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Home Personality Interviews

Personality Interviews

G Kishan Rao

Interview with a visionary officer of the State Government

 

To say that tourism has reached a zenith and has done wonders for the city would definitely not be an understatement. The city has never looked better! Cleaner roads, greener patches, better parks, more attractions like the NTR Park etc are making even the wary Hyderabadi step out in the evenings and spend some time in the outdoors.

The change is there for everybody to witness. And it comes as no surprise that Andhra Pradesh is one of the leading in the Domestic Sector and stands third in South in the All India Tourism Arrivals. But behind the laurels lie great efforts, hard work, proper planning, implementation and maintenance by the State Government and the whole Tourism Department.

The State Government has focused their attention on this much-neglected sector and given the much-needed boost to the tourism industry by way of incentives, privatising existing tourist attractions, developing infrastructure and appointing various consultants. What was a mere Rs 1 crore budget prior to 1998-99 now has a Rs 45 crore budget for the flourishing tourism industry.

Mr. Kishan Rao, the Director of the AP Tourism says, "There has been a lot of activity in the tourism sector from 1999 onwards." Speaking about the department's current and future projects, he said that the department is putting in all their efforts and working on various projects simultaneously.

Pedestranisation of roads near Charminar, beautification of Charminar, improvement of Laad Bazaar and Patherghati, lighting of old heritage buildings, Shilpa Kala Vedika (multi-purpose auditorium) at Shilparamam are the projects been handled by Mr. Kishan Rao's department right now. Speaking about the Charminar pedestranisation scheme Mr. Kishan Rao said, "It is a very important scheme for the monument." The implementation depends on the widening of the roads to divert traffic from all routes in Old City. "It is not an easy task. There are so many things involved - like the narrow lanes, land acquisition, dismantling, relaying of roads and resistance from owners. Various religious structures are also involved," he added.

Shilpakala Vedika, the multi-purpose auditorium at Shilparamam inaugurated by The Governor, Chief Minister, and various others on June 15th was another major project. It is a majestic masterpiece of traditional architecture worth Rs 19 crores. Designed to merge harmoniously with the ethnic ambience of Shilparamam and built in ethnic style, the auditorium with its facilities will be host to many a festival, cultural or otherwise, in the future.

With many other projects in the planning stages Mr. Kishan Rao is raring to go. It is because of people like him that the city and state are attracting many a tourists now. We wish him all the best in the ongoing process.

 

Bhimas Raghu

Bhimas Raghu
Carrying the family legend forward

 

Hotel Bhimas Residency is one of the Prime and imposing property in the temple town of Tirupathi and is ideally located close to Railway Station and Bus Station.

An imposing building, with a large portico, spacious car parking, attractive and well done up lobby, cosy restaurant serving vegetarian specialties, well equipped conference cum marriage hall, well appointed large guest rooms, state-of-the-art business center, hygienically maintained swimming pool and more than all courteous staff are salient features of Hotel Bhimas Residency.

On the day when Bhimas Residency was celebrating their second anniversary, we had the opportunity of meeting their Managing Director K.V.Ranganthan popularly and affectionately known as Bhima's Raghu. Raghu is a multifaceted personality, soft spoken, free, frank and fearless in his expressions and above all a humble and god fearing person. He is a philanthropist and a good social worker, proved himself to be a perfect PR person, good administrator and more than all a friendly person.

He is extremely modest and true in attributing the success of his family business to his father, who laid good foundation and taught them the importance of the customer and quality consciousness. Raghu also admits that his brother Mohana Sundaram's involvement in day to day activities of the hotel is also the contributing factor for this success but for which, we would not have tasted success.

Excerpts of an interview with Bhimas Raghu:

SRS: On behalf of Primetime Prism, we take this opportunity in congratulating you on this successful completion of two years of Hotel Bhimas Residency, and wish you to achieve many more laurels in the hospitality industry.

Raghu: (Gives a broad Smile) Thank you, today what we are is the blessing of almighty and we owe our Success to our customers and our well wishers.

SRS: Raghu your family is into the hospitality industry for over three generations and 48 years. Can you briefly tell us the history of Bhimas?

Raghu: At the outset let me admit frankly that today what we are is because of our founder and my father Late Sri Venkatachalam Iyer who had the vision and put forth his vision into practice and today it became a reality. We started as a tiny restaurant in a humble way in 1948 and today we own a 3 Star Hotel. My father entered hotel industry when he was just 17 years old. He started off with this small restaurant in the taluq head quarters of Tirupathi at Chandragiri then. During 1955, he felt the need of a hotel in Tirupathi owing to the floating population of pilgrims and students coming to appear for external exams of S V University. That was the time when there were no hotels excepting small choultries operated by TTD. We hired a small house where the food was served. University students who were patronizing us then were given monthly coupons on concessions.

