RUBINA’S REVIEW | MANDARIN ORIENTAL BANGKOK’S AUTHORS’ LOUNGE AFTERNOON TEA IS DELICIOUSLY ROYAL

In the mid-nineteeth century, when Thailand was still known as Siam, a rest house established for travelling foreigners on the banks of the Menam River (Chao Praya River), became one of the greatest hotels in the world – The Oriental. The Oriental, now Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, was the first luxury hotel in the Kingdom of Siam. In 1865 the hotel’s original structure was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by the current structure in 1876. It was a Danish-born sailor, H.N. Andersen, who gave the Siamese capital a new hotel, a modern, luxurious Oriental Hotel. On 17 December 1890, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn paid a private visit to The Oriental to assess the ability of the hotel to host royal guests. The King was so impressed that he decided to accommodate the Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia, who became Tsar in 1894, at The Oriental in April 1891. It was the beginning of a long lasting relationship between the legendary hotel and Thailand’s Royal Palace. Today, 146 years later, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is a proud landmark in Bangkok, a beautiful building that links the glorious years past, present and those to come in Thailand.

The Authors’ Lounge, on the ground floor of the original Oriental Hotel, lends an old world charm, reminiscent of the early 1900s, with turn-of-the-century style wicker furniture and hand-painted fabrics, alongside framed photographs of the famous writers who have stayed at the hotel since the late nineteenth century. Apart from the telling literary history of yesteryear Siam and its people, The Authors’ Lounge is renowned for its traditional afternoon tea, and is also one of the most photographed locations in Bangkok, if not Thailand. It was a beautiful rainy afternoon, with the sun playing hide and seek, that I sat down to experience the Summer Afternoon Tea Set at the Authors’ Lounge. A beautiful hostess, Parichat, led the way and I chose a table overlooking the garden and the Chao Praya river. The distinguished jewel jade and white tones of the lounge add serenity to the regal elegance of this historic lounge.

The afternoon started off with the most delicious Earl Grey infused peach sorbet and Champagne foam, followed by the setting down of the Somerset book on the table by the elegant Pansamon – an event in itself – sliding out the most decadent pastries and savouries from the mock book, with theatrical precision and sophistication. The Prawn roll brioche bun, Spicy tuna salad wafer, Charcoal choux with smoked salmon and sunflower seed crème and Egg salad with Avruga caviar sandwich and the selection of pastries – Blackberry flower cake and coconut cloud, Green coffee bean tiramisu, tangerine marmalade and cardamom, Charlotte cake apricot, pistachio and thyme, Raspberries and yuzu New York cheesecake, Hazelnut and milk chocolate textures, Brioche feuillette, strawberries and vanilla custard – they all looked too pretty to eat, but eat I did. You could measure each sandwich and pastry and they’d be the exact same size and dimension, just like they came out of a royal kitchen for high tea. Then came the warm traditional scones with a selection of home-made jams, Devonshire clotted cream, mascarpone and butter. Everything tastes divine and it’s hard to pick a favourite from the tea set. I went with an iced coffee, instead of tea and it was just as fine, watching the rain come down, from the warm confines of the Authors’ Lounge, thinking of all those writers and travellers who stayed here before, and created literary legacies.

You need to reserve a table on Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for the Afternoon Tea and the team very graciously accommodates your food specifications. They also have an Oriental Afternoon Tea Set as well as a Vegan and Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea Set.

Through its 146 years of existence, The Oriental’s grandiose façade has greeted travellers, dignitaries and literary figures from around the world like The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Queen of Sweden, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. British spy novelist John le Carré, wrote The Honourable Schoolboy at the hotel and Barbara Cartland named one of the heroines in Sapphires in Siam after an Oriental employee. Others, like Noël Coward, simply admired the riverine views, declaring: “It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.” Joseph Conrad, the sea captain and writer, was a frequent visitor to the bar of The Oriental and Vaslav Nijinsky danced in the ballroom in 1916. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s affinity with the literary world is best exemplified in the Authors’ Wing, which houses the Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener Lounges. In these specially created salons, images of these literary greats are juxtaposed with scenes from The Oriental during those eras, as well as quotations from the authors’ books. Khun Ankana’s Study, also situated of The Authors’ Lounge, pays a pictorial tribute to the inimitable Ankana Kalantananda, The Oriental’s longest-serving employee who joined the hotel in 1947 and worked there for over 60 years.

The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s staff, right from Jed at the entrance to the hostesses, servers and spa staff are all marvellous and wonderful, and exemplary in their service. It’s a beautiful world they have all created inside this grand dame of a hotel in Bangkok.

Like W. Somerset Maugham said in The Mixture of Before, “Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

Rubina’s Rating: 10/10

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 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | BANGKOK MARRIOTT HOTEL THE SURAWONGSE IS MODERN LUXURY WITH A THAI HEART

Night views of the city of Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse on Thanon Surawong in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok opened in April 2018. Bang Rak is one of the fifty provinces (khet) of Bangkok, that lies on the eastern bank of the Chao Praya river, and it is rich in multicultural Thai history, with the British Club, the Neilson Hays Library and the mixed-use, pixelated skyscraper, the King Power Mahanakhon building in the area. The contemporary high-rise hotel, a 40-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi aiport, is the first Marriott hotel in Bangkok to offer a combination of 303 guest rooms, suites and residential suites from one to three bedrooms for short and long-term stays, making it a very popular choice for both leisure and business travellers, and as a wedding destination, given it won the International Hotel Award for the Best Wedding Venue for Thailand in 2020. The tree-lined, sun-dappled neighbourhood of Surawong equipoises vintage and contemporary Bangkok culture with a steady pace, with exciting stand-alone cafes, bars, restaurants, tailoring shops and foot spas that you can discover walking around, without the noise and traffic snarls of the very busy Sukhumvit, which I had experienced on my first trip to Bangkok on work, for a Bollywood film. I walked in the rain and a thunderstorm on my very first evening out in Bangkok their time around, not of my own volition of course, and drenched as I was, I still found the area of Surawong charming and beautiful.

