Saturday, February 26, 2011

One Fabulous Evening in India

Last Friday, we held Travelife India Night at the Dusit Thani Manila, a wonderful evening designed to showcase the best of Indian culture via a five-course degustation dinner accompanied by the best of Indian wines, and a world-class performance of classical dance and also sitar and sarod music. It was an incredible success, attended by 240 guests including many VIPs, ambassadors and top businessmen; as well as our valued supporters, friends, and media contacts, and our dear readers. We closed reservations on Thursday night; but still, on Friday morning, there were many more on the waitlist who called up at the last minute seeking tickets, but who we could not accommodate since we could not compromise the quality of the food by adding more guests.


It's taken me over 24 hours to sit down and type out an entry regarding Travelife India Night, because the reality of the success of this evening took that long to sink in. This event began as one minute of inspiration one evening over dinner at the home of the ambassador of India in Forbes Park. As we sat around the ambassador's living room having coffee, I was admiring Madame Kumar's beautiful Indian artifacts and reminiscing with them about my last trip to India in March last year, when I journeyed to South India with over a dozen girlfriends. Then the idea came to me: The magic of India is an experience to be shared, and Travelife Magazine -- as the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication, and as the travel magazine that truly brings the world to its readers instead of merely just writing about it-- should find a way to bring this experience of travel closer to home, for the benefit of those who are not able to travel to India right now.

"Why don't we organize a cultural evening for India sometime?" I suggested to Ambassador Kumar. We then verbally agreed to come up with ideas for this cultural evening. One day, I got a call from Ambassador Kumar's office just before Christmas regarding a visit by some of India's top sitar and sarod artists in February; this was exactly the opportunity I was waiting for.


With this event in mind, I met up with Dusit General Manager Prateek Kumar in his home on the afternoon of the 31st, just as he and the entire hotel were preparing for the New Year's Eve celebrations in a couple of hours, to discuss my plans. It was a pretty busy time but it was the only common opportunity we had. GM Kumar was very enthusiastic and supportive, and very quickly we agreed on the basic framework for the event, to be worked out by our respective staff members after the Christmas break.

Interestingly, our first idea was an intimate concert of about 30 persons in one of Dusit's restaurant venues. However, due to the enthusiastic response from the public, the event simply snowballed at an amazing rate. Before we knew it, we had 240 persons filling the grand ballroom of the Dusit to maximum capacity.


Friday morning, I was at my computer at 3 AM still working out final seating plans. With so many VIPs and also people from all walks of life attending, seating was quite complicated and it was imperative that we get the table seating as perfectly as possible. And even at 5 am, I was getting texts and emails from people seeking tickets to India Night at the last-minute. Unfortunately we had to say no to many people as we simply had no more space.


At noon, I headed over to the residence of Indian Embassy First Secretary Gyan Singh, who was hosting a lunch for the musicians. There were a million and one things to do before Travelife India Night officially began, but I just had to meet the musicians and impress upon them just how enthusiastically everyone was looking forward to their performances. The other incentive was Mrs Singh's wonderful cooking. The Singhs often host dinners at their home, and Mrs. Singh always prepares the most elaborate Indian buffet spreads with vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices. I think I had two helpings of everything.

"This is probably my last meal for the day," I joked. But it was true. I almost never ate at my own events because I'm always too busy. At the Gawad Kalinga Ball at the Peninsula Manila in October last year, for instance, I was on stage half the time for the auction and running around greeting guests the rest of the time, so dinner was the last thing on my mind. After the requisite first course, I just asked the Peninsula to hold my dinner and serve it in my suite after the ball. I finally got to eat dinner at 130 am.

So, keeping my past experiences in mind, I already knew I'd better go to my own event on a full stomach. After lunch, I passed by the Dusit to do a last-minute check. The venue was practically set up and the ballroom really looked so beautiful that I just had to text Prateek and Dusit PR Danelle Palang right there and then: "Everything looks so beautiful. I'm speechless."

