Writing My First Book, Adventures Through Covid, Grounded Me, Says Author Parris Fotias

Luxury and austerity, antithetical as they are, have never existed in the world as intimately as during the pandemic. Inexplicable, but true, like most things during this time. Parris Fotias, Regional Sales Director, Dorchester Collection hotels, was flying back home to Sydney from a work trip to Mumbai in February 2020 when COVID-19 hit, a nightmare that the world is yet to wake up from. His work life entailed checking in and out of airports and the most luxurious hotels in the world, including nine of the Dorchester Collection that have played architectural parts in films and Netflix series, and are stars in themselves. One cannot think of a London without The Dorchester and 45, Park Lane, Los Angeles without The Beverly Hills and the Bel Air, Paris sans the geranium dotted façade of The Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, Italy without Hotel Eden Rome and Principe Di Savoia, or the beautiful English countryside without Coworth Park in Ascot. A confined Parris didn’t just work from home, he played from home too. He wrote a book – his first – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel In A Transcendental State that was published in July 2021. His ability to make people laugh in these times through his words, strung together like a bejeweled necklace of hilarious gems is literary art. Rather outré for a jet-setting luxury hotelier you might think, but not if you know Parris, who’s a contemporary Greek Coeus, with an enviable humour to match.

Rubina A Khan converses, albeit digitally, with the luxury hotelier and first time author, Parris Fotias in Sydney:

While the world was grappling with lockdowns, covid news and stagnation, you wrote a book – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel in a Transcendental State! How did the idea to write one in such bleak and dire times come by – whilst you were barbecuing at home in Sydney or in one of the umpteen hand-washing or shower sessions at home? 
To be completely honest, I never consciously set out to write a book. The idea to start writing was initially born upon my return to Australia on February 29th, 2020 from Mumbai, India, which as of writing, is still my last international trip. Throughout the month or March, as the severity of COVID-19 became apparent, I felt compelled to reach out to as many of my clients as possible, just to check in on their wellbeing. So, I started sending them a weekly email and by the beginning of April, this had somehow morphed into a Dear Diary episodic series. At first, I tried to keep each entry short and sweet, but then found I myself compelled to share my own frustrations at being grounded and in lockdown. I also began referencing many long forgotten travel journals, regaling my new found audience with anecdotes from past trips. By the time I realised what was happening, it was December and I had been writing for almost nine months.

Adventures Through Covid vacillates from sardonic to dry humour at its best, but your writing is authentic to each chapter. Is the humour an extension of your personality?
I think most who know me well would say that humour does play a big role in my life and that it is an extension of my personality. Not to say that I always try to be amusing, but more often than not, I do try and find the funny side of most things. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”.

The situations in the book are real to your life in Australia, but the writing commingles beautifully with the fictional reactions to each odd hurdle created by the pandemic at your home and at work
One of the things I attempted to do was to make each entry relevant. I would pick a topic that had made an impression on me and would begin writing. I also tried to weave in personal experiences into the narrative that held relevance to what I was preaching about. I am just fortunate that I had enough entertaining tales that I could incorporate and keep the reader amused.

For someone who lived in and out of airports, traveling to some of the most glamorous cities in the world on work as the Regional Sales Director of the Dorchester Collection hotels, you have expressed your stifling existence very ably through your book. Was it a release to do so? Did the writing help you cope?
Absolutely! Writing has always been a passion of mine but one that I have neglected for many years. Being able to indulge and write again helped me forget about what was happening in the outside world for a while. Yet, it was far more than just a guilty pleasure, it was definitely cathartic. It became a form of therapy, allowing me to express my frustrations which then led to conversations and discussions. And, it also grounded me. The entire process allowed me to remember how very fortunate I have been to travel for a living and visit so many amazing destinations. It made me realise that travel is indeed a privilege and one that should never be taken for granted.

Travel is indeed a privilege. What did you abhor the most about your forced confinement in the first lockdown? 
The lack of spontaneity is what troubled me the most. Not being able to make that last-minute decision to head out to dinner or catch up with friends. We were definitely just existing day to day, and not living our lives during that period.

Who read the first draft of your book? And what did he/ she/ they say?
As I mentioned above, the concept was originally a Dear Diary email episodic series so, I would hasten to say that my clients were the ones who read the first draft of my book. They were the ones who encouraged me to keep on writing and by sharing their own tales and stories with me, inspired me to relive adventures that I had not thought about in years.

