How Ramesh Cidambi found himself in a literary frame of mind

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Many readers will have tuned into a recent episode of TRI-POD, our regular video podcast series in association with The SEVA Group, that featured Dubai Duty Free Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Cidambi.

In it, Ramesh revealed several surprises to me and my co-host, The SEVA Group’s Roger Jackson. For a man so long associated with technology and numbers at Dubai Duty Free, Ramesh turns out to be a man enchanted by fine writing, as he revealed when asked what book and music album he would select to enjoy on the TRI-POD desert island to which we take all our guests.

The book would be Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by Booker Prize-winning Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai. “For those who don’t know him he specialises in very long sentences,” commented Ramesh. “The first sentence in the book is about four pages long so you need to be on a desert island and away from all distractions like mobile phones and focus on reading. It is an amazing pleasure and he’s a fantastic writer.

Beauty in hell, fun in hell was his description of the craft of writing. Most people absolutely underestimate how difficult writing is. Putting your thoughts into words and having the courage to expose it to the world is an extraordinary thing.”

Letters; then from letters, words; then from these words, some short sentences; then more sentences that are longer, and in the main very long sentences, for the duration of 35 years. Beauty in language. Fun in hell. – László Krasznahorkai

And the album? “I would take Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. The amount of work that he has done over four or five decades as a songwriter and a musician is amazing,” As a lifelong Dylan aficionado, I could not let that pass lightly so I pushed Ramesh to choose just one song from the maestro’s repertoire. “Like a Rolling Stone,” he replied instantly, in tribute to one of Dylan’s greatest songs, featured on the seminal 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People call say ‘beware doll, you’re bound to fall’
You thought they were all kidding you
– Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

We also offer our TRI-POD guests the chance to host a dinner party with three guests from any point in history and by now perhaps we should not have been surprised that each of Ramesh’s choices was a literary giant, albeit of very different genres and eras. The first was the great English playwright and poet William Shakespeare “for his understanding of human nature and extraordinary body of work, whether it be his sonnets or his plays. He’s probably the most-quoted person in the English language.”

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The second was Harold Bloom, the acclaimed American literary critic who grew up in a poor Yiddish-speaking family in the Bronx, New York, read Yiddish by the age of three, Hebrew by four and developed a lifelong passion for English poetry in childhood. His most intense passion was reserved for the works of Shakespeare, an ardour manifested in years of teaching the writer’s work at Yale and in authoring several acclaimed scholarly puoblications, including ‘Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human’ and ‘Hamlet: Poem Unlimited’.

“We have to read Shakespeare, and we have to study Shakespeare. We have to read certain authors… they provide an intellectual, dare say, a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organised religion or the history of institutional belief. They not only tell us things that we have forgotten, but they tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them, and they reform our minds. They make our minds stronger. They make us more vital.” – Harold Bloom

So who to keep these two giants of literature and Ramesh company, no doubt over a few good bottles from Dubai Duty Free’s fine wine assortment? None other than Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, or simply Oscar Wilde, the Irish author, poet, playwright and wit, the genius behind such works as The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The man responsible for so many marvellous quotations, among them one I have been known to use when encountering the less palatable side of humanity – “The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature.”

“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one, behind one’s back, that are absolutely and entirely true” — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

You can almost picture the scene at Ramesh’s table as William Shakespeare opines “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (from As You Like it) and Oscar retorts, “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast” (Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime). Bloom would then wade in with some well-constructed analysis of both quotes and Master of Ceremonies Ramesh would chuckle with delight at the literary feast to accompany the culinary one being served at Chez Cidambi, desert-island style.

We offer our TRI-POD guests another desert island bonus – their choice of duty free item. We’ve had lots of interesting choices to date, most of them of the liquid variety but Ramesh’s choice was another foray into the unexpected. Not a great single malt whisky, nor a fine Cognac, and nay, not a book, but a drone.

 “It has been my longstanding desire to master the art of flying a drone but I have never gotten around to it and that desert island would be the perfect place,” he explained. “I bought a model plane 30 years ago, tried to fly it and I crashed it on the first attempt. So I would like to do better with the drone.”

Well, Ramesh now has the chance to do precisely that, courtesy of his fellow Dubai Duty Free ‘Dream Team’ senior managers who having listened to the podcast presented him with a DJ II drone as a gift. And the episode’s impact didn’t stop there, Ramesh reveals. “As a book-end to the podcast, Sarah, Joanne and Jorie from the Executive Office commissioned this painting [pictured below) for me as a birthday gift (I turned 59 yesterday!),” Ramesh told me.

“So nice of them and such a great keepsake of both the podcast and life in Dubai. The artist did a great job of capturing the theme and the likeness of the characters (Shakespeare, me, Harold Bloom and Oscar Wilde, from left to right).”

Indeed the artist did, a fitting tribute not only to Ramesh on his birthday but to literary leanings of the highest order.

Ramesh with literary friends on the TRI-POD desert island. (Left to right) William Shakespeare, Ramesh Cidambi, Harold Bloom and Oscar Wilde.

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