Book Review: Dare to Dream A Life of M.S. Oberoi by Bachi Karkaria

Bachi Karkaria’s biography of Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi is one of my favorite books and I have read it thrice now.

Rai Bahadur Oberoi’s life is a remarkable story of a man who built an international hotel chain from scratch, and his qualities of diligence, perseverance and patience are very inspiring.

It is a fascinating tale which truly starts when Rai Bahadur takes and fails the PWD (Power and Works Department) test, which was the first test he ever took.

He then applies for a job at a hotel in Simla where he is again told that there are no vacancies. This doesn’t deter him as he waits patiently for the manager to go home for lunch, and impresses him with his perfect tie knot and impeccable manners to score a job tracking coal supplies in the Cecil hotel, and thus starts the career of the man who will later go on to own many hotels much bigger than the one where he started off.

Bachi Karkaria has written the book beautifully and she draws lovely parallels that bring a smile to your face and make the biography read like a novel.

An example:

The effects of Spencer and Co’s neglect of AHI had to be reversed. Flashmans at Rawalpindi required a new wing. Maidens in Delhi needed funds to get back its former glory. Its predicament was not unlike that of three young women, who decades earlier, had come out East, stayed in the hotel and, caught up in Delhi’s blandishments, overshot their budget. They were forced to send a telegram to their parents: ‘Send money or can remain maidens no more.’

The story is very inspiring and the hard work and innovativeness of Rai Bahadur Oberoi is really impressive and makes a mark on you. One of the examples I like the most is of the troubles faced by Oberoi Sheraton in delivering tea and breakfast fast enough to the upper floors of the group’s first high rise hotel. Rai Bahadur, who was 72 at the time, woke up at 5 every morning, and stayed in the kitchen till he found a solution to the problem, first by moving the entire room service bay to the other end of the kitchen bringing it closer to the room service elevators and then by installing ‘pantry elevators’ that were stocked with soda, chips, tea and coffee. Room service relayed the orders to the waiter manning the lift and then he would make his way quickly by just pressing the button on the elevator and making tea while he made his way to the room.

This is just one of several such incidents mentioned in the book and while the book highlights the grit and charm of Rai Bahadur Oberoi throughout the story, it also does justice to the number of other people who contribute to his success, especially his mother and wife.

Bachi Karkaria also chronicles the part fate plays in the success of Rai Bahadur and it’s quite clear that he couldn’t have achieved his success without a little help from lady luck.

I really love this book, and I heartily recommend this inspiring and entertaining story to everyone.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Dare to Dream A Life of M.S. Oberoi by Bachi Karkaria”

  1. Had never heard of the book. Coming from you that you have read it thrice..means it needs to be added to the reading list. Somehow books on business focused on US (Steve Jobs, StarBucks, IBM etc) are quite popular. There is not much awareness about books focused on India, so recommendation means a lot.

    A little more I found about the book:
    Born in a small village in Punjab at the turn of the century, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi began his career in the hotel industry on a fifty-rupee-a-month wage at Simla’s Cecil Hotel. But he was not destined to remain in his lowly position for long. With a combination of clear-sighted thinking, frugality and sheer hard work, he managed to put together a plan and the finances necessary to acquire his first hotel: Clarkes.

    That was only the beginning . . . Decades later, The Oberoi Group has twenty-eight hotels and four luxury Nile cruisers, girdles the globe, and is acknowledged as a standard-setter.

    In this well-researched and candid biography, written with the cooperation of M.S. Oberoi, Bachi J. Karkaria describes how a man of modest beginnings became the head of an internationally celebrated hotel chain, and details how a major business is established, operated and maintained at the top.

    Wouldn’t have asscoicated Bachi J. Karkaria with the book. I read her humorous columns in Times of India.

    Googling gave some interesting ideas mentioned in the book. Quoting from a mouthshut review:

    The idea was never merely to make money. The compulsion was to think big, and let it happen. The profits would automatically come in.”
    “…..quality costs money but it also brings in more money.”,
    “…We do it every time.” and there are many more sprinkled throughout the book.

    It is available on flipkart Dare to Dream for Rs 239 (after a 60 rs discount).

    1. Even I used to read those columns long time ago and it was a bit surprising for me to find that she has written this book. For some reason this is not a very popular book though it is very nicely written and is lovely to read.

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