As you step inside the hotel, the most intoxicating aroma of fresh, Thai jasmine flowers embraces your person in the lobby – a beautiful way fo saying ‘Welcome to Thailand’ without any words. The check-in is seamless and very quick, as are the lifts and the speed of their wi-fi. The hotel’s design is modern, minimalistic and discreetly luxurious, with a hark back to traditional Thai culture in its hand-painted walls and glass murals of Thai country and court life in its design story. There’s a gallery in the lobby that displays authentic Thai hand crafts, alongside some beautiful bronze sculptures. Floor to celling windows in the rooms add length and breadth to them, as do the varied shades of grey furnishings and glass murals in the one bedroom residential suite, that also comes with a washer and dryer right by the entrance of the room. It is an important addition to the in-room amenities in the times we live in. The bathrooms are spacious, with rain showers, ensuite bath tubs and ample counter space. The housekeeping and hygiene standards of the hotel are faultlessly stellar and a top priority for them – the kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom looked as good as new every day of my stay and it was very impressive as cleanliness in a non-negotiable factor for me when booking a hotel. The one bedroom residential suite starts at THB 7886 per night including taxes, equivalent to INR 17,400 or USD 223 approximately. My room was a haven of peace and calm, where I could hear my own thoughts at my pace, through the blurred lines of reality, drinking my sweet Thai coffee with three shots of espresso – something I created to balance the dominant sweet flavour.

The breakfast at the Praya Kitchen is just the best, with every kind of food imaginable for a global palate. You can get in some cardio first thing in the morning just walking around the restaurant, getting your breakfast items, and there is nothing you could want at breakfast that they don’t have, including Indian. I used to look forward to going down to Praya on the third floor for breakfast every day. I loved their Truffle Scrambled Eggs, fresh coconut water, carrot juice and Thai milk coffee every morning. And I picked and grazed on other dishes. The soft and pillowy croissants were made from riceberry flour, a rice variety manmade in 2002 by the Rice Science Center at the Kasetsart University in Thailand, which is a cross breed of fragrant black rice and jasmine rice, resulting in a deep purple whole grain rice, also known as Forge Husband or Khao Leum Pua from the Tak province. Riceberry is rich in antioxidants, fibre and Omega 3 fats and is considered a Thai super grain. The Praya Kitchen’s buffet dinner, Thursday to Sunday, serves up delicious Thai street and Western food, from Som Tam salad, Yellow Thai curry with crabmeat, Pasta with Bamboo Shoot Beef Ragout, Ribeye Steak with Pepper Sauce, Beef Fried Rice in Chilli Oil, Goose liver foie gras to spicy Beef Chilly Thai style to fresh Phuket lobster and my favourite dessert, Tub Tim Grob. The Praya Kitchen is the busiest at breakfast and during the dinner buffet, but the attentive staff make it an absolute pleasure for every diner with their affable and responsive presence, every single time.

Hand-painted mural on the Praya Kitchen wall at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Infinity Pool, a good size for a city hotel, is on the 18th floor, with stunning views of the city during the day and at night. The Quan Spa too is on the same floor, as is the 24-hour gym and the kids clubroom. I loved the Aroma Fusion treatment with Rose Oil (a very healing and therapeutic blend) and my therapist was incredible. Interestingly, the oils used for the Aroma Fusion treatment are decided by the time of day – so given my time was mid-afternoon, I was prescribed the Rose Oil. The Muay Thai treatment, very popular with Thai boxers, is their signature therapy, which I will definitely try the next time I am in Bangkok.

The striking King Power Mahanakhon building is a short 13-minute walk away from the Marriott Surawongse, where you can go up to the 76th floor in a lift that takes you there in 47 seconds, and then get on another hydraulic glass lift that takes you to the 78th floor where you can walk all over Bangkok, on a glass tray, 314 metres above ground. Walking on glass is not as easy as walking on the ground people, and if you’re afraid of heights or glass cracking under your feet, it’s a no-go. I walked, but barely! The views from up there are breathtaking and so worth the fear of walking on glass, a terrifying thrill to say the least! Interestingly, the Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, is actually a short form of the capital’s full name, which is almost a sentence to describe the city than a name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun temples are 15-minute cab rides away from the hotel, as is the Iconsiam shopping mall, with queues outside the Louis Vuitton and Hermes stores. The hotel also runs a complimentary regular shuttle van service to Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station for its guests. The Marriott Surawongse has a 101 Things To Do in and around the hotel in every room, which is a thoughtful cultural touch towards its guests. It’s a google concierge on paper that outlines the neighbourhood and Bangkok for you that’s rather helpful in a country where English is a conversational barrier.