Since the need for lodging was severely felt, we made plywood partitions and converted them as rooms with common toilets. My father was like a guardian to these students and many of them further became executives, doctors, engineers, politicians, IAS, IPS and few of them are even retired too.

In the year 1960, due to the increasing demand and hike in living standards we constructed Hotel Bhimas with a restaurant and lodging facilities very close to the railway station. In 1962 we were the first to provide air-conditioned restaurant in Tirupathi. In fact, in those days, we were charging 25 Paise entrance for those using the restaurant as additional charges. We were the first to introduce deluxe hotel at Tirupathi as Hotel Bhimas with air-conditioned Rooms. As the demand for quality increased, we constructed a star hotel with modern facilities with air conditioned rooms which was inaugurated on 31 Jan 1982. Once again, we were the first star hotel commissioned in Tirupathi as Bhimas Deluxe. Since two decades have passed now we have decided to renovate this Property with the budget of 133 Lakhs to make it look much better and have better facilities to our customers. In the Year 1987 we Planned for three star Hotel but due to varying reasons, could not take up this project and finally the time had come in 1998 wherein we had started the construction on 1.75 Acres of Land on the prime location close to Bus station, railway station and closer to the by pass road to TirumalaToday by virtue of our facilities and the standards maintained, we have a large list of repeat and satisfied customers.

SRS: Can you tell us about the discounting pattern prevailing in the Market and its impact in the Industry?

Raghu: Yes, this has become a chronic problem in the industry, which is most unhealthy trend and creating major setback. Overheads are constantly increasing and to maintain the standard is becoming difficult day-by-day and the cost of commodities are also constantly shooting upwards. Tourism industry after September 11 had a major set back. The inflow is very much affected. Government is also concerned and gave a lot of tax benefits to hoteliers. When situation is bad, we should be contended with the existing occupancy rate than being desperate in selling offering huge discounts. Multinational companies can afford and certainly we cannot, due to financial constraints. However we are not interested in desperate sales and we have our own repeat customers and presently we are doing 45-50% occupancy. Under no circumstance we stoop to discount sale. Our customers are our greatest assets. Such hotels who are offering heavy discounts, in a long run must be cautious since they will find it difficult to maintain the standards.

SRS: What Sort of Tourist inflow do you have in Tirupathi? And what do you feel is the potential of promoting Tirupathi as business destination for hosting seminars, AGM'S, sales meets etc.?

Raghu: Yes, presently majority of tourist are Pilgrims who come to have darshan of Lord Venkateswara. But in years to come Tirupathi also should be considered as a business destination. In fact if the administration of TTD cooperates, they can link up business and darshan trips. There is good scope. Added attraction for the conferences in Tirupathi is that along with business meetings they can club Tirumala visit for darshan for which the organizer should plan well ahead and TTD should give bulk tickets for the genuine visitors. AAD (Archana Ananthara Darshan ) in the early morning is a good scheme and TTD must give bulk bookings in advance so that they can have smooth flow of pilgrims. Apart from Tirumala, we have many other temples and places of interest for tourists' viz. Sri Kalahasti, Kanipakkam, and for Leisure tourists - Horsley Hills, Zoo etc.

SRS: Mr. Raghu, In and around Tirupathi lots of cottages of TTD are coming up, do you feel any threat to the hotel industry?

Raghu: Certainly Not. TTD cannot maintain the standards and certainly will give it to private parties to maintain which is an open secret. The existing cottages in Tirumala are horrible and not maintained well and under the present conditions laid by TTD for maintenance, I don't think any professional will come forward to undertake.

SRS: On behalf of all hoteliers why don't you initiate to represent to TTD the difficulties faced by the pilgrims both in terms of accommodation and darshan?

Raghu: (after a pause) unfortunately, in India the bureaucracy is at its peak and never wants to listen to any one and I am afraid whether they will listen to Lord Venkateswara also. They administer in their own fashion and I am sorry if I am too harsh but fact remains the same.

SRS: Thank you Mr. Raghu for sparing your valuable time and our best wishes to you to reach greater heights in the Industry.

Raghu: Thank you for giving this opportunity and my best wishes to you and Prism and its readers and I sincerely pray lord Sri Venkateswara to shower his blessings to one and all.

Arvind Chenji

Arvind Chenji
Chenjing the Fashion Scenario

 

Arvind Chenji. Warm hearted, humble and a great sense of humour to moot. Oh! And by the way he also happens to be the most famous, talked-about and happening photographer in town…if that's not known by all the fashion gurus and aficionados by now. Chenji also holds the credit for being one amongst the few photographers from India who worked for the much-acclaimed National Geographic Channel.

