Creating a Home away from Home
If you are planning to visit Kolkata in Eastern India and are looking to avoid the impersonal atmosphere of a hotel, you might want to consider staying at Narayanis. Not just for the airy rooms which overlook tree lined roads or the jolly ever helpful staff or the comfort of great home cooked food, but also for the pleasure of meeting with the host, Narayani Guha. Elegant, poised, ebullient – Narayani instantly makes one feel at home. She is a great conversationalist and any tete a tete with her will be peppered with interesting anecdotes from the years she spent working and living in different cities across the world.
Narayani started her B&B around 2 years back from her charming home and has a full roster of guests even today. But working in hospitality is not alien to her. In fact she has worked in this sector for 15 years! However, unlike many who start in a job and eventually make that field their career, Narayani’s professional journey has been anything but predictable.
Narayani a graduate of English Literature grew up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. Her father was a journalist and she recalls many evenings where her home would be filled with others like her father pontificating on matters being talked about in the press. Perhaps it was for this reason that she did do a short term course in journalism from Bharti Vidya Bhavan. However, she did not take up a job in journalism, but instead chose something quite different from it. Narayani is a trend setter of sorts as this incident will illustrate. Growing up in Bhopal in the 1960s and 70s, women in offices were not just a rarity, it was quite unheard of. Those who worked were primary school teachers. So, quite a furore was created when Narayani was called for an interview to the offices of Union Carbide. This was a post which she applied for and was pleasantly surprised when she was asked to come in for an interview. In fact such was the commitment of Union Carbide to have Narayani on their staff, she was not just given an administrative job but also provided with pick up and drop facilities in a taxi. Witnessing the treatment meted out to her, Narayani says that a lot of parents relented to sending their daughters to work in offices of well reputed organizations.
Narayani however left her job after she tied the knot but was not content to be just a stay at home mother. Feeling restless and at a bit of a loose end, she decided to utilize her time in upgrading her skills. At that point All India Radio (the conduit to information and knowledge of that time) was running a series of short programs on shorthand. Narayani would tune into this program and slowly but surely learnt to master this skill. Of course, they say everything has a purpose and these skills came in handy when she took up a job in the Gazetteer Department of the Government of MP. Now apart from the usual business of compiling material for the Gazettes, Narayani’s love for the English language also presented her with the opportunity to assist the State Editor in writing a book on the works of T.S. Eliot. The book was published by Faber & Faber and Narayani contributed to this by conducting extensive research for it, apart from her normal duties.
Narayani’s stint however was not meant to be peaceful, when the ugly head of red tape and petty politics cut short her time at the Department. All administrative staff are expected to clear an exam in stenography to be selected for the post. Having obtained the job without writing the exam, Narayani was asked to comply with the said rule. Despite being great at her job, she was eventually terminated as she could not clear the exam despite repeated attempts. Not for want of effort, but more because of the disappointment at having to prove her worth inspite of such a stellar professional record. She joined the Forest Development Corporation shortly as an Executive Secretary, but here too in house politics ensured that she did not stay there for too long.
It is often in retrospect that we are able to connect the dots. And the same was true of Narayani. Though amazing at her work, the various administrative roles relied more on her skill and intelligence but her true gift lay in her ability to connect with and communicate with people. The Big Break came when she moved to New Delhi and in 1978 landed a Public Relations job with ITDC. This was the first time ever that Narayani said she had found a job that matched her personality. The job had its share of challenges – meeting with important functionaries of the government, ensuring that nothing adverse took place during their stay, dealing with the touchy subject of unpaid bills or unruly behavior and other such contentious issues. All this needed a delicate yet diplomatic approach and it was here that Narayani excelled. It also put her under intense scrutiny, something she was not a stranger to, but having weathered difficult situations in earlier jobs, she managed to carry out her job with poise and dignity. Working in hospitality in the national capital also brought her face to face with political big wigs like Indira Gandhi and other members of the Gandhi family. She also had the opportunity to shake Fidel Castro’s hand and welcome dignitaries for events like the Asian Games and the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summits. Doing the rounds of establishments like Hyderabad House or the Prime Ministers Guest House was “regular” work.
Narayani left ITDC in 1993 when she moved based to Kolkata. At that point her designation was Manager – Public Relations. She never took up a job again but instead chose to leverage what she had done and learnt to start her own venture. And she is not done yet – her dream is to start a restaurant of her own someday, perhaps in partnership with one of her daughters. And in the meantime, she is committed to creating a great experience for global travelers at her B&B.
To meet with Narayani personally and experience first hand a stay at her B&B, check out her listing on Airbnb at https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/2085446?s=0hYy
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