Views of the pixelated, mixed-use skyscraper, Mahanakhon, from the infinity pool of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

Watching the sun go down on Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar, Bangkok’s first Chinese influenced restaurant and bar, on the 33rd floor of the hotel will have you taking selfies against the stunning skyline with sweeping views of the Chao Praya river and the Mahanakhon, toasting your life. The bar is busy, the music heady and the menus are lit – they light up on touch and that’s a genius move because no one wants to read a menu full of Cantonese and Shanghainese delicacies in the dark. The retro Chinese themed Yao rooftop vibe is all about endless dumplings, dimsums and drinks, delicious living at its best, with a Thai summer breeze caressing your every move.

The hotel is situated diagonally across the privately-funded 101-year-old Neilson Hays Library, founded in 1869, that’s been designed in a neoclassical style by Italian architects, Mario Tamagno and Giovanni Ferrero. The library houses 20,000 books, with a variety of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, with new titles every month and it has one of the largest collections of English language titles in Bangkok. The library seeks to promote English literacy in the country and encourage a love for literature, particularly among younger generations. It is also the oldest non-profit organisation in Thailand and you can support it with 100THB to use the library’s facilities. It has events ranging from musical performances to cultural conversations for both children and adults. It has a cafe the same compound too, Palam Palam, which means “sweet taste” in Thai. The British Club of Bangkok, a private members’ Club on Thanon Surawong, founded in 1903 as a British businessmen and diplomats’ club, but has since developed over the past century to become a social, sports & cultural centre for the English-speaking community in Bangkok, is also a short walk from the hotel. The British Club organises tours on request.

This was an Eat, Sleep, Seek, Shoot and Spa trip to Thailand for me and the exemplary service at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse made it a flawlessly memorable experience.

Rubina’s Rating: 9/10

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 2022

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

Mumbai’s Money Is Moving In Realty, Despite The Calamitous Second Wave In India

Mumbai’s got money and it’s moving in realty, despite the Maharashtra government not extending the stamp duty waiver on property registrations in March earlier this year. INR 420 CR was collected in stamp duties in June 2021 as 7,850 properties were registered in the month compared to 5,640 units registered in June 2019, indicating a growth of 39 percent. However, in May 2021, INR 268 CR was collected in stamp duties due to the calamitous second wave across India – which was roughly half of the INR 534 CR collected in May 2019. Evidently, people have been buying property in Mumbai, albeit in an undefined, heterogeneous pattern. 

In fact, prices have increased too, if you can call a slash in prices from a sharp 30% in 2020 to a 20% in 2021. Actor Ajay Devgan bought a bungalow in June spread over 5000 square feet in Juhu, Mumbai for INR 47.5 crore (which would have sold for over INR 60 CR easy, pre-Covid) and he paid a stamp duty of INR 2.37 crore on the purchase. A South Mumbai apartment that was priced at 15 CR went on to sell at 9 CR in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020 with the stamp duty waiver, but commands a selling price of 11 CR now. The reason for the upswing in the most expensive, not to mention glamorous city in India, is that builders and developers have smaller inventories now and they are trying to make some cash whilst the demand is still on the rise, given the pandemic has made forecasts and predictability highly unreliable and inaccurate during these times. Who would’ve thought there’d be 7,850 property buys in a strained and stretched economy, right? Even though it is not a seller’s market, the seller is making some kind of profit. 

But property sells in North Mumbai are taking place in a very contrasting pattern to the realty index in South Mumbai. No, it has nothing to do with Bollywood’s residential dominance in the ‘burbs. In Bandra West, a two-bedroom apartment, measuring a 1000 square feet, that lists for INR 4.5 CR, sells at INR 4CR. Clearly the 20% drop in listing prices in South Mumbai are not at play in North Mumbai as there is a paucity of developments in the suburbs and the supply does not match the extensive demand, yet. So, the seller is more rigid with the pricing and gets whatever he/she asks for without having to conform to the South Mumbai pricing index. 

Recently, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had set off a dampener with its proposal to increase property tax by at least 14 percent based on ready reckoner rates as on April 1, 2021. Property tax rates are calculated based on the ready reckoner rates of 2015 in Mumbai and the BMC wanted to revise the rates following the current ready reckoner rate. But on June 18th, the Maharashtra government announced that there would be no change in property tax till the pandemic continued, as it did not seem fair to burden people with an increase in the tax. The announcement didn’t just come as a huge relief to home-owners and stakeholders, but assuaged buyer sentiments, leading to a spike in buys in June. It remains to be seen what the next 6 months of 2021 will bring to the realty table, and at what cost, and more importantly, will a structured buying and selling pattern emerge from it all? 

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on July 20th, 2021

©Rubina A Khan 2021

RUBINA’S RADAR – THE UNEDITED LIVE INTERVIEW SERIES

Hi everyone! On January 20th, 2021, I started a new series of live conversations called RUBINA’S RADAR – UNEDITED – on Instagram and Youtube with couturier Rohit Bal, a legend on India’s fashion landscape. It’s been two months since, and twelve interviews thus far, with some of the most legendary international icons and visionaries from the worlds of fashion, film, sports, luxury travel, business and then some…

There’s more coming up, so tune in every week by following me on Instagram: @rubinaakhan.inc and subscribing to my YouTube channel: World Of Rubina Khan

Thank you! Stay safe!