How come you decided to self-publish the book? With your stellar grasp on the language and your bereft-of-emotion prose (which is remarkable given you were low-key venting!) persuading the reader to keep turning the pages till the end, you should have got a publisher! 
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 that I even considered publishing Adventures Through Covid and so my rationale at the time was simple. This pandemic would be done and dusted by the middle of the year. As mine is a topical story relating to the pandemic, I needed to fast track the process and get my book published as quickly as possible before everyone got on with their lives and forgot about COVID-19. So I decided to self-publish. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten a publisher!

What is your favourite part about the writing process? Did you write a page everyday? Was there a method to the creation of the chapters?
That is a tough question. I would say that what I loved the most was when I was able to incorporate an anecdote or memory from my past, into whatever topic I was waxing lyrical on that particular week, making it relevant to others. It was a weekly diary entry so I would write every week. Sometimes I would get an idea at the start of the week and would work on it a little every day. Other times, I would struggle to come up with a relevant topic and would have to write everything on a Friday morning which is when I tended to send it out to clients.

Has writing the book been the most satisfactory aspect of life in the lockdown? 
I won’t lie, writing and publishing a book was a personal milestone that was extremely satisfactory – something that I have always wanted to accomplish. Yet I always abide by the saying that one must make your favourite experience your next one. To this point, I found so much joy in creating new memories with my family during lockdown. This included tuning in, singing & dancing to Hot Dub Time Machine – the world’s first Time Travelling DJ every Saturday night, and preparing Sunday lunch where we would head outside and spend a few hours, forgetting about the world for a while.

Who were you reading whilst writing your book? And who are some of your preferred authors right now?
My favourite authors include Christos Tsiolkas, Anne Rice & Jeffrey Eugenides, although I will say that I normally read whilst travelling. I also enjoy a lot of non-fiction and during the writing process I was reading Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century by American journalist Josh Rogin, which is both fascinating and terrifying.

Have you travelled since the release of the book in July 2021 and where? What feels like the most freeing aspect of life today?
I have only made two trips since the release of the book in mid-2021. One was a work trip to Melbourne at the end of 2021 and the other was a weekend away just a few weeks ago in January 2022 to the Southern Highlands to attend my cousins 50th Birthday party. But since mid February, I am back to travelling regularly for work, new variants withstanding of course. The most freeing aspect of life today is being able to visit friends, family and clients without too many restrictions. And, being able to head out to the amazing restaurants and bars that we have in Sydney.

From writing press releases for the Dorchester Collection Group to publishing your first book in the thick of the lockdown when everyone was at breaking point, you need to write another book this year given the pandemic rages on… what do you think? 
One never knows!  Now that I have whet my writing appetite, the skies the limit.

Adventures Through Covid is available to purchase on Amazon

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S RADAR: PPE FUNDRAISER FOR MUMBAI’S MEDIA PERSONNEL ON THE CORONAVIRUS FRONT LINES

A conversation with a photographer friend of mine on Coronavirus news duty every single day since March 2020, impelled me into thinking about the health risks our Indian media was being exposed to, whilst I stayed safely at home, in quarantine and the lockdown, on government orders. I often wondered how they’d power through the weeks, and now months of the reportage on the pandemic everyday, which seemed endless then, and continues unabated with its relentless savagery on humans. Everyone’s lauding the first responders and medical teams, the police, the hygienists and the cleaners, and very rightly so, but nobody seems to be taking cognisance of the indispensable and crucial work photographers, videographers and journalists are doing on the ground, outside. They’re the people bringing in the news and visuals of the virus every day, and the heart-wrenching devastation and strife it’s inflicting on humans across the world. By going out and reporting from containment and red zones, they’re risking their own lives, and livelihoods, in an extremely uncertain and broken economy and that is saying something. Everything we know about the virus, right from the whats and the hows to the vaccine developments and trials, is through the eyes and lenses of the media as everyone’s in lockdown and quarantined at home. Even as some parts of the world are opening up ever so cautiously after months of isolation and physical distancing of late, their work carries on. It is their photographs and stories that tell us what the new world looks like, how human behaviour has changed and will continue to evolve in the years to come.

On April 20th, 2020, when I heard that 53 press personnel in Mumbai had tested positive for the Coronavirus, and were incapacitated and hospitalised, I just knew I had to do something about protecting them on duty as staying safe at home or working from home wasn’t an option for them. I couldn’t bear the thought of people I know and have worked with going out to work, risking their all for their jobs, without any protection from the virus.