He has bigger plans to achieve, like a common platform for the fashion industry. "What we lack is a common platform for all involved in the fashion industry, right from the designers to the make-up artistes etc, basically anybody who is connected to fashion." And right now, this plan tops his 'Things to do' list, which he is working towards. "The State Government has done their bit by starting the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Hyderabad" he says and adds that the rest depends on the fashion industry itself.

How has fashion changed over the years in Hyderabad? Who better to ask than the best fashion photographer in town! The photographer who is known more by his name than by his face puts forth his answer in just two words "Dramatically and drastically."

Why? (After a long pause) comes an analysis from a professional point-of-view, "Fashion is the first indication of change in the mindset of people. If somebody is changing their lifestyle or attitude and wants to be different, fashion is the first thing they look towards to make a statement."

Is that good or bad? "Neither" he says and adds "ultimately it is the attitude of the person that matters and not fashion per se. "A man wearing tight T-shirts or a woman wearing spaghetti top is a very personal statement. Whether it is good or bad depends on the figure" (he quips with a laugh).

How does he see Hyderabad in the future in the fashion scenario? "Attitude of women is changing but attitude of men is not. This worries me," he jokes.

Any lasting statements from the guru? "Everybody makes a fashion statement and are known for what they wear, politicians wear a white kurta and white pyjama, journalists wear jeans and kurta, and computer professionals wear formals and a tie. Relax and do your own thing," he ends.

That's Arvind Chenji, the person, for you. A person who is doing his bit to change the face of the fashion industry in the city, a person who is striving for a common platform for people of his fraternity. It won't be long before it becomes reality.

Dr. Naga Phani Sarma

Dr. Naga Phani Sarma
"Avadahni par excellence"

 

Dr Naga Phani Sarma is one of the most famous and best avadhanis in the country. He started avadhanam at the young age of 14 years and slowly gained fame and popularity. His has been a long journey from doing ashtavadhanam before the age of 14 to doing dvisahasravadhanam recently.

Firstly, what is avadhanam? Explaining the meaning and origin of avadhanam Naga Phani Sarma said, "Avadhanam is concentration of mind and collection of thoughts in mind. In any era, to have a stable mind is the problem. The mind does not pay heed to caste, creed, religion, region etc. All livings things have a mind but the human mind has its prominence because it can think, that is its power. And the human is constantly trying to make the mind stable. The problem is ekagrata-concentration. Hence the mind's ekagrata is avadhanam. The mind needs ekagrata goal and having ekagrata in various topics is avadhanam. Avadhanam in 8 topics is ashtavadhanam, 100 topics is shatavadhanam, 1000 topics is sahasravadhanam and 2000 topics is dvisahasravadhanam." And a person who can recollect on which page, which stanza, which paragraph a certain syllable appeared is called an avadhani.

Naga Phani Sharma then explained the origins of how avadhanam gained popularity over the decades. "Earlier avadhanam existed in the Vedas. And the secret of the Vedas is shruti - of one generation passing it onto another just by listening and learning. Slowly this entered loukika sahityam - Common Literature, which have padyamalu, chandasu, kavyamu, rasamu, varnana and alankaramu ( most commonly used parameters in literature) in poems. Poets like A Madabushi Venkatacharylu and later on Tirupati Venkata poets promoted this avadhanam and then avadhanam gained a lot of prominence and importance in Literature. Tirupati Venkata poets were very famous as avadhanis and heralded a new era in Andhra Pradesh."

"By the year 2000-2001 avadhanam reached sky-high popularity and avadhanis gained fame worldwide too. In Tirupati Venkata poets' era so many public platforms like newspapers, dailies, weeklies, fortnightlies, television, Internet apart from telex, fax and telephone did not exist. News has developed wings now and can cross continents within seconds," he explains and feels that more experimentation in avadhanam needs to be done.

"In this technological speed age doing what our ancestors did is not a great thing, surpassing their records up to our standards and strengthening it further by doing more is the specialty and is needed and great. Nowadays, we need to attract the public with thousands in avadhanam. Then shatavadhanam was great but we can't rest by their laurels. That is how sahasravadhanam came into being," he says.

There are no formal training institutions like schools and colleges to learn avadhanam, which made him start the Avadhana Saraswati Peetam to impart training. The training school is not just for Avadhanis. 'How to develop memory' is the concept of the training for anyone who partakes in it. "There is a technique involved and has certain ways and methods through which avadhanam is possible. It is a study," he says.

