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Multi-Course Personality

Lalit Suri, head honcho of bharat hotels, lives under the shadow of the three Ps prayer, perfection and patriotism, says Anindita Chattopadhyay

Enter Lalit Suri’s 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 couldn’t 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 Suri’s 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 Suri’s no painter. Paintbrushes and pastels aren’t for him. Sports is his forte. Athletics, swimming, cricket, squash - you name it and he’s 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, it’s 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. It’s 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.

At 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, there’s only one place he’d 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. That’s what bothers him. Extensive travelling comes as a baggage with business pursuits. He isn’t 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 doesn’t 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. It’s 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? Europe’s 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. There’s a small church inside where villagers gather for weddings. Incidentally, when we’re there, we attended one such wedding. The gothic architecture, the countryside complete with vineyards, villagers and their traditions - it’s a treasured memory,” he fondly remembers.

In fact, he always looks for heritage properties when vacationing to get the feel of the tradition and culture of the place. But what’s 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. There’s so much to do,” he remarks. This summer, he’ll be cruising. Something he has not yet done with his family. Either a Caribbean or a Mediterranean cruise. What’s 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 Ganesha’s support, his dream may come true.

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