On April 23rd, 2020, I spearheaded a fundraiser by reaching out to my network for contributions as a collective, humane responsibility to purchase Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as a preventive measure for Mumbai’s news photographers and media personnel covering the Corona crisis on the front lines, to shield them. I am ever so thankful to the people – from all walks of life in India – that responded promptly and empathetically towards the fundraiser with their fiscal largesse like industrialist Ness Wadia, businesswoman Natasha Poonawalla (Executive Director, Serum Institute of India, Pune), filmmaker Karan Johar (Dharma Productions), actor Amrita Arora, film costumer Ana Singh, businesswoman Eesha Sukhi and jeweller Siddharth Kasliwal (Director, The Gem Palace, Jaipur). Since then, the fundraiser has received contributions from jeweller Queenie SinghShalini Passi and filmmaker Gaurav Chawla, enabling the purchase of safety eyewear too for the media.

It is because of the financial support of these very people that the PPE’s reached Mumbai on May 5th, 2020 and were distributed to the media personnel from May 6th onwards. These PPE’s are certified by SITRA – South India Textile Research Association, Coimbatore for fabric and garment – and are for one-wear only. I feel the kindness of all the contributors needs to be highlighted and celebrated, and not go unnoticed as anonymous benefactors, because talking about them will go on to inspire many others to come forward in this crisis to help each other in our country. Every contributor has stepped up as a humanitarian to help our media community, and that is reason enough to laud any helping hand. All of them have made this little fundraiser of mine a bigger success that I ever envisaged it to be and the media community are ever so grateful for their kindness. The PPE’s and safety eyewear bought with the funds raised so far have been distributed to the Mumbai media personnel and I am in the midst of ordering more PPE’s from the second round of funding that has come around. I intend to keep raising funds to provide the PPE’s for as long as they are needed during the Corona crisis.

The PPE fundraiser has been chronicled in the Mumbai Mirror (07.05.2020 edition) and the kindness of the contributors has been sincerely appreciated. The PPE initiative was featured in the Urdu press and online, and I am grateful for people supporting the fundraiser. Encouraging words and tall praise from people I love and admire across the world has raised me up, gladdened my heart (which is rather dire nowadays!) and fuelled me to strive and do even more!

SHOBHAA DE: Rubina’ s spontaneous gesture to mobilise support and order the best quality PPE suits for media colleagues risking their lives to cover the pandemic, must be acknowledged as a gesture that led to many others following her example.

JACKIE SHROFF: The media has always been there on the forefront, come what may. The fourth estate are a brave lot and will have my respect, always. And, you keep shining Rubina!

FERN MALLIS: Rubina Khan is a Covid19 hero… as a photojournalist, she watched her colleagues out in the streets and in the trenches covering the story of this ungodly pandemic and no one had their backs… they put themselves in danger to keep us all informed. Her initiative to secure funds and thereby supply this vital press corp with all the necessary PPE’s was so smart, compassionate and right on. It’s now in its second round of providing more. Thank you Rubina from the epicenter of Coronavirus in New York City.

ANA SINGH: The press has always celebrated my work and my milestones and in this particularly grave time, I feel God chose me to give back to them and I feel grateful for the opportunity. When Rubina spoke to me about the PPE fundraiser, being a journalist and photographer herself, I got a sense of what the media personnel on the field were possibly going through and what it must feel like for them, and their families at home to work outdoors. Rubina’s empathy and concern for her colleagues made this fundraiser a success and she’s leading by example of how to get things done, even when you’re not out there on the field, without being self-serving.

ELEANOR COOKSEY: I am very proud to count Rubina as a long standing family friend. Her recent PPE fundraiser activity is testament to her diverse and unique skills; her thoughtfulness (it is too easy to forget about all those affected in different ways), her resourcefulness and her determination. Here in the UK, there have been endless discussions about how to secure adequate PPE’s with endless delays and excuses. This initiative was conceived and achieved so quickly – the funds raised and the PPE’s reaching the people who needed it in two weeks. A rare positive story amid all this fear and uncertainty.

PARRIS FOTIAS: During these surreal times where we are being constantly bombarded with fake news stories, we are more reliant than ever on responsible journalism bringing us the real facts. Yet no one really thought about the media and their fate during this pandemic. I commend Rubina for her foresight and determination to help protect her colleagues out on the front lines in Mumbai. We are all in this together so much thanks to you Rubina and your PPE fundraising efforts from Australia.

UPDATE: JUNE 2020
Ness Wadia has contributed generously towards the second round of funding end May and fashion designer Manish Malhotra and Delna Poonawalla in early June.

