When I lived in Khulna, in what was, at that time, East Pakistan, one of my favorite weekend trips was to Calcutta, where I stayed at the Grand Hotel. Calcutta remains in my memories as my favorite Indian city and the Grand Hotel my favorite hotel. Its name was partially accurate - it was without doubt the grandest hotel that Calcutta then had to offer. The rooms were cleanish, the gardens were lush and the dining room superb, in both aesthetic and gastronomic terms. I went to Calcutta so often that I soon became friendly with the manager and his wife, as well as the reception staff. It was an ego-boosting experience to be greeted warmly by the staff in the busy lobby - okay, I admit it - I loved it.
The Grand Hotel collected the lion's share of tourists to the city, and most displayed intelligence and interest in what they were seeing, and smelling, and hearing, and tasting in that wonderfully exuberant city. Capriciously, the guests I remember were the outrageous and the strange.
One day, for instance, I was sitting in the lovely gardens with a friend. We were having a late afternoon drink - probably a Pimm's number something - when we were approached by a most enthusiastic Japanese gentleman, who pleaded to take our picture. We both glanced behind us, certain that we were being used as a foil for some lovely architectural detail, and pleased to be so. But no, there was nothing of photographic interest in a bit of whitewashed wall. We were nonplused. "But why," asked my friend, "should you wish to photograph two strangers?!" "Very pretty ladies," was the only reply we got. And to this day, we wonder what strange tale our curious photographer attached to that photograph as he showed it to his friends back in Tokyo.
On another occasion, I happened into the lobby just as a group of Sikh gentlemen were registering. From their habit and demeanour it was obvious that they were both intelligent and well-to-do. A woman entered from the street - overweight, over-rouged, and clad in an "I Love Florida" T-shirt and garish pedal-pushers. She was sighted by her clone at the other end of the large, long, echoing lobby. The clone burst into song - "Why Mabel! What on earth are ya' doin' heeah?" " Hi, there Roseabelle, " boomed our quintessential American diplomat, through the lobby, past the composed group of gentlemen registering for a conference of lawyers and attorneys, past the professor and his wife arriving for an early dinner, past the pretty lady legislator on her way to a press conference, " Ah've come to see what the heck they're doin' with our money." Silence. I was part of her visible minority! And I fervently wished to be swallowed up in the pile of the carpet!
The manager of the hotel and his wife were a charming couple and both had a great sense of humour - an invaluable asset for the manager of such an establishment, as you will by now have ascertained. They taught me a great deal about the city and its culture, and helped me avoid some of the pitfalls of an old, and therefore somewhat conniving, metropolis They had a suite in the hotel, and I was often invited to dinner, which was invariably served on exquisite china. When I returned to Canada I wrote them to say that I had so appreciated their goodness to me that I would like to send them something that they would both enjoy having and that was unavailable there. And they asked for? .......... A set of Melamine!
Those are the anecdotes. But the words "Grand Hotel" stir for me such a plethora of warm, precious memories that when I say them, or even think them, I am transported back to the wonder of Calcutta, .... and I still miss it greatly!