Love, Rubina

©Rubina A Khan 2021

Mumbai’s Realty Buys On A High | Gulf News

One of the world’s most desirable real estate markets, Mumbai, is open for business in the new world. But, is anyone really interested in buying anything aside from essentials, groceries, masks and maybe some peace of mind under clear blue skies and warm, aureate sunshine right now? Yes, they are – and they’re buying real estate, not Chanel! Well, Chanel masks to be honest, not couture.

Mumbai’s realty buys are on a momentous high, never mind all the financial despondency that’s engulfing the world. Who are these cash-on-deck people with the flux of money that are buying in such an indeterminable financial climate? Not whimsical buyers for sure, as the realty business is no place for fiscal braggadocio or investment buys right now. People who have been on the market for a buy are closing deals swiftly, as are the indecisive fencers. And why ever would they not, given apartments in Worli in South Mumbai are selling at INR 6.2 CR today versus the initial asking price of INR 9.5 CR, and a 10 CR apartment is available for a negotiable INR 8.5 CR and new developments are being offered, and purchased, at INR 9.5 CR from the original price of INR 15CR in midtown Mumbai? Incredulous, but true.

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” said author and humourist Mark Twain and that holds true for Mumbai’s realty buyers of high-rises built on land, and reclaimed land. During Covid19, buyers are seeking balconies and private terraces that are the new amenities today, instead of gyms and swimming pools, and if a luxe apartment has either, it’s a singing deal straight to the bank. Photographs, virtual tours and a final show-around – when everything is almost set in stone between the realtor and the buyer – but not without seriously vetting of the buyer prior – is the new order of the realty business in Mumbai.

One of the primary reasons for the astounding spike in buys is the sharp reduction in the stamp duty levied on the sales of apartments from 5% to 2% from September 1 to December 31, 2020 and 3% from January 1 to March 31, 2021 by the Maharashtra state government, as a relief measure for the real estate, commercial transport, agriculture and fisheries sector, that have been hard-hit by the lockdown over the past six months, and counting. Otherwise, the stamp duty in the state is 5% and 4% in urban and rural areas respectively, apart from the 1% surcharge in urban areas and 1% zila parishad cess in rural areas. Investors offloading their inventories in developments that they had bought high in, is also adding to the dramatic depreciation in prices across Mumbai as they’re being compelled to sell low, strengthening the buyer’s position furthermore. Mumbai’s realty business is no longer a simple or a compound process, but a variable, with only one constant that it is a buyer’s market, and has been for a while now. 

Luxury rentals too, both residential and commercial, have seen a stark downswing of 20-30% reductions in the city. Residential properties going for INR 2,50,000 per month pre-Covid19 are available for INR 1,60,000 per month and a 2000 square feet commercial space on Marine Drive that commanded INR 6,50,000 per month will in all likelihood find it difficult to get even INR 4,00,000 today given the negligible human footfall in the largely residential sea-facing block.

The Kala Ghoda area in downtown Mumbai commanded fashionably high commercial rents pre Covid19 for the last decade ever since fashion designer Sabyasachi opened his flagship store in 2010. Up until then, Kala Ghoda was an arts and museum nucleus, but Sabyasachi’s arrival inadvertently turned it into Mumbai’s fashion precinct with every fashion label in India opening shop here. Despite the high rents, some adjusted, some not, designers are still holding on to their stores because of the business of Indian weddings and in a bid to stay relevant on the fashion marquee, all the while keeping the rental business in the area brisk and sharp. A 1500 square feet store here, at the end of Rampart Row towards Lion Gate, was upwards of INR 3,50,000 and is now available for INR 2,00,000 and a INR 10,00,000 per month commercial space can be rented for INR 7,00,000. Rental deposits that were upwards of six months or more are now at a flexible three months odd and the lock-in period too has gone from a standard three years to a variable one or two.

Realtors in Mumbai have struck gold during the last six months of the lockdown as compared to the past financial year because of the collapsing prices and the reduced stamp duty that is acting as an incentive, enabling and accelerating the buys. The demand for ready homes versus under-development / under-construction properties is predominant. The recent demolition of actress Kangana Ranaut’s property in Mumbai on the grounds of illegal construction within 24 hours of giving her notice of the same (the case is in the Bombay High Court) has further deterred under-construction sales. No one is willing to risk the bulldozers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for any irregularities in their homes and prefer MahaRERA and BMC compliant properties with all the legalities in place.

With the grand realty depreciations, temptation to buy low and rent lower is rife in the city where there’s more sea than land. To quote Shakespeare, “I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.”

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on October 2nd, 2020

©Rubina A Khan 2020

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 | REEL IS WHAT’S REAL TODAY

We humans thought we lived in an adamantine world controlled by us, until an invisible contagion microbe – the Coronavirus – showed us all we obviously don’t. The virus is killing humans harder and faster than any missile across the planet, halting an extremely self-serving, consumerist world, dead in its Earth-abusive tracks. The Earth seems to have quit us, albeit temporarily, leaving us to quarantine in our designated spaces and countries for a while – a while that feels more like an infinite uncertainty than a finite timeline with each passing day.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a home to quarantine in, and socially distance ourselves from our families in separate rooms, with running water, food and the familiar warmth of our beds – it is an ineffable bespoke luxury, one that is incomparable to any in the world. Millions of our fellow humans across are homeless, with no roof over their heads, jobless with no money for food or clean running water to drink, let alone to sanitize and wash their hands with, multiple times a day.

