Lalit Suri, head honcho of bharat
hotels, lives under the shadow of the three Ps – prayer, perfection
and patriotism, says Anindita Chattopadhyay
Lalit Suris office wing (ignore the gun toting security
men) and cartoons of Indian prime ministers mounted on sleek
black frames greet you. Turn right. As you sink into the plush
leather sofa, cartoons of Sanjay Gandhi and his Sonia bhavi
(pity they couldnt make it to the big league) draw attention,
while Rajiv Gandhi smiles back from a Sanjay Bhattacharya
painting on the right hand wall. Well, reflection enough of
his political allegiance. However, inside his office room
divinity reigns supreme. Sculptures of Lord Ganesha in all
shapes and sizes, in every conceivable posture, made from
clay to crystal stare at you from all corners.
Suri, chairman of the Bharat Hotels
chain that includes seven deluxe hotels in India with over
1,600 rooms, is irresistibly drawn towards Ganesha in particular.
I believe everything is destined. Your role is to put
in your 100 per cent, but at the end of the day it is He who
decides your luck. His eyes fleet to a rare collection
of a five-headed Ganesha made of ashtadhatu.
Art rules Suris heart. The
interest started during his college days in the 60s,
when he and buddy Ashok Kapoor started a one-room art gallery
called LASH (Lalit and Ashok) in Defence Colony. It was MF
Hussain they were trying to promote. Then marriage to Jyotsna,
an avid art lover and interior designer, saw the fruition
of the passion.
But Suris no painter. Paintbrushes
and pastels arent for him. Sports is his forte. Athletics,
swimming, cricket, squash - you name it and hes game
for it. A product of St Columba and Sri Ram College of Commerce,
he represented both his alma mater in swimming and athletics
at the state level. Now at 57, its back to basics. Walk.
He is not really a marathon man. Just six kms at 5.30 in the
morning and an occasional game of squash keeps him fit. Many
avatars - businessman, parliamentarian, philanthropist - bring
many responsibilities. And he balances his act with perfection.
Its the perfectionist in him that may at times deceive
his cool demeanour and sparks will flow. But he lives life
on his own terms. When I achieve what I was working
for, it really gives me a high. That turns me on to strive
harder and believe in myself, he says.
His philosophy is to give heart and
soul to whatever he does. Be it diverse business interests
(hospitality, telecom, aviation, exports, media, automobile,
real estate and IT), running mobile medical centres in remote
villages, or making hard-hitting speeches in Parliament.
heart, Suri remains the eternal introvert. Family is the pivot
of his life. Wife Jyotsna, daughters Divya, Shrata, Diksha
and son Keshav are his world. When he is not working, theres
only one place hed rather be. Home. His Sundays are
for his family. Whatever they want to do - long drive, quiet
dinner, movies, masti, whatever.
Yes, there are time constraints.
Thats what bothers him. Extensive travelling comes as
a baggage with business pursuits. He isnt really difficult
while travelling. Only in long distance travel in-flight services
should be good, seats comfortable and toilet neat and clean.
Food is not really important, except it should be tasty. In-flight
services across airlines have improved, he thinks. No, he
doesnt have a preferred airline. If any it is - hold
your breath - Air-India. I would rather fly Air-India
if there is a service because I strongly believe in backing
the national carrier. Once, it was one of the top airlines.
It introduced the first white glove service on board and served
caviar and Chivas Regal. Its coming up again. Flat beds
have been introduced. Food and services are improving.
When abroad on business travel, his
address is usually the Intercontinental if there is one around.
Otherwise any good hotel. What does he essentially look for
in a business hotel? Basically, neat and clean environment,
a 24-hour decent coffee shop and all means of modern communication
like Internet, international telephony and conferencing facilities.
The rest are all frills, he says candidly. However,
he simply loves to scoop time out and travel with family.
In summer, it is mountains, in winter the sun and surf. In
India, my favourite destinations are Kashmir and Goa. Since
childhood, I have made so many trips to Srinagar, still the
beauty, serenity and simplicity of the place draws me,
he says. So much so that he now has a hotel there.
Outside India, he prefers to visit
Europe. Reason? Europes rich art, culture, heritage,
lush countryside never ceases to amaze him. Italy is one place
he likes going back to. And London is the other. Florence,
Tuscany, Venice - amazing places. So beautiful, yet unassuming,
he muses. My preferred getaway is Castello di Santa
Maria in Tuscany, a castle built in 1420 and owned by Tommaso
Zanzotto. The outside façade is intact, but inside
he has converted one portion into well-appointed rooms with
modern facilities. He rents it out to tourists, for meetings
and conferences. Theres a small church inside where
villagers gather for weddings. Incidentally, when were
there, we attended one such wedding. The gothic architecture,
the countryside complete with vineyards, villagers and their
traditions - its a treasured memory, he fondly
In fact, he always looks for heritage
properties when vacationing to get the feel of the tradition
and culture of the place. But whats so special about
London? London is like a second home. My children and
I studied there and we have a place to stay. Making London
your base you can travel to so many countries. Or just stay
put. Enjoy theatres, exhibitions, stroll in the beautiful
parks, or visit the countryside. Theres so much to do,
he remarks. This summer, hell be cruising. Something
he has not yet done with his family. Either a Caribbean or
a Mediterranean cruise. Whats next? A vacation in China,
one of the oldest civilisations. Suri is a contented man.
No regrets. But yes, he has a dream. A dream to see India
top the charts of Strongest Economic Powers and
Sought After Tourist Destinations. I have
a vision and I am working towards that. With Ganeshas
support, his dream may come true.