He started vocational courses in the summer holidays with more than 200 students in each batch, which included both young and old people, and taught them using modern techniques in a traditional way. "For me, mantra is a very ultra-modern concept. You just need to know the secret. Mind is the most powerful than all others, which will never bend to technology. Trying to grasp the mind is avadhanam. People use only a small part of their mind but avadhanis use it much more than others and still they are only using maybe not more that 5% of their capacity," he says. He has also started a project called NIVED-AP--National Institute for Value Education & Applied Philosophy.

But will one attain avadhanam through training? "One is born with creative or remembrance power. We can only polish what is already present. It is not something, which is taught or written. That is the secret," he says and adds, "One in a thousand or lakh is a nobel literate, one out of that lakh is a poet, and out of those lakhs of poets is born an avadhani and is the minutest point. A poet could take years to write a poem but an avadhani is inspired instantly and recites a poem."

"I always have the urge to do something new, different and unique and with full support and encouragement, I have achieved a lot," says the avadhani who has done them all. A person who started avadhanam by doing ashtavadhanam before he turned 14 years, pursued it further by doing the shatavadhanam at Kakinada and Rajamundhry in 1990-91, then the mahasahasravadhanam with 153 pandits at Visakhapatnam in 1994,then the dvisahasrava-dhanam with 225 pandits at Hyderabad in 1995, then the mahasahasravadhanam with 1116 pandits for 24 days in 1996-97, then the dvisahasravadhanam for 34 days in 1997-98 and the dashaguniavadhanam, a new experiment.

Future plan for this well-traveled avadhani is to do a prapancha sahasravadhanam in November with 5116 pandits from all over the world for 75 days at a stretch from 9am to 9pm daily, where anybody can participate and ask him questions. "How to make it unique is my constant aim in life. I do not want to restrict it to pandits only; they will just be a part of it. I want to involve youth more in my programmes," he ends.

Murali Mohan

Murali Mohan
Famous builder turned hero

 

His remarkable attribute was a smoldering affinity for directness and sincerity. This is personified in the classic telugu film "Manavooru Pandavulu". Murali Mohan, though neither too macho nor heroic, however commanded his own sizable fanfare, especially the womenfolk.

Yes, this simplicity sets this man apart and surprisingly beneath this humble exterior resides a man of remarkable achievement in his career both as a matinee idol as well as an entrepreneur business man. An interlude with cinema actor, producer turned real estate businessman, Murali Mohan.

Anil: What is your feeling about cinema today?

MM: Things have vastly changed. One thing I can right away say that the present acting breed are a lot more confident and articulate than we were those days. The same can be said about directorial debutants-these first time filmmakers are so seasoned in their output! It is indeed worthy of appreciation. Secondly, everything is so streamlined now. Though Hyderabad is our capital, the true cinema capital all the while had been Madras. Some of the stars did migrate over to Hyderabad due to the unfailing efforts of NTR, but all the technicians, the musicians, the fighters, the dancers, the choreographers; in fact all those auxiliary people who are so instrumental in film making were to be found in Chennai only. It is only recently that Hyderabad has growingly become self reliant in nearly all the departments of film making. With abundant young talent music is today homegrown and is no longer outsourced. The same applies to technicians. Only fighters and dancers are still procured from Chennai. That is still a department where we lack in resources.Lastly, with young blood infusion, we have created a new genre: Youth Centric movies. We have successfully strayed away from the beaten track of the sentimental sagas, the trampled-women storylines and are doing something new. That is a good sign.

Anil: Any movies as a producer?

MM: We have two new projects that are still in the conceptual stage.

Anil: Now, Sir, can you tell our readers about the Part II of your career:The Real Estate entrepreneur.

MM: I started Jayabheri ten (10) years back in 1992. Though many people baulked at my choice of industry, I went ahead because I knew that Real Estate was a very growth prospective industry and that it is the current set of players who have spoilt the reputation.I preferred not to get into the rat race. I stayed away from bad practices and bad boys, in the event I created a niche for myself. My name and goodwill will never permit me to err yet at the same time it demands that I use this goodwill to improve the scenario, it gives me a chance to clean up the muck! My current venture--Silicon County--is a mega project of over 150 luxury apartments near Hitec City with its own clubhouse & pool, and an array of facilities that are first of its kind. Now, that is what I believe is important--set bench marks, new standards wherever you go, whatever you do.

Anil: Sir, as an active participant in today's society, what do you think of Tourism in AP?

MM: Our CM has seen to it that people reckon our state as a tourist destination. Once the awareness has set in, we must focus on building the infrastructure to bring in the world tourist. I am surprised by the number of initiatives that the government has taken in the past three years. This is commendable and I'm firm in the belief that tourism is the next big thing to AP after Information Technology.

Anil: Lastly, what has been your inspiration, your guiding principle throughout your life?

MM: There is nothing too ornamental about my principles except that I am staunch believer in hard work. I do not like to sit idle. Never!

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