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Opera singer Andrea Bocelli looks on before his Easter concert at the Duomo on April 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy. Members of the public were not allowed in Milan’s Duomo Cathedral due to the ongoing lockdown to control the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Luca Rossetti, Courtesy Sugar SRL, DECCA Records via Getty Images)

I think the Coronavirus outbreak is the biggest performance art show of all time, where all human beings are a live act, me included, going about our lives in our tangible spaces and our paces. And, the world – a large canvas of pristine natural beauty and sounds stands still, watching us – the performative art on display. The lockdown takes me back to the first ever performance art exhibit I attended in the Hamptons in New York in 2013. It was Robert Wilson’s 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit called Devil’s Heaven. This was held at his performance lab for arts and humanities at the Watermill Center in Long Island. Devil’s Heaven was an unimaginable reality for me, with Lady Gaga, who I think is the quintessence of performance art herself and Marina Abramović, the most lasting of all performance art legends, in attendance.

Watching the various intense acts of stillness and exertion across the eight acre grounds, especially Trina Merry’s Magnolias and her Enchanted Forest silent performers slithering seductively around tree trunks, left me awe-struck, and wide-eyed. At the entrance of the event, two naked figures, stood statuesquely on a pedestal, embracing each other in silence, in glorious consonance, their male and female bodies painted with an almost Avatar-esque shade of teal with a pink floral design akin to the Indian lotus. This was Merry’s Magnolias that explored the clash between culture and nature – exactly what we are experiencing in the real world today.

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Trina Merry’s Magnolias at Robert Wilson’s Devil’s Heaven at the Watermill Centre, Long Island, New York. (Photo by ©Rubina A Khan 2013)

The Earth’s revolt – a silent warzone of microbial and economic devastation – has the human race feeling endangered for the very first time since its existence. Some of the models’ bodies, painted on to look like furniture, further conflated with material objects on the performer’s naked bodies, was Merry’s way of questioning human self-identities in relation to objects and the things humans own. Consumerist attitudes and human identities based on material things was almost entirely how the world ran before the Coronavirus outbreak. Merry seems to have latently manifested today’s unthinkable reality when it was anything but, seven odd years ago, when she created the series in New York, where she is based. Her artistic expression is a dominant, painful reality today and she flipped Oscar Wilde’s ancient notion from Life Imitates Art more than Art Imitates Life into Art Forsees Life perhaps! Never did I think, ever, that I would be living out my own performance act of a lifetime in these times. And, I am a non-conformist.

Art has always provoked us into a reactive state – be it shock, rage, bewilderment, exultation, agony, poignancy, exhilaration or just good ol’ gladdening. The Earth seems to have taken a break from us humans, to catch its own breath, whilst we are coming to terms with a new world – one that is brought to us by the eyes and the lenses of photographers across the world. Photography is art, frozen in time – almost like an entr’acte between the time when the photograph was taken to the current time of its viewing. Except today, all the photographs that we see are in real time of a very unreal, very unknown world that has fallen deafeningly silent and empty. In due course, these pictures will make for a historical archive for centuries to come.

The ability of a photograph to let one’s mind go back and forth, with meandering thoughts and shifting perspectives, never once losing the original, intrinsic essence of its frame is incredulous – it can be as active and as passive as you want it to be. Reel life is what’s real today. Apart from our first responders being doctors and health care workers who are on the front lines saving lives, it is the photographers who are risking their lives to bring the world to us, every single day. Images of empty streets and subways, empty places of worship, planes parked like Lego blocks in airport hangars, images of the heroic, live-saving first responders across the world from Wuhan to Italy to India to the US… are a reality thanks to the photographers out there, doing their job relentlessly, and serving humanity.

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An aerial view of the illuminated statue of Christ the Redeemer that reads “Thank you” as Archbishop of the city of Rio de Janeiro Dom Orani Tempesta performs a mass in honor of Act of Consecration of Brazil and tribute to medical workers amidst the Coronavirus pandemic on April 12, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Mumbai-based photographer, Satyajit Desai’s imagery of the Janta Curfew in India on March 22nd to the stark containment zones in Worli after Mumbai’s lockdown from March 25th to the make-shift quarantine shelters in bus stands tells you the story of my city, and how the virus is affecting our lives, and our livelihoods, wherever you might be in the world.

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A bus stand in Versova, Mumbai, is converted into a temporary shelter for the homeless to quarantine and social distance in on April 5th, 2020. (Photo by Satyajit Desai / Mumbai Mirror)

SL Shanth Kumar’s shots Mumbai’s pride, the Queen’s Necklace, our Marine Drive – the most beautiful stretch of concrete, that languidly hugs 3.6kms of the Arabian Sea’s shoreline are breath taking. Gary Hershorn’s pictures of an empty Times Square and a lone Brooklyn Bridge in New York seem like the people have been photo-shopped out of it. Ollie Millington’s shots of the Shard skyscraper in London, lit up in blue in thanks and support of the National Health Service of the UK on March 28th as well as images of all landmarks in the US lighting up in blue from Boston to Vegas to thank their healthcare workers speak volumes of the intense work being done to contain the catastrophic virus everywhere.

