HE A Serial By Varalotti Rengasamy Episode 2 Timeline B The security guard standing near the massive wrought iron gates of Hotel Le Meridian took out a cigarette from his pocket. He looked around before lighting it. It was 7 AM in the morning. The traffic had not picked up in the busy GST Road. It would take another two hours before the entire road got clogged with vehicles coming from all directions, with their drivers driving on all possible sides giving a big six to the very concept of discipline itself, let alone lane discipline. As he was enjoying the ingression of nicotine into his lungs, his eyes saw something at a distance. Adrenalin secretion began in full steam. He put the cigarette down and crushed it. He snapped to attention and was ready to receive the dark grey Honda Civic which was coming towards the hotel. As the car entered the gates he gave a stiff salute to the woman who was driving the car. She smiled at him and drove to her most privileged parking lot near the lobby entrance. The tall man dressed in full regalia designed for the lobby-guard at a five star hotel came running to open the door of the car. “Good Morning, Ma’am” “Good Morning.” She was in her late thirties and was dressed in a business suit. She could never be classified under the heading “beautiful”. But the way she bore herself, the way she dressed herself and the unmistakable intelligence in her eyes made her worthy of second looks, not of love or lust, but of admiration. She was wearing fashionable rimless spectacles which served to accentuate the intelligence in her looks. She was Nalini Ganesh, the General Manager of Le Meridian, Chennai Facility. She always preferred the hands-on management style which incidentally was the only style that worked in a star hotel. She walked to the reception desk which appeared a little crowded for the time. There were guests of all nationalities waiting to check-in. She established eye contact with the reception clerk who assured her by signs that everything was under control. That was what she wanted. She then moved on to her most favourite part of the facility, the hotel’s large multi-cuisine restaurant. Even at that early morning hour it was almost full. It looked more like the food court of an international airport than a restaurant. As the hotel had mostly foreign guests trying to adjust to time-zone differences, the restaurant operated round the clock. And was crowded most of the time. “Hi Naaalini…” She turned around to respond to the call. The person was a part of a group of tourists from the US. That was a unique group consisting mostly of people in the field of creative arts – dancers, singers, writers and some painters too. They had planned a kind of “thematic” tour of India. Their theme was India’s ancient fine arts. The previous day they had listened to a two-hour nadhaswaram concert.. Today was the highlight of their stay in Chennai. A classical dance performance by a celebrated artist preceded by a demonstration and symposium on dance. “Hi Matt. Anything I can do for you?” “Thanks, Naalini. When is SB coming here?” SB referred to Dr. Sharada Balakrishnan, the numero uno in the field of Indian classical dance, bharatha natyam. She was giving an exclusive performance to the American group. Only a few other VIPs of the city had been invited for the event. SB was not only a dancer but also a research scholar in the field of dancing. Her dissertation on the concept of dance tracing the art from the cavemen days to the present had earned her a Ph.D. from North Carolina University, USA. She was a rare phenomenon, who could enthrall an international audience with her Allarippu and with equal grace stun a scholarly audience with her incisive research findings. Unlike many dancers of the day, who were trying fuse Bharathanatyam with other art forms and were in effect giving a remix of the classical art, Sharada delivered to her fans, the purest form of the divine art. For the American Group interaction with SB and seeing her dancing was the highlight of their stay in Chennai. Nalini had spared no pains for organising the great event. Nalini looked at her watch. “She is flying in from Mumbai. The flight touches Chennai at 8. She will be here by 9.” “We are SB’s ardent fans. We want to receive her at the hotel gates. We want to give flowers and welcome the great artist. Can you please organise that?” “Sure, Matt. It is very thoughtful of you. SB will be delighted.” Nalini returned to her chambers with a smile. She stood for a minute in silence before her mother’s picture before starting her long day. She saw the notes on her table. None of them were important. She called her secretary on the intercom.