Hem Raja - Hotel de l' Annapurna

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Hem SSJB Rana was my immediate boss at Hotel de l’Annapurna when I was employed there as a Receptionist between 1973 and the beginning of 1976. Mr. Rana was our Front Office Manager. Therefore, I was his minion. And always a willing victim to the sleeves-full of practical jokes and tricks he had up his arms every day.

Hem Raja belonged to an entire entourage of Rana clan members originating from Man Bhawan in Patan who worked at the hotel. The hotel actually had to send a mini-bus just to transport all of them twice across the Bagmati and back.

Nepotism then reeked to the high heavens as the Shah/Rana family ruled this 5 Star Hotel at the heart of the capital. Many of the clan members performed their tasks professionally enough to maintain the 5 Star standard of the hotel. But, if there were some among the Rana blood kin who did not give a hoot, it did not matter any way. They were family after all. They also had enough underlings like us to help keep the boat afloat and on course in order to generate good revenue all year around by providing food and lodging to high-end tourists. Hem Raja certainly topped the list among the “What, me care?” genre of Ranas working at the hotel.

9 AM to 5 PM was playtime for him. He only got serious and unnaturally somber when the hotel’s Chairman or the Managing Director was nearby. Nobody was more efficient and professional than him during those times. The entire Front Office department would be on red alert then, with the skipper Hem Raja at the helm saying, “All hands on deck! Full Speed ahead!” His true persona emerged only when the Chairman (Princess Helen Shah) and the MD (Mr. Shahdev SSJB Rana) were absent from the hotel. Then, the rest of us, his subordinates, had to be in an even higher RED ALERT. Because now we had to be alert about not being his prank's first jackass of the day.

Like I said earlier, he always had plenty of shenanigans tucked up both his sleeves. Hem Raja was never ever mean or nasty. That just was not him at all. He just loved fooling around and giggling and snickering every time he succeeded in finding a victim. It could be anybody at any time. And so, besides focusing on our job responsibilities during our shifts with him, we also had to keep our radar closely zoomed on our dear Hem Raja. What might HE be up to next? Here is how he played, among countless, one ha-ha prank that I became a sucker to. When Hem Raja had to prepare the weekly staff schedule, my personal deal with him was that I was given the 2 PM – 10 PM shift on Fridays.

The reason? It was TGIF. And I was then a young man yet to settle the dust, let alone settle down. And that meant I simply could not miss the fun at Peter’s Place, the discotheque in Durbar Marg adjacent to Nanglo Café. Peter’s Place was the oasis for all the young in-crowd belonging to the chic and elite Kathmandu. At that time, we called it the Happening Place in KTM on a Friday night. Would I miss it? NEVER! I therefore had to stroke Hem Raja’s ego to the high heavens before he even agreed to schedule me the 2 PM to 10 PM shift on Fridays. And, in general, he honored his part of the deal most of the time. But then, Hem Raja being who he was, he had to play his pranks on me.

I was, after all part of his Russian Roulette squad. So, one fine week, I see that, besides giving me my usual slot for the Friday shift, he had also scheduled me to work from 7AM to 2 PM the next day. In other words, even though I was able to boogie all night long at Peter’s Place, I also had to be at work so many short hours later the next morning. After seeing that schedule, I first thought of going to Hem Raja to carp about it. But then a light bulb in my mind showed me a solution that did not require Hem Raja’s approval at all. Eureka! I had a plan. I dashed to the discotheque that Friday night straight from the changing room. You see, I had to make sure my date would not have to wait too long for me to escort her in. Everything normal inside the discotheque. Sometime after 1 AM Saturday morning, I dropped my date home and went back to the hotel instead of my home. This was my plan. I would sleep on the couch at the hotel lounge for a few hours after making sure that one of my mates doing the graveyard shift would nudge me awake just before 7 AM.

Becoming even smarter, I went to the changing room and put on my uniform before taking my cat nap. So there I was sleeping in a comfortable couch placed in the corner of the Hotel de l’Annapurna lounge. I was in uniform, with my blazer off and placed on the coffee table next to the sofa. Heady dancing earlier that night/day and, perhaps because of one too many shot of Old Carrier Vodka I had imbibed, I was in deep slumber in no time at all. Somebody nudges me. I wake up and look up with bleary eyes at Mr. Shahdev SSJB Rana holding my uniform blazer in his right hand. Had my skin been white, I would have turned cherry red with a mixture of fear and shame at being caught so red-handed. And that too by the person who was second in position in the hotel food chain, only below Princess Helen Shah herself. Before I could blurt anything out at my Managing Director, he whispers, “Lamichhane, next time I will not give this blazer back for you to wear.”

In other words, if caught napping at work again, I would be booted out of the property for good. I am still grateful towards my MD at the hotel for not firing me then. When I next met Hem Raja and told him how I was given a second chance by the MD, he hit the roof and flew right thorough and hit the high heavens, chuckling and crackling all the way up. He looked like he had hit a jackpot as far as his prank was concerned. And I was his Jackass of the Week.

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