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TD Garden is lit in blue on April 09, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts, to show support for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Right from the handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace of Queen Elizabeth II addressing the nation from Windsor Castle on April 5th in a special broadcast to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations pertaining to the virus outbreak to Abdel Ghani Bashir’s sombre image of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, devoid of any human life and movement, on March 5th is very telling of the Earth and the Universe calling time on humans.

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Queen Elizabeth II addresses the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in a special broadcast in relation to the Coronavirus outbreak at Windsor Castle on April 5, 2020 in Windsor, England.(Photo by Buckingham Palace via Getty Images)

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The white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba, inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, empty of worshippers on March 5th, 2020. Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage. (Photo by Abdel Ghani Bashir/AFP via Getty Images)

Lillian Suwanrumpha’s pictures of new-born babies in Bangkok, Thailand wearing mini face shields are as endearing as they are frightening of a new world, of a new reality upon us. The heart-wrenching photos taken by every news photographer, of India’s migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the lockdown, walking miles from cities to reach their homes in their villages tell you the story of India’s divided landscape of the haves and the have-nots – the have-nots that make up for the largest portion of our 1.3 billion people. Unsettling, but devastatingly true.

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A newborn baby wearing a face shield at Praram 9 Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand on April 9, 2020. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images)

Before Corona, advertisers paid top dollar to creative photography for digitally altered images of an empty Times Square or the Eiffel Tower for a fashion model to strike a pose against, but editorial news photography could never ever imagine shooting any architectural or historical landmark in the world, without people milling about in hundreds and thousands. I remember trying to take a frame in Beijing, China, of the Forbidden City without any people in it, and it was exhausting, and next to impossible! I cannot imagine not seeing the world with my own eyes, and I’m ever so grateful to my global community of photographers for bringing the evolving new world to us, at a personal cost to them that’s immeasurably invaluable, and very appreciated. This is art in motion, that’s unfolding every minute and every hour of every new day.

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Hagia Sophia and its surrounds are empty during a two-day lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on April 11, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Once there is some semblance of the familiar to our new world that none of us have any inkling of right now, there are some things that will have changed forever, that we will be seeing through the eyes of photographers and their cameras yet again. For instance, a picture of two people shaking hands or kissing in public will be a coveted, unusual image as will that of aeroplanes taking to the open skies again. We might just feel like one of the Wright brothers when they sent up their first plane into the sky! Public spaces with people jammed in or huddled closely will make for unusual imagery too as will sport stars greeting each other without backslaps and hugs on a playing field when the games come back on. Bollywood’s come hither song and dance routines and Hollywood’s sex sequences will smack of sanitized physicality at its creative best, or worst, we don’t know. Personal space will be big on behavioural social etiquette amongst the human race, and it will be a prized priority that will dictate relationships at home, and at work.

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Grounded British Airways planes at Cardiff Airport on March 25, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

We stand stripped of our acquired behavioural nuances, our excessive indulgences, our obsessions with power and control and in the adorning of our external selves, in our raw, bare skin – bereft of any mask, in our private spaces. This reaffirms that we are all the same, never mind if you’re black, white or brown – if you are human, then you’re a locked target for the virus. We need to stop saying that we are stuck at home, and wonder when life will go back to normal because firstly, how can you feel stuck or bored in your chosen space that you call home, that you have nurtured over the years to make it a home, and secondly, life is never going back to what is was – it’s like wishing we could go back to our babyhood and giggle and gurgle at inanities with our parents. The world pre Corona has ended as we knew it, and we will all emerge as one human race, altered forever in world that will have evolved since the first outbreak, whenever that might be.

NOTE: The photograph of the Versova quarantine shelter for the homeless in Mumbai shot by Satyajit Desai (Mumbai Mirror) have been used only after procuring rightful editorial consent and permissions.  

©Rubina A Khan 2020

India’s Real Estate Adjusts To COVID19 Reality | Gulf News

The COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly changed the world order as we know it, and the economy, forever. We thought we lived in an adamantine world controlled by humans, until a contagion microbe – that’s killing harder and faster than any missile – showed us we obviously don’t. Every human and business is hurting, held hostage in quarantine in the absence of a vaccine or cure, at least not yet. Real estate too, is an altered reality.

Indian realty witnessed an unequivocal shift in perspective, long before the virus struck. The enforcement of the Citizen Amendment Act beleaguered India, leaving a trail of bloodbaths and mayhem in New Delhi in its wake, with non-violent protests across the country since December 2019 being the norm. Unsure of the future of their inherent national identities and citizenship, the unrest and uncertainty propelled some Indians and NRI’s to re-evaluate their assets in the country, in particular real estate. Sale listings went up in Mumbai, in many cases because the of very concerns related to the CAA enforcement. These listings didn’t strictly adhere to the market’s competitive and demanding numbers, but veered more towards liquidating the assets at flexible, albeit profitable prices.

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Gateway of India Mumbai | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Virtual tours, an unheard of thing in Mumbai, have slowly started via FaceTime and WhatsApp, but it’s hard to say if that will become the norm. Virtual show-arounds will suffice for a preliminary showing, but to make a final decision, a physical tour is a must, particularly as the amenities are a big part of the tours. The innumerable fake listings for Mumbai properties that lure in susceptible renters and buyers, will cease to exist soon enough as the health clearance of a broker will become as vital as that of a prospective ROB (renter-owner-buyer).