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2020

RUBINA’S RADAR | INDUSTRIALIST NESS WADIA AT THE CN WADIA GOLD CUP 2020 RACE DAY

One of the most beautiful, earth-to-sky open spaces in Mumbai is the Royal Western India Turf Club’s racecourse at Mahalaxmi. The RWITC is one of the oldest and most well-known horse racing clubs in India. The landscape and architectural style of the oval-shaped 2400-metre Mahalaxmi race track is inspired by the Flemington Racecourse by the Maribyrnong River in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia). Flemington hosts Australia’s most famous thoroughbred horse race, the Melbourne Cup, the richest two-mile handicap in the world and one of the richest turf races, on the first Tuesday of November every year. The first race was held on its grounds in 1861.
gettyimages-1208482066-2048x2048The Mahalaxmi race track’s elite equestrian play has witnessed regal heads of state like Queen Elizabeth II of England attending its racing calendar in 1961, as also the Shah of Iran and the King of Saudi Arabia. The Mahalaxmi racecourse is of the essence in the architectural narrative of Mumbai, and the equestrian legacy of India. Founded in 1800 by Sir Charles Forbes, G. Hall, A. Campbell and P. Haddow as the Bombay Turf Club in the Byculla Club Grounds, it went on to being renamed the Western India Turf Club in 1864. But it was only when philanthropist and industrialist Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia donated 225 acres of land to the Western India Turf Club in 1878 and advanced an interest-free loan to the club to build the racecourse and grandstands, that it was built under the direction of Major J E Hughes, and horse racing shifted to its current and permanent home in Mahalaxmi in 1883. HRH King George V, the then Emperor of India, allowed the club to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to its name in 1935.

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Industrialist Ness Wadia at the CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 Race Day on March 08, 2020 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

March 8, 2020 saw industrialist Ness Wadia in attendance, with his nephew Jah and niece Ella, at the 76th edition of the CN Wadia Gold Cup. The CN Wadia Gold Cup is held every year at the racecourse in Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia’s honour for his largesse and equestrian patronage. Sir Cusrow was born to Nowrosjee Nusserwanjee Wadia (August 30, 1849 – December 19, 1899) who’d established the Bombay Dyeing & Manufacturing Co. for textiles in 1879. Nowrosjee was awarded the honour of Champion of the Indian Empire (CIE) by the British government in 1889 for his business strengths and extensive socio-economic philanthropy and his wife, Bai Jerbai Wadia, built baugs or housing colonies in Mumbai between 1908 and 1956 on more than 35 acres of land for lower income groups in the city. Inspired by their parents, both Cusrow and Ness, the sons of Nowrosjee and Bai Jerbai, built the Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital and the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Women and Children in their memory and continued the philanthropic legacy they’d inherited till they were alive.

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Zavaray Poonawalla, Chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) with industrialist Ness Wadia and his niece, Ella Wadia at the CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 Race Day on March 08, 2020 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

Mr Zavaray Poonawalla, Chairman, Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) lauded Wadia’s philanthropic pursuits and thanked him profusely for his family’s continued patronage of the racecourse. Poonawalla also honoured him with a commemorative trophy to mark the occasion. The CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 (Gr. 2) was won by seven-year-old Vulcan, ridden by A. Sandesh, who also won three other races on the day.  

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Industrialist Ness Wadia with young survivors of cardiac ailments treated by the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children, at the CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 Race Day at the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) on March 08, 2020 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

After the race, children afflicted by heart ailments, who have been successfully treated by the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children, performed a little song and dance routine in the paddock – a heartening moment for all. The little kids looked healthy and happy, and cheerfully posed for pictures in the warm, afternoon sun.

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Ella Wadia, Ness Wadia and Jah Wadia at the CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 Race Day on March 08, 2020 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

The CN Wadia Gold Cup is supported by the Wadia Group and their companies – Britannia Industries Ltd, Bombay Dyeing & Manufacturing Co, GoAir, Bombay Realty, Bombay Burmah Trading Company Ltd, National Peroxide Ltd, and the Wadia Hospitals.

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Industrialist Ness Wadia at the CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 Race Day on March 08, 2020 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

“It is a moment of pride for me to represent the Wadia Group on this special occasion to commemorate the immense contributions made by Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia, not only as a successful businessman, but as a custodian of the legacy of philanthropy his parents left him. A keen horseracing enthusiast, Sir C N Wadia was instrumental in giving Mumbai it’s first and only world-class racecourse, which is one of Mumbai’s greatest architectural landmarks. The lasting legacy left behind by him has been a huge responsibility for successive generations of the Wadia family to carry on, and I am certain that our future generations will continue to walk the path laid down by him,” said Wadia of his presence.

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2020