The Broadway Hotel, Kolkata
Yellow shutters and soot-crusted screens. In the bar, curtains, the warm beige of dim lightbulbs and eighteen ceiling fans on full; their whirring rush of air dulls the incessant honking outside on Ganesh Chandra Avenue. (Calcuttans simplify life by using the horn in lieu of brakes, clutch and turn signals). The dark wood-wainscotted walls of the Broadway Hotel saloon are made of primeval hardwoods no longer available at any price. Smoking is prohibited these days. A sign announces that it "is an offense,” but the tall walls are a suspicious dingy ochre, as if they had had the chance to collect smoke for many long-passed decades. This hotel does not have a faded grandeur; it has whatever it has always had, unchanged.
The waiters wear wrinkled burgundy Nehru smocks with black embroidered patches above their hearts, reading: Broadway Hotel. Oh, how I wish there remained such a place on Broadway! Squat red leatherette chairs crowd against brown formica tabletops buffed almost white in places; there is little left of the original faux-burl woodgrain pattern. Mildew specked mirrors along one wall double the already ample space, which has soaring ceilings. The soap at the men's handwashing station is dispensed from a swinging tin bottle that pivots on a mount, bolted to the wall above the sinks. If it ain't broke please Lord don't fix it.
When I alight from the elevator cage the children of the manager are laughing and howling in their adolescent Sikh turbans, playing narrow soccer on the polished red cement floor of the fourth floor corridor. Moments after I have dropped my bags on the single bed, the half-deflated miniature basketball is kicked through my still-open door. On purpose, I am certain. It rolls about the room, and within seconds the curious duo are peering through the curtain at the door, sticking their noses right into my room, demanding to know how tall I am. I've been here ten minutes, and I could live here forever.
The hotel's website (they are not out of date) almost proudly announces that none of the rooms are air-conditioned. The bed, edged away from the wall, better to be under yet another churning ceiling fan, has no top sheet. This saves everyone time and bother. You would be no more likely to require a top sheet than to walk out into Calcutta wearing a sweater.
It is 11am. I stretch out under the helicopter downdraft, close my eyes, and lean into the single pillow. I have flown all night from Africa, with a 2am to 6am layover in Mumbai. I couldn't be more tired, but I am ecstatic to find myself in the most splendid ten dollar hotel in all of Asia.