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Bandra-Worli Sea Link Mumbai | Photo: Rubina A Khan / Getty Images

Brokers will by default have to become photographers and videographers, health screeners and learn how to disinfect their listed properties themselves. It will become standard practice for them to call a prospective buyer or a renter before a showing to make sure that he or she is feeling fine and has no cough or sore throat, and has not been out of the country recently – even after COVID-19 is contained. A short-term effect is that buyers will be less inclined to purchase or rent if they have no idea when they will actually get to visit the properties. The long-term effects are yet to unfold, but the virus will cripple sales despite lowered prices. There is no guarantee of buyers if self-isolation, travel bans and border closures continue indefinitely or intermittently.

I don’t see a likely upswing for the next two years at least. The economic uncertainty has sparked off a growing sense of unease and doomsday panic, and is likely to cost the global economy $1 trillion in 2020, according to the UN’s Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD).

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on March 27, 2020

©Rubina A Khan 2020

RUBINA’S RADAR | THE SABYASACHI INTERVIEW

Sabyasachi is India’s most exalted fashion designer, and he knows that. But he’s not lost to his own nous in vanilla vanities and egotism, with the veneration around his fashion métier. Sabyasachi the person, remains grounded, but Sabyasachi the brand, has taken flight, kissing open skies, with the launch of Sabyasachi Jewellery on October 22, 2019 in Mumbai. Sabyasachi Jewelry is his first standalone jewellery store in the country, located three flights up from the Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing store in Kala Ghoda. His bridal collections have played the role of a bride’s confidant for two odd decades, but his jewelry, in his own words, has turned Sabyasachi into a girl’s best friend today. His business smarts have expanded the realms of his brand rather successfully as his couture loyalists can’t quite get enough of the bejeweled lust box he’s opened up. They’re now seeking appointments for couture and carats, both.
gettyimages-1194484606-2048x2048Life-sized giraffes, fresh red roses, vintage artefacts, armoires and furniture in brass and solid wood, glimmering chandeliers, floral carpets, velvet drapes, tchotchke, conversational wall art in Hindi and Arabic alongside his framed jewelry sketches, with Chinese, African and Indian art and design collectibles make up the grandiloquent design speak of the store. In the artistic polarity of it all, the pièce de résistance are the gleaming emeralds, sapphires and rubies that seem to be telling stories of empresses and emperors of sovereign worlds gone by. Lilting American soul plays in the background at Sabyasachi Jewellery, which is in sharp contrast to the melancholic strains of Indian music that waft through his Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing stores across India. Invoking nostalgia is the couturier’s masterstroke, and it works.
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Edging steadily onto the global playing field with heterogeneous collaborations with Christian Louboutin (Paris) in 2015, Pottery Barn (USA) in 2016, L’Oreal Paris (France) in 2018 and Thomas Goode (UK) in 2019, Sabyasachi is an insatiable man, seeking immortality through his work. In a world where commitment is precious luxury, he’s the only Indian designer to have committed fans – a hallowed dominion so far reserved for Bollywood and cricket personalities in India. Sabyasachi can neither play cricket nor act, though at best, he thinks he’s a good mimic. And he is indeed.

Rubina A Khan converses with Bengal’s very own tiger, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, at Sabyasachi Jewellery in Mumbai:

The opening of Sabyasachi Jewellery is a portentous moment in Indian jewelry history. How are you feeling?
I feel relieved as the store is finally done – it took us about eight months to, actually not to do the store, but to collect everything, all the collectibles because I wanted Sabyasachi Jewellery to look like a modern museum…a bit of Indian art and craft, a bit of global craft, furniture from all over the world. We had a 16-foot Ming vase that had to hoisted up into the store through a crane as it couldn’t come through the elevator or the staircase. And I was very worried that it would break. It’s a very fragile, temperamental store. And I’m glad that the grand end worked out.
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What attracted you towards the business of making jewellery in an economy where clothing giants are shutting shop globally due to slack sales?
I have a theory that when the economy is down, people do what is called smart shopping – they don’t shop in depth; they shop in width, which means they buy new things. But they shop in exceptional width, which means they will buy something that is really important and something that is spectacular and I think my jewelry brand, Sabyasachi Jewellery has all of that to offer people.
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Are successful luxury brands like Sabyasachi Calcutta immune to the economic slowdown? Or do you think inherent brain genius and strategic marketing can override anything?
You know when there is a slowdown, like I said, people don’t stop spending money, they’re just careful about how they spend it.  And if you give exceptional value to them, no amount of marketing bullshit is going to help you override a failing economy. But if you give your customer great value and a unique, bespoke product, you will be able to convince them to spend their money.
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What made you invest your mind, and your own money into this opulent jewellery store?
When you sell important things, you have to give your customers respect. I think today, shopping for something that will stay with you probably for the rest of your life, because jewellery is not really perishable, the experience needs to also leave an indelible impression in your mind. It needs to create a beautiful experience, full of wonderment, that you’ll never forget. When you’re shopping for weddings or special occasions, where you shop and how you shop is as important as what you shop.
gettyimages-1194525486-2048x2048Do you have a favourite stone yet for your jewellery?
I love sapphires, yellow sapphires because old Indian jadau jewellery used to made with pukhraj, even white sapphires for that matter. I love rose cut diamonds – I love mutual cuts (old mine cuts) they are not brilliant cuts, so they have a little bit of softness and warmth in them – rounded and beautiful and soft. I don’t like jewellery with too much bling and shine as it takes the personality out of the jewellery. As us Indians have brown skin, I hate diamonds set in white gold because I think Indian people need warmth because it makes your face glow. When you wear diamonds set in white gold it makes your face ashen, but when you wear diamonds, actually mutual diamonds, which are slightly more softer, set in yellow gold, not rose gold… it just gives you that old world, rounded beauty. I think the problem with jewellery and stones in India is that people just want to blindly ape a tradition that has been created by the West and they don’t really buy what looks good on them. So if you ask me, I prefer stones with warmth that’s why I like sapphires. I don’t like the rubies that you find in the market right now, because once you start liking Burmese rubies, not even pigeon blood, the pomegranate color with a slight brown tinge in it, it’s like having good wine. It’s a one-way education and once you get exposed to good things in life, there’s no turning back.
gettyimages-1194495289-2048x2048Do you sketch your pieces like your clothes?
Absolutely. You can’t make mistakes with jewellery, but what I also do is that I keep my sketches in my jewellery very organic. A lot of jewellery is completely dependent on produce. When I make jewellery, I don’t assemble the piece till the last moment because there’s always a little tweaking, which I call the ‘Sabyasachi tweaking’ that I like to do. I’d love to combine emeralds which are expensive with aquamarines and turquoise, same color family, but with a huge difference in prices, or I’d like to put rock crystals and diamonds, which is a little unheard of, with white sapphires, all together because beautiful jewellery is also about audacity and courage. Otherwise you’re just one of the pack and that doesn’t interest me.

