Basu's tea party
From Doordarshan to Star TV was a big jump. Later, Rathikant Basu moved to Tara Channels. Now he has taken over the management of the Tea Centre, Mumbai. V. GANGADHAR talks to the man who has his finger in many pies.
V. GANGADHAR: Let us begin with tea. Who controls the Tea Centre?
RATHIKANT BASU: The Tea Board. It is a statutory body set up under the Tea Act to regulate and promote the sale of tea. Promotion is the key word. The department ran the Tea Centre, which was started in 1956. I don't know about the interim period, but adman Prahlad Kakkar managed it for some time. He quit and new bids were called for. There were several bids including one from McDonald's. One of my holding companies, Basu Media Services, also bid and it was accepted.
What prompted you to make a bid for the Tea Centre?
First, I love tea. It is my favourite beverage. I always enjoyed visiting this place while in Mumbai and was sorry when it closed down after Prahlad quit. I would not have liked someone like McDonald's to run this place. After all, they are not known for serving tea. Since I love tea, I felt this would be an exciting and challenging job.
What changes have you effected since you took over?
Since the centre cannot serve any other beverages; this had to be a tea place. Today, we have a restricted menu but more varieties of tea around 20, but hope to raise it to 50. The food items go with tea. We serve tea with breakfast, iced tea before and hot tea after lunch and high tea in the evenings. The tea is on the house. We go along with the Tea Board's concept of promoting speciality tea, because most Indians are accustomed to over brewed, over boiled and extra sweet tea. We have trained our staff in making and serving tea, as it should be done.
Is there an ideal way of making tea?
Not more than 2.5 gm of tea a cup, brewed for 3.5 minutes and very little milk. That is my recipe for proper tea. Do not keep the tea in the kitchen because it absorbs moisture and flavours from the food. Indian food is known for its strong flavours.
We never buy tea in bulk and store it because it tends to lose its flavour. To popularise tea drinking, we will hold regular tea-tasting events.
Any plans for tea drinking ceremonies, Japanese style?
Guests at the Tea Centre.
No, our aim is to promote Indian tea, so no foreign methods will be used. Till some years back, Indian tea was supreme but we have now yielded the top position to Sri Lanka, which markets its tea more aggressively. There is plenty of scope for Indian tea in the European and American markets. Tea bars are coming up in Europe and the coffee habit in the United States can be challenged by tea.
What kind of people does the Tea Centre attract?
All kinds executives, housewives, youth, journalists, writers ... We seem to attract more women than men. Though some customers appreciate good tea, there are others who are accustomed to the traditional methods of brewing and drinking tea. They will learn something different here. Our iced tea is very popular. We shall stress the medicinal qualities of tea and serve herbal teas in the days to come.
Indians also prefer highly flavoured tea; they use mint, lemon grass and cardamom.
I guess natural flavours are okay. In India, it is illegal to use artificial flavours for tea. But such tea packets are sold in our super markets.
Let us turn from tea to television. How are the Tara Channels faring?
I am one of the promoters of "Broadcast World Wide" which runs "Tara" channels. Our Bengali and Marathi channels had broken even, but due to a financial crunch, we discontinued the Gujarati and Punjabi channels temporarily. "Tara" is mainly an entertainment channel, which offers music, serials and so on. I always felt that our future lay with regional channels and that was one of the reasons why I left the Star TV network.
Tell us something about your association with the Star network and Rupert Murdoch.
During my five-year tenure, Star underwent dramatic changes. We went Hindi in a big way and the trend continues. I had no problems with Mr. Murdoch. He was a focussed, hyper-charged individual. When I was with Doordarshan, I had to report to 100 bosses, but Mr. Murdoch made it clear HE was the boss. Though Asia and Australia contributed only six per cent to the earnings of Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation, he knew that India and China were the future gold mines. Look at their population figures! My only regret was we could not make progress on the DTH.
How did Mr. Murdoch view print journalism?
Mr. Murdoch knew that print media was the bedrock of journalism, but he did not want to lose the ad revenues going the TV way. He thinks in a big way and is planning several joint ventures in Europe. Mr. Murdoch is a great believer in joint ventures, particularly in countries whose languages he cannot follow.
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