It is my pleasure to write this recommendation for Randeep Shekhawat from IVAT, the Tour Director on our Harvard Alumni Association tour of South India in January this year. The tour was three weeks long, and it turned out to be complicated and exceptionally difficult, for reasons explained below. Mr. Shekhawat handled it all with great grace under pressure, and exceptional human skills.
Our tour started off with more complexity than usual, as three of the ten guests on the group were impaired, one severely so. He was semi-paralyzed by a stroke, but nonetheless insisted on struggling along without a wheelchair, and resisting help when it was offered. This guest’s wife, unused to tour situations, tried continuously to adapt the tour to meet her and her husband’s needs. Despite the continuous strain of having to look after this couple, while simultaneously taking care of the varied needs of the rest of the group, Mr. Shekhawat managed to keep an eye on all the transitions, and to manage them with great tact and effectiveness . He was alert at all times, including when boarding buses, transfers to local tour guides, getting the group through chaotic Chennai airport, sorting out situations caused by dropped boarding passes and forgotten crucial medicines, taking to hospital the tour guest who had a bad fall while simultaneously arranging for the different departure needs of the guests leaving the trip early and late. Most impressive of all was Mr. Shekhawat’s good humor in some very fraught situations. When things don’t work as planned, as often happens in India, despite the best intentions and good preparatory work, the person on the spot gets unfairly blamed more often than not. This happened on the Deccan Odyssey train trip, when our group arrived, and two couples who had booked – and paid handsomely for – special Presidential suites, found themselves in “regular” train cabins. They were furious and immediately called Mr. Shekhawat on the carpet for this. I was poised to intervene and help smooth the situation, given the tone of the guests’ comments, but it proved entirely unnecessary. Mr. Shekhawat calmly and pleasantly apologized on behalf of the train management, invited the angry guests to lunch, and assured them they would have their suites ready and sparkling by the time they’d finished their meal. This is just what happened, and a potentially difficult situation was averted with minimum fuss and maximum grace. I realized just how multi-talented and diplomatically astute Mr. Shekhawat is, at that moment, and thanked the powers that be that our tour had been blessed with his leadership.
A testament to Mr. Shekhawat’s abilities, finesse and human skills is the fact that at the end of the tour, the guest who made the farewell speech, Mr. Axelrod, toasted Mr. Shekhawat individually, and called to our attention all of Mr. Shekhawat’s abilities to balance a great many conflicting needs, desires and demands, and to effectively satisfy those simultaneously, to pull together an ultimately very successful trip.
I am returning to Harvard determined to continue the association with Mr. Shekhawat, and to try to engage him for further tours we may be developing – the ultimate proof of his prowess! I warmly recommend him to any group travelling to and within India; I only hope we can still nab him for our Harvard tours in the future even as his popularity and reputation grows.
Dr. Rena Fonseca,
Assistant Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs, Division of Continuing Education,