This post has been long due.
I am hopelessly nostalgic about Kolkata and if FairLawn Hotel Kolkata is not featured in my blog then the blog is incomplete.
I have been hearing about it a lot. The history of this place is a part of Kolkata itself. Erstwhile Ford Street, named after William Ford, his residence has now been converted in to FairLawn Hotel at Sudder Street. This structure was built in 1783. After a local appeal court (or Sadar court) started nearby and the street got renamed on its own as Sudder Street. The house of William Ford was taken up by Mrs Rosie Sarkies around 1930s. One of the pictures of young days of the veteran Actor Shashi Kapoor and his wife then Jenifer Kendal adorn the walls amongst many other vintage pics. This picture was taken while they were moving around with the roaming theatre troupe Shakespearana by Jeffrey Kendal – Jenifer’s father. This place is a witness to their love story. One of the long staying guest of this hotel has been the Kendal family who stayed here on and off for almost 30 years. It is said that Shashi Kapoor and Jenifer had their honeymoon in this hotel.
The guest list of this place is a who’s who – Nobel Prize winner German writer – Gunter Grass, Hollywood producers – James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, famous French Novelist Dominique Lapierre (author of city of Joy), Rolland Joffe, the famous filmmaker, to name a few. After Mrs Rosie Sarkies, the hotel was run by her daughter Mrs Violet Smith who passed away recently at the age of 93 . She was fondly called the Duchess of Sudder Street.
It is said that everyday after lunch she would come down and meet all her guests and go out for a tour of Kolkata. Now the hotel is being run by Mrs Jenifer Fowler, daughter of Mrs Violet Smith. Mrs Violet Smith has also been very dearly referred to as the eccentric grand dame of Fairlawn Hotel Kolkata. As Anne Keleny writes in her obituary in Independent –
Fascinated former guests recount the thickness of Violet Smith’s make-up, the formality of her dress, and her determination, even in her nineties, to descend two flights of stairs each day in order to hold court in the hotel’s green foyer. There, looking up from the magnifying glass with which she would peruse the day’s newspapers, she personally greeted every arrival. Word has it that the mere whisper of a misdemeanour by a member of staff once made Vi Smith fall ill, but she always swore she would not take to her bed until the day she died. Her birthday parties held at the hotel were gatherings to be seen at, and to write home about.
While the first draft of this post was written sometime around April 2015, we have been planning to visit this place umpteen times. Lot happened in between; BJP came to power in India, the old 500 and 1000 notes became obsolete, the then newcomer with bundle of energy Virat Kohli, started leading Indian cricket team in all forms of games and now there is a blonde gentleman who has become president of US, much to everyone’s (well almost) anguish. Much has changed in Kolkata too and one of the main things which has changed is that Fairlawn has stopped serving alcohol.
I always wanted to go to Fairlawn to sit in one of those green cane chairs with a bottle of beer. If alone, I would have let my thoughts roam aimlessly or if with the family, then spend a leisurely ‘us’ time over some conversation. But it did not happen. Noted celebrity international food columnist, cook and our personal friend Karen Anand was in Kolkata for some work and while we planned to meet up, we also had Fairlawn in our “to visit” list.
You cannot miss Fairlawn Hotel Kolkata if you love ‘Calcutta’. Although I have not had a taste of the food there, we took a round, asked permission for photographing the place, which we were granted instantly and tried to smell the air around and feel the place. Yes, do you feel certain places? Places where the walls, the furniture, the ceilings, the photo frame; everything creates a certain sentimental awe. Food hasn’t been the talking point of this place in the recent years other than the English breakfast but just as the greatest of the food creates unforgettable memories, the simplest of the food nests in best of nostalgia.
Be it the ground floor dining place with cane chairs, or the old half spiral wooden staircase taking you to the living room in the first floor, it as if each square inch of the place is loaded with history. Yes it looks as out of pace with the current world and the surroundings outside as the first King Kong movie playing in a multiplex. The balcony, the porcelain artefacts, the parallel beams in a specific pattern creating the design – all flirt with you, tease you and seduce you too. Fairlawn Hotel Kolkata is a nostalgia blackhole which will suck you in to a point of no return.
Dominique Lapierre had once said that he would want his passport to go missing the next time he stays at Fairlawn Hotel Kolkata so that he did not have to return only resonates one of the motto that Violet had – “to receive tourists as guests and send them back as friends” . It was dusk and we were running short of time, however as we took heavy dragging steps towards the exit, I promised myself that this is only the first date with this place – many more to come. I need to explore this further.