Of energy and emotions that linger
Leaving behind a lot of my residual energy and an unfathomable sense of inclination towards this outpost just to come back
Even though it wasn't too spacious; even though the beds were not conjoined but separated by a bed-side table; even though the nail that held the shelf at the bottom of the wall-mounted mirror had given way, so it sagged and couldn't therefore be used to stand anything; even though there was only white light, which I'm convinced I'm allergic to, and the conventional desk was more a long shelf attached to the wall upon which hung the television, I loved the room that housed me during my last three nights in Kolkata. When I got in last Friday, I was being hosted at a guesthouse on the 20th floor of the third tower within a bizarre, pretentious township in the eastern part of the city. The view from one end was somewhat spectacular, dozens of water bodies and numerous intervening patches of green, but what I saw from the window in my room were aspirational, landscaped lawns that felt disconnected from everything around it. I felt stranded in the middle of nowhere. Every familiar Kolkata institution was miles away.
After two nights there, I was elated to leave. I decided I'd never agree to stay there again, come hell or high water, even though the room was large and the bed massive. At 8.30 am on day three, I exited the Urbana township and made my way to Howrah station, with a pit stop near Gole Park so I could drop off my bags at The Residency, where I'd booked myself a four-night stay at an excellent, enviable rate in the room I would come to love. I dropped off my luggage, checked in, headed out to Howrah station to catch my 10.10 am train to Santiniketan. I'd decided on Saturday to spend a night at the campus of the university instituted by Rabindranath Tagore. It had been a long-time dream. One day was too little time for a multi-acre, historic university, this I knew, but this trip was more like a recce for my forthcoming trip in February next year. So I allowed myself to explore it at ease, mostly choosing to spend my time at an exhibition at Nandan Kalabhavan that featured photographs from various archives as part of the fine arts department's ongoing centennial celebrations. I spent the night at Ratan kuthi, a guesthouse built with funding from Ratan Tata. I loved that there was a portrait of Tagore in my room, but everything else felt wrong. If the bed could be repositioned, there'd be enough space on one side for the cupboard, and on the other for the dressing table. The domestic itinerant in me felt tempted to redecorate, but I talked myself out of it. I dealt with the white light like I do in all hotel rooms now, I plugged in my copper-wire-strung LED lights into the USB port of my phone charger and hung it near the bed-side table so it functioned like a night lamp. I managed to create an atmosphere.
When I returned to Kolkata the next day, I parked myself at the shelf-desk in my room at The Residency. I had an urgent deadline. I would reward myself at 8 pm by meeting a dear friend's cousin for drinks and a bite. That was my incentive. So I fashioned my LED lights so it framed the TV. I put the second string into a glass. I began writing. By 7.20 pm, I was done, all 1,800 words of my piece. The next two days would end up being intense, with up to three studio visits a day in scattered parts of the city. Each night I returned to my room and felt an unprecedented ease. I began to theorise if there might be such a thing as residual hotel-room energy. I wondered who might have inhabited this room before me. Why was it that I felt inclined towards being productive. That I slept extremely well and woke up always well rested, a little before my alarm rang? I also felt incredibly safe in the hotel, the staff were superbly well mannered. Maybe I just felt proud about having got a good deal on a well located hotel — I was right at Hindustan Park, close to Byloom, the handicrafts boutique and Sienna, a hip new cafe, none of which I had time to visit. Maybe I felt an excitement because this was the first time I was consciously doing 'field work' for my upcoming book premised entirely on my visits to South Asian artists' studios, and this was my first expense, even if it was modest. Previously I'd always managed my studio visits while I was invited to cities for various reasons and I'd stay back in friend's homes. This time I chose to be independent. I chose to allow myself the possibility of solitude when I returned from a hectic day.
I'm not sure what it was. It feels silly to make so much of it. There was no stellar view; the window looked out into someone's terrace garden, and so I had the sense of other lives being lived in close proximity to my solitude. Perhaps I'll never know. I loved the idea, though, of making this a potential outpost when I next return to the city. I know some artists and photographers who do that with frequently inhabited establishments. In my hubris I mused that one day, hopefully in the not-so-long-distant future, some female writer might seek to check in to this very room — 304 — just to feed off my residual energy. I left enough of it behind.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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