Dinner for 240, and it's perfect

Meanwhile, Travelife India Night itself turned out wonderfully. Everyone was enthralled by the lively dance performances of Madhu Saiini, who opened and closed the program. In between we had the much-touted world-class sitar and sarod recitals by famous classical music groups from India who had just come from a music competition overseas, where they represented India. Now sitar and sarod music take some time to appreciate if you've never heard these before; but many of the Indian music enthusiasts in the audience confirmed the excellent quality of the performances afterwards.

For that evening, I hosted several tables of associates and friends, but I sat at Table #3 together with the ambassadors of Austria, Switzerland and Italy, and their wives. My friend Freddy was kind enough to join me and help me entertain my guests, as I was away from my own table about half the time. He's spent lots of time among an illustrious crowd in Italy and elsewhere in Europe so I thought it would be perfect for him to sit next to the wife of the Italian ambassador and within conversing distance with the ambassadors of Switzerland and Austria. I didn't get to eat much of my dinner but everywhere I walked that evening, people were raving about the food.

I got stopped at one of the tables sometime after dinner as one guest was particularly insistent. "Where can I eat this food again?" He wanted to know. "I just have to eat this again somehow." I thought for a second about the labor of love that went into this meal and the countless taste tests and coordinations to get it right -- so I just had to tell him the truth: "Probably never again. Unless Travelife holds another India Night in the near future."

All in all, an amazing evening -- and most of it due to the hard work of all the entities involved, and especially Prateek Kumar and his staff at Dusit.

Text from the middle of nowhere

And, of course, right in the middle of everything, J sends a text from his trip to somewhere so exotic I can't find it easily on a world map. Maybe it's the time difference, but he always has great timing for catching me at fancy dinners, just when my Blackberry is supposed to stay out of sight. When I got off the stage and returned to my seat, I noticed my phone blinking. J's message read: "I'm in the middle of nowhere but I actually have signal. If I'm not mistaken, it's India Night right now. I wonder if you'll actually reply to me or are you too busy?"

Yes, this was probably the busiest night of the year for me so far, and I'm sure he wouldn't have gotten miffed if I didn't answer. I had the option of either eating or texting in my few spare moments, but not both. I looked at the delicious-looking lambchop in front of me, smeared with tamarind sauce and surrounded by fragrant basmati rice and a couple of tantalizing-looking dishes in little silver bowls. But, somehow, the smiley face at the end of J's text prompted me to put down my fork and text back: "You're in luck. I just sat down for a second to eat..." So I started texting instead; and, well, that was the end of dinner for me.

February 25, 2011
Dusit Thani Manila

We're sharing a few photos already posted by guests on Facebook. Our own official photographers' photos will be uploaded on the Travelife Facebook Fan Page tomorrow. Thank you to Ralph Suarez and Jun Reynales, and our own Bryan Arevalo, for sharing these photos below.

Elaborate table settings for 240 guests
courtesy of Prateek Kumar and the Dusit Thani Manila

Travelife Magazine publisher Christine Cunanan,
Madame Indira Kumar, Pinky Aquino-Abelleda,
Senator Loren Legarda, Ambassador Yogendra Kumar

James Go of JG Summit, Sanjiv Vohra of Citibank,
Ambassador Yogendra Kumar

Zenaida Tantoco of Rustan's and Anton Huang of SSI

The wine afficionados' table composed of Rene & Miren Fuentes,
Choy & Marissa Cojuangco,
Ralph & Gia Suarez (not in photo),
Sunny Garcia (not in photo).

Luigi Bernas, board member of Travelife, and Andy Bautista

Luli Arroyo-Bernas and friends.
Sri Lankan Ambassador in the background.

Sunny Garcia, Ed & Miren Fuentes,
Architect Jun Palafox
(president of Management Association of the Philippines)
and Mrs. Palafox, and Othmar Ober

Maurice Arcache and Dusit Thani Manila GM Prateek Kumar

Jonathan & Beliz Crook of the Peninsula Manila,
Prateek & Yvonne Kumar

Danelle Palang of Dusit, Johnny Litton,
Travelife Publisher Christine Cunanan, Dusit GM Prateek Kumar

Sarod artist performing
at Travelife India Night


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