What is the most desirable piece of jewellery in the store? And what does this desirable piece of art sell at?
Desirable always doesn’t have to be very expensive. I am not a jewellery person – but it’s something that I would wear – it’s an old pendant, an old mutual cut diamond pendant with a single line of basra pearls and it’s not very expensive – it’s about INR 9.5 lakh, but it’s just so delicious and evolved. It’s like a character that comes without a pedigree, but someone that you’d love to marry and take back home because it’s just so special.
gettyimages-1194491248-2048x2048Are diamonds still a girl’s best friend?
Rubina, ask the ladies. Many of them tell me Sabya is a girl’s best friend.

How does it feel to be the biggest Indian designer brand, and perhaps the only one to succeed on the global playing field?
I don’t know if I am the most influential or the most popular, but I just know that I am onto something big in my life and I will work very hard till that dream comes true.

IWhat would be the reason for you to seek outside investment in your company?
Strategy. I would never pick up investment for money because I think the business generates enough cash-flow for us to be able to fund ourselves for the next 20 years and grow. But, I am not going to be there forever, so I want to consolidate this business in such a way that it lives far beyond my lifetime. Nandana Sen had given me an issue of Vogue for my birthday, a 1920 issue I think… 150 odd pages and the only name I recognised in it was Tiffany and I realised that in 100 years, so many brands have come and gone, and I don’t want that to happen to my brand. I love the way Chanel has been built beyond Coco Chanel’s lifetime and I think that I’ll find my own Karl Lagerfeld along the way who’s going to take the business from me, to future generations.
gettyimages-1194478437-2048x2048You’ve reached a stage where your creativity is not dependent or driven by money anymore. So what makes you chase the next new collaboration or expand your revenues streams with your creative energies?
I want to grow the business in such a way that it can help consolidate craft and create a lot of employment, and also probably help communities and enable us make the world a better place to live in. The beautiful thing about being in design is the fact that you create tremendous positive inspiration for people; you create hope. Beautiful design makes people happy and there’s a big debate about whether so much is necessary or not, but I think as long as you can create a brand that inspires people to become better versions of themselves, you should keep growing and that’s how I want to grow Sabyasachi Calcutta.

You’re the dream couture designer, definitely in India. Having seen so many blushing brides and grooms, do you know what the color of love is? Or what it even feels like?
Well, they say that the color of love is Sabaysachi red but I am just being arrogant! But I’ll you, I am personally touched by love every day of my life because I am a very positive person. Love does not have to come from one person. It can come from everything that you touch and everything you do and everything that I imbibe around me. I am a very loved person is all I’ll say.
gettyimages-1194480317-2048x2048Would you describe yourself as a ruthless businessman who loves the arts but is uninhibited and unabashed about stating and claiming his creative price?
I don’t know if I would call myself ruthless, but I would probably call myself exacting. And when you call yourself exacting, a lot of people label you ruthless. I wouldn’t have it any other way actually, because for me, if I have to do something I have to do it well or I wouldn’t do it at all. There’s no price to my creativity – I would do something for you if I was inspired enough to do it. Money is inconsequential for me, but of course, the money that we charge, if it helps us create something that can build a larger community or create bigger businesses that employ more and more people, it’s very exciting. For a lot of people who think that because I make such lavish clothing and jewels, truth be told, I wear a lot of simple clothes. Money is just a number for me and it feels great to make money, because in many ways it is a marker of success. But I don’t do things for money. I do things for growth – tangible and intangible. And intangible growth is far more important to me.
gettyimages-1194477822-2048x2048Given your heart and soul are not for sale by what you just said, what would you sell your brain for?
I’d sell my brain for a minority stake at Apple or a majority stake at Amazon!

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©Rubina A Khan 2019