Not me, for one. I smelled a smell at a Taj (my mum almost always smells things in the heppest of locations, I have inherited something of it, though I tolerate pretty well smells of cigarette smoke at times, she does not). I find all the five star hotels that I have visited (okay, they probably total to like ten in all, not that much, but still, enough) look & feel exactly the same. I can walk down a corridor, and almost always KNOW that the spa/gym is over there. I can predict the look on the reception woman’s face when her eyes meet mine, and glance down at my dress (always inappropriate). I can assure you that the boys who prowl the corridor in weird uniforms designed by famous Bollywood designers, vacuuming spiders from the walls, will like me. I know they are trained to say Good Evening Madam, hope your stay at DaDaDaa has been lovely or whatever, and that they do this to all the people who pass them, but I KNOW they like me more. And don’t even get me started on the gift shoppeeee or whatever that stocks regulation Kashmiri shawls and the odd wooden elephant. Bleah, I say.
Not that this is the other end of the spectrum or anything, but still it’s refreshing to enter a guest house. As I continue to lead my cloistered existence, by guest house I mean those things they plonk on big campuses, universities, and government organizations, mostly. I am sure there are other places calling themselves Guest Houses that feel completely different, I have no experience of them anyway.
So this week when I found myself in a Guest House in the back of the beyond regions near Hyderabad, I decided to make a good experience of it, and keep my eyes open, even as sentences whirred in my head. Admittedly, I was there for only an hour or so, but for someone with heightened senses, that hour is a good chunk of time!
I was allotted Room No. 3 after a few muffled conversations in Hindi. My name was not to be found in a weatherbeaten folder labeled Estate Office, in which many names were scrawled in pencil. In a sense I was an outlaw then. The reception guy in the Pista green shirt did not apologise profusely nor did he swear consummately, just quietly opened a drawer somewhere, produced a key on a chain with a blue rectangle, and led me to the room.
A vaguely hexagon-shaped room. Two inside doors! Jubilation! A balcony, ideal for a smoke, for those that are inclined. I let it be. The bathroom, dry; that penguin commode that we have been peddling in India for ages; two buckets, mug, a bath stool, orange flowers on white, some sort of poem displayed on it about flowers; Lux soap, used, re-wrapped in original cover. The room itself, sort of crowded. Two twin beds, scratchy brown covers over the regular white; center table, glass-topped; two end-stools, a jug & glasses on one; lounge chairs, a study desk and chair; dressing mirror & wall cupboard; tons of drawers, more storage than my home bedroom; all upholstery matched meticulously, meaning all of them brown and a dirty cream. I opened out a few drawers, looking perhaps for a book, even a Bible or the Bhagavat Gita. Nothing except a few left-over hairs. Who from? Previous guest? Cleaning boy? Strange thing for either of them to leave back in a drawer in a guest house in the far reaches of
I bravely tried the Dining Room, for the experience more than the food. I cautiously smelled it for traces of frying fish, an inability to handle which can be considered a family ailment, and eased myself into a chair. Same cream curtains with the faint hibiscus. Three people at the table, a six-seater. Air conditioner. Curtain hemmed up in middle to account for the aircon. Three pairs of eyes staring pointedly at me. Thank god for mobiles, I yanked it out and swiftly messaged and changed some of my settings and stared at child’s picture till I could tide over my embarrassment at being appraised thus. Quintessential fifteen year old Raju (Ganpat has not yet trickled down to the South perhaps?) with supreme obsequiousness served me about a kilogram of chutney. Was this meant to be breakfast? Was I a queen, Raju my royal servant? If so would he have been my boy toy? The hot steaming upma thankfully followed and with it an older Raju, and I banished boy toy & other inappropriate thoughts and ate up the food amid much cluttering of cutlery. The three pairs of eyes were conversing with each other but with a wary eye each, on me. I smiled at the lady. They left quickly.
I asked Raju for some tea, please. Raju disappeared inside a door to tell Raju to make tea for Madam. I was joined by an older couple, brown salwar kameez, blue shirt sticking out a bit from open fly. Aunty signaled to Uncle and Uncle turned away and adjusted fly and then sat down. I decided it was bad etiquette to not stare and started closely at Aunty, who had given up all pretenses and was reveling in displaying her burgeoning stomach to the public. I saw her feed it a goodish portion of upma and felt good, yeah, who needs Malaika Arora Khan when I have such good role models?
The tea was hot and fresh, I drained it, thanked the collective silence that was the Rajus, who may or may not have bowed when I left, and retired to Room No. 3 again, waited patiently in the super quiet room for the car that would fetch me back to civilization, work, dust, grime, and everything else that is so far away from this place with the yellow walls and square grills on the windows.