BOOK: Mugabe’s underwear rage at top Indian hotel over suit specially ordered from London

BOOK: Mugabe’s underwear rage at top Indian hotel over suit specially ordered from London

This story is an extract from

One of India’s most respected hoteliers, Kul Bhushan Kachru (KBK among friends), recently regaled his audience with stories drawn from the decades he has spent in the profession at the launch of his book, ‘Humility and Agility: The Life of a Hotelier’ (Allied Publishers).

Being the youngest general manager of what was at that time the country’s most prestigious five-star hotel, The Ashok in New Delhi, which the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, would inspect at regular intervals, Kachru was in the thick of the action when India hosted, back to back, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the 1982 Asiad.

He had, naturally, a lot of stories to recount from those heady days.

One memorable incident was when he received summons from the suite of Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, another good friend of Mrs Gandhi, and had been forewarned that the African leader was mighty upset. Kachru went up prepared to do what hoteliers do almost instinctively, that is, say “sorry sir”.

A livid Mugabe appeared in front of Kachru in his boxers, struggling with a pair of trousers that were a couple of sizes smaller than him. “Look at what your laundry has done to my trousers,” the angry president shouted, and threatened to complain to Mrs Gandhi.

Kachru was convinced that his days were numbered, so he asked his staff at Hyderabad House (The Ashok’s general manager also oversaw this historical venue for state banquets), where Mugabe was headed, to make sure that whenever Zimbabwe’s strongman and Mrs Gandhi were together, they would appear with canapes and distract the two leaders.

The ploy worked and Mugabe never got to complain to Mrs Gandhi. But the next day, Kachru received yet another call from his suite. He dutifully presented himself for what he was sure was going to be another dressing down.

But this time, a contrite Mugabe revealed the truth of the pants that seemed to have shrunk. He explained he had asked Zimbabwe’s High Commissioner in London to get a dinner suit made for him exclusively for the NAM Summit at a Bond Street establishment, but the diplomat had got his president’s measurements wrong, hence the trousers could not accommodate him!

Kachru also recalled a hilarious incident about the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, whose bearhug with Mrs Gandhi was the NAM Summit’s most-photographed moment.

Kachru received a call from the Chief of Protocol of the Ministry of External Affairs, Hamid Ansari (who later became the Vice-President of India), asking him to rush to the lobby to receive Castro. He did as he was told to do, took Castro to his suite and had tea with him.

Moments later, he got a call from a minister asking to be at the lobby ASAP to receive Castro. Kachru tried explaining to the minister that he had just accompanied Castro to his suite, but his protestations fell on deaf ears.

So, he went to the lobby to receive the Cuban leader and lo and behold, Castro appeared and a flummoxed Kachru followed the same ritual as he did with the man he thought was Castro, but was actually his body double, who had come to vet the suite and clear it for security.

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