Something’s Not Right Here

by Ashish

I was in Delhi in November.

November is a good time to be in Delhi. The memories of summer past have faded away completely, and the insanity that is Delhi’s winter hasn’t frozen all the water in all the pipes just yet. A weak winter sun pops out apologetically, and mopes around until early evening. There is a near perfect balance of coolness and breeziness, and all in all, Delhi is a wonderful place to be in November. Weatherwise, at any rate.

And while in the capital, I took the missus out for lunch. We had, on that particular day, chosen to go to one of those fancy-schmancy places. The ones where turbaned doorkeepers with tremendously large moustaches open the door while bowing obsequiously , and inside a lobby that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Versailles awaits a very pretty young lady to guide you wherever you wish to go. Gurgling fountains, somebody on the piano, fresh lilies in hideously expensive vases, the whole deal. Its all I can do to run as quickly as possible into the restaurant I wish to pay homage to, put on the nose bag, and ignore the ostentatiousness.

And walking through the museum of wealth is usually worth it in these places, for they also hold within their cavernous depths restaurants that dish out truly wonderful food. And for good food, your author will be bowed at by as many moustaches as it takes, no problem.

So there we were, three hours into our meal, suitably satiated after a gorgeous gorging session. I asked for the check, wiped out Ghana’s budget deficit in one fell swoop, and we were on our way out of Ali Baba’s cave when nature called.

Having done with what nature asked me to do, I stepped towards the washbasin, where I noticed a man, quite literally, hanging around. He gave me a wide smile and with folded hands, said Namaste.

Every single urban Indian knows what this means. It means the person greeting you works in a fancy-schmancy hotel. Everybody else stopped saying namaste by mutual consent in 1936.

I smiled warily at my newest friend, and said hello in return. Newest friend bobbed head up and down in delighted acknowledgement of the fact that I had deigned to respond. He also moved a little to the side, bowed gently, and extended his hand, palm upward, indicating that I should step forth and make use of the wash basin. Since that was Plan A in any case, I obliged.

At which point, newest friend stepped up, and before I could stop him, opened the tap so that I could wash my hands. I stared up at him in dumb astonishment, and n.f. smiled at me once again, and by using hand signals indicated that I should go ahead and wash my hands.

And so I did, at which point he closed the tap, and gave me a soft white towel to wipe my hands dry. And it was roundabout then that it finally sunk in.

His only job – my newest friend’s that is – is to wait in the men’s washroom. Once men finish peeing, he opens the tap so that the may wash their hands, shuts the tap and then hands them out a towel. Once they’re done, he bows once again, says namaste, and shows people out. And then he waits once again, for the next person to step into the washroom.

And I don’t know about you, but I find this to be an unwelcome mixture of absurdity, frustration and anger. If I am capable enough of earning enough money to eat at a place such as this, I am also perfectly capable of turning a tap on, and shutting it off. And I may not be the brightest bulb on the wall, but I remain capable of pulling some tissues out of a box. They tear sometimes, I grant you, but I can generally manage it within a couple of tries. The necessity of keeping an employee stationed there escapes me.

I get all the arguments about how the alternative is unemployment for him and so on and so forth, but surely the line must be drawn at stationing someone in the men’s loo? He could water the lawns, hand out newspapers in the lobby, or just stand near the restaurant and greet everyone who enters and leaves. Anything  other than his current job.

Providing service above and beyond expectation is something a hotel should pride itself upon, sure – but this… this is just wrong.