our GM, who reluctantly okayed my idea as he felt that this kind of exposure in Washington DC would be helpful. I felt, after all, I was moving on from one Sheraton to another, to gain knowledge!
 
On the very first day itself, I realized that, I was getting into a different scenario because this was a franchised property, and they had their own rules, which meant that we would not have free ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner’ on duty!  This was shocking but I took it in my stride. The next day in the evening, someone from the accounts department called and said that I must pay for the parking in the hotel garage, either on a monthly or daily basis! I made it very clear that this was not acceptable and requested him to transfer the call to the chief accountant so that I could sort this out, as he was one of the three-member panel who finalized my terms. I was told that he was ‘busy’ attending a phone call and would get back in a few minutes. I told him that if this was not done, I would not be reporting for duty the next day! He called back to say that there won’t be any charges!
 
The work in the hotel was hectic; I faced many new factors that emerged in the next few days. The front desk associates were being assigned to new duties and I was forced to take over the job of standing in their place. When the guests came to book for sight-seeing tours, a colleague of mine advised me that this was not done by the front desk and we had to take care of all details, but the concierge will issue the tickets, etc. This meant that he would get the commission too!  Likewise, other guest related facilities like arranging for cabs and bookings for lunch and dinners were to be passed on to the concierge.
 
I expressed my dissatisfaction to Bill, and asked him as to why these details were not given to me?  He was on a full-day job, which meant he would come in by 9am and go off by 5. I was in the afternoon shift, and most of the time, I could never return home before one or two in the morning, as I was advised that managers were expected to be putting in a minimum of 10 hours a working day! I realized that I had been ‘taken’ for a ride by the panel who gave verbal assurances but nothing in writing!
 
On the top of all these, as I began to walk around the area and gather information, so that I become knowledgeable, I was told that the neighbourhood was not very safe and one had to be careful! I did not think for a moment that any place is safe at night, but these were important information that the front desk associates should be aware of before they are able to advice the innocent visitors (who are new to the city). I called up both John and Krista that I had made a serious blunder in moving out of Sheraton Suites in Alexandria and wanted to get back at the first available opportunity. Chad had moved on with a promotion to Atlantic City, and was succeeded by Clive.
 
There were repeated rumours in the office of an impending change in the management; Bill Harvin himself was becoming ‘unhappy’ with the events in the hotel and hinted that he was seriously looking for a change. Then one fine afternoon, I heard a great number of people were being “temporarily retrenched” or “laid off” due to occupancy factor, because of the ensuing holiday season. Close to 5.30 pm on that Friday, I too was given the notice that as soon as the situation improved in March, they would get back to me! This was just a few days after Christmas! I spent the New Year at home, for the first time in many years with my wife. The next two months, though she continued to work in the Fort Belvoir, I relaxed, looking for a suitable opening and hoping that I would get the opportunity to be back in Sheraton Suites!
 
It was at this time, we had the longest three days of continuous snow, when it would take some 40 minutes for us to walk to the 7-11 shop to buy anything, which we could reach in less than five minutes normally.
 
When 2003 began we had great hopes, and after this great snow in February, I rejoined the Sheraton Suites after my interview with Clive, thanks to both John and Krista for their continued trust in my capacity.
 
 (AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at anantha_ramdas@yahoo.com.)

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Life Exclusive
The 9/11 terrorist attack and aftermath in the US

Security was tightened following the 9/11 attack while rescue operations continued in the hope to find more survivors. The 40th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

All the TV channels and newspapers carried details of the attacks and more and more information of how these happened began to emanate from various intelligence gathering organizations.

Since the hijackers had given warning to the passengers on the ill-fated aircraft to make personal calls, a lot of information from the victims was made available as the planes crashed into various sites. It was heart-rending and extremely sad. Living, as I did, not far from the Pentagon, I experienced the tremors of the attack when the plane crashed into the world’s largest building complex. There were speculations that this hijacked plane was intended to crash into Pentagon or the US Senate nearby. Or, was it really meant to hit the White House itself?  It was more of a conjecture than the available evidence at that time.

Apparently, the twin towers were the intended victims of the first two hijacked planes. The fourth one, which actually crashed in Shanksville, Pensylvania, was presumably intended for a strike either at the Senate or the While House. In this case, as we all came to know later, there was heavy struggle between heroic attempts made by passengers against the hijackers, which resulted in the crash and prevented the aircraft flying further into the intended crash points.

Back at the hotel, there were more government officials and security related personnel occupying rooms now and the flow was smooth. A great number of guests who had stayed back due to the strikes had begun to move out and as the DCA (Reagan Airport) was open, we began to get a trickle. Only the very few who had most urgent jobs to attend to in Washington DC had come in and registered with us, as, hotels in DC were mostly full.

Our staff, by now, had become more vigilant, in that, everyone was alert to ask for a photo ID when anyone approached the front desk for any kind of assistance, unless we happened the know the guest personally for some time. Many times, because of the tense situation, the guest would forget the key and leave it in the room, and may not even have a photo ID on them, if they had come down by breakfast. Even in such cases, we would not issue duplicate keys, but accompany the guest all the way to their rooms and verify the ID after opening their rooms. In one such case, when I had failed to do so, I was reprimanded by an FBI officer, who showed me his ID and warned me that it was not only in my immediate interest, but in national safety was involved, if we failed in our basic duty of checking at every stage. Even though I had checked him in earlier, it was his contention that I should insist on the laid down rule of photo IDs all the time!

Our courtesy coaches to and from the airport extended the complimentary service from the hotel to the Ronald Reagan airport only; we had guests arriving both at the Baltimore and Dulles international airports, both of which served the Washington DC metropolis. Because of the changed circumstances, for the time being, we reduced the frequency but made available the coach at short notice.

For those travelling back by air, it became necessary for a longer security check to be gone through, and the lines at the security desks became time consuming. Now, everyone was willingly offering all kinds of co-operation at the airports so that they were safe and could travel in comfort.

The rescue operations continued in right earnest at the Twin Towers and as the debris were being removed, more and more victims were being dug out. It was not an easy task. Although the fire had been put out, I believe, a lot of metals were still extremely hot and there was dim hope for survivors.  Yet, the work went on day in and day out and lot of experienced rescue personnel from other states joined to save as many lives as was possible.

In the next few days, more details of the hijackers were given out by FBI. Apparently there were 19 hijackers, 15 of whom came from Saudi Arabia; two from UAE, one each from Lebanon and Egypt. And the Egyptian Mohamed Atta was the ring leader, who boarded the flight from Boston!

In the hate crime attacks that followed, a Sikh from India, as he was wearing a turban, was mistaken as an Arab Muslim (because of the head-dress) and was killed.  

Slowly, life was returning back to normalcy; schools were being reopened and almost everywhere, issues relating to security checks, precautions, first aid classes, etc, were being conducted, so that everyone was prepared in all the emergencies.

Because of these strikes, there was no doubt that the economy had a crippling blow and economists felt that it would take some time before a recovery was possible. 

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at anantha_ramdas@yahoo.com.)

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