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One man's measure of luxury, to celebrate another!

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

For years I have heard of the Falaknama Palace in Hyderabad. It was said to be dilapidated but still regal... it was tough to reach it as one had to drive through the congestion of the Charminar area and rattle along till one reached the half ruined mansion on an elevation. So, though I spent three entire years in Hyderabad, and visited most of its monuments... though I went back to the city many times and revisited many of the monuments, I never made acquaintance with 'Mirror In The Sky' which is what the name means.

Last week, I was glad I waited. As I drew up to the entrance in a Jaguar, a journey into the past was suddenly a reality. Talk about an imposing gateway and a drive in a Victoria up a curving driveway that leads to the front of the palace on the hill... talk about the wonderfully restored halls, the woodwork and gold leaf, the paintings and stained glass as close to the original as was possible... and the picture begins to form itself. Yet, even as I wondered about the marble cantilevered staircase curving upstairs and built with no supporting columns as I entered the Dining Hall... nothing quite prepared me for what I saw there.
A table the length of the room (it would seat 101 that afternoon including many celebrity names like Amla the actress and Pinky Reddy who played host and Sabyasachi the only man among them)... a chandelier that hung low and would easily match me in height... and wood work panelling and art deco work on the walls that were painted in soft blues. It was the beginning of a day like few others. Suffice to say that I felt torn between enjoying all that took place including an enthralling session with Shubha Mudgal post lunch (though some society ladies felt their cell phones were more engrossing) and a dinner with amazing quwalli musicians singing live while the rest of the city twinkled like a jewelled carpet beyond the balcony and regret at the fact that I had little time to luxuriate in the vast confines of my Shehzadi Suite. 
The Taj is promoting the palace as a wedding property and indeed it would be wonderful to sweep down the staircase in one's wedding lehenga or hold a sangeet under the semi-open sky at the far end of the palace where the gardens lead to the restaurants. But I was soon to be introduced to other luxuries during the trip.

Sabyasachi was opening his store in Hyderabad which I visited. Like all his stores, it was a creation of mood and nostalgia:  fading portraits and old lamp shades... dull lighting and jewelled clothes. I am not sure but at least one of the photos on his wall is surely priceless for music and dance lovers, but he has yet to check out if my hunch is correct... so I shall hold my tongue!

I have often tried to connect with Sabyasachi for one reason or the other and often been frustrated by the fact that either he does not respond or I have to send mails to his office to get a response from him. But spending an entire day with him, the picture gets clear and any resentment I might have felt seems self indulgent and is erased from memory. The fact is that when Sabya is doing one thing he is so purely concentrated that he can do nothing else. So I seldom saw him taking a call though his phone was always at hand; and when he did make a call it was to talk of some arrangement connected with the store opening.
Sabya proved a caring meticulous host, but it was when he started talking of the treasure hunt he undertook to fit up the Cinema Suite at 51 Buckingham Gate for the Taj in London that I glimpsed the real Sabya. And understood why he has managed with such ease to become perhaps India's most successful designer in the short span of a decade. To source for the suite, Sabya travelled... and how. Not just the antique and high-end shops in cities as diverse as Paris and New York or Mumbai seeking Bhutanese frames and Chinese porcelain, Afghan rugs, stuffed animal heads and paintings, old books and exotic mirrors but also the flea markets and the tiny shops that are ignored by most as nothing. And each place revealed a treasure or two that he carried off with the air of a conquering emperor returning with the spoils! The vision was clear, as it usually is, with the man. He was looking for anything that would recreate the mood and feel of scenes from cinema greats... and that included everyone from Satyajit Ray (but of course) and Guru Dutt to Francis Ford Cuppola and Merchant Ivory... from Marilyn Monroe to Joan Crawford...
Everyone who has thrilled to the opulence of beautiful stage settings in Hollywood extravaganzas and period films or the artistry of  a well crafted Indian film cannot but respond. I on my part felt a deep streak of green flooding my veins... To be able to travel and pick from across 32 cultures, bric-a-brac and memorabilia, without the pocket being hurt... to be able to indulge one's love for things rare and beautiful and carry them away... it would be an experience indeed. But listening to Sabyasachi talking about how he had found the Chesterfield or the taxidermy or sourced the rugs from a most unlikely seller... I could sense the excitement... the thrill of the chase... the joy in finding just what was needed for a corner, a wall or a mood. There were no shortcuts, no compromises... everything that went into the suite had to belong to the world of cinema and thus belong in the suite!
Keeping the mood intact, he ensured the floors were of old oak and the wallpaper in rich gold, burnt orange and red from Nina Campbell. Not a whisper out of place. His stores have given him plenty of practice. It is no mean feat to have four stores or more across the country, all with old clocks and pictures framed on the walls and lamps from another era evoking the same mood despite not being identical in set up. It speaks of careful seeking and finding... of the patience of a prospector sifting gold from the slush. The same concentration was magnified in the setting up of Buckingham Suite!
I wonder if I will ever visit the suite and sit before the 85-inch television set created by the world famous piano makers Steinway Lyngdorf or read from the immense collection of books... but if I did, I know one fleeting day would not be enough to imbibe the mood. It would need some more... 364 more would be a fair estimate!
The Cinema Suite designed by Sabyasachi
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06-NOVEMBER-2012 Nandini Guha
Point taken
06-NOVEMBER-2012 Sathya Saran
No, Nandini. I was truly impressed. Surely being a journo does not take away the right to admire something publicly, if it is worth admiring. I DO NOT do PR pieces, and never say what I do not think or feel. If i dislike something I say it too. loudly.
06-NOVEMBER-2012 mahesh dattani
06-NOVEMBER-2012 Nandini Guha
Dear Sathya, I have always admired your articles be it in Femina or more lately in Explosive Fashion. This is a good read too but it appears to be a PR-driven piece to promote Taj. Correct me if I'm wrong?
05-NOVEMBER-2012 Meher Castelino
Interesting and descriptive tour of the suite
05-NOVEMBER-2012 Pareina Thapar
Amazing, the little details noticed by you make this a pleasure to read
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