International Writers Magazine: India: Hotels
personal goodbye to Broadlands Lodge in Chennai and its"No Indians"
must have stayed in over 140 hotels and guesthouses throughout
India since first coming here in 1995, from big-city cockroach
infested pits to stylishly appointed Rajasthani lodges: the good,
the bad and the downright ugly. However, one place stands head
and shoulders above the rest and is an institution among foreigners
on the traveller circuit in India. The Broadlands Lodge in the
chaotic Triplicane area of Chennai is a former Nawabs residence,
dating back to at least 1850.
Broadlands is a
beautiful but crumbling place, and peeling paint and flaking plaster
are its hallmarks. There is a fine line between old world charm
and crumbling dereliction, but as far as Broadlands is concerned,
the former definitely applies. It is an oasis of serenity in what must
be one of the most hectic cities in the world. Someone once wrote that
it looks like a heritage hotel that is having a bad day. I might further
add that it is a lawsuit waiting to happen, given its rickety banisters
and falling plaster. Its tree-shaded courtyards, decaying wooden blue-painted
balconies and sunlit verandas hark back to more genteel times. Walk
through the door and you no longer feel as though you are in Chennai.
The squawking crows, squealing chipmunks and serene bats contrive to
give the impression that you could be in a remote country retreat, rather
than in a city-based lodge.
Outside, above the entrance, a sign says Welcome, Namaste, pray
stay at this worthy lodge
but only if you are in possession
of a foreign passport. Indians are not so welcome at Broadlands Lodge.
An apparent No Indian policy seems to be quite
strictly enforced, whereby only Indians in possession of a foreign passport
may stay. Many rickshaw drivers in the city know it as the firang
place. The Lonely Planet guidebook omitted it from its main edition
a few years ago, partly in response to this.
Krishna Rao, owner and grandson of the founder, says that he chooses
his guests carefully and denies that discrimination exists. However
I have only ever seen a handful of Indian people ever make it through
the door over the years. Here is another fine line: between being selective
and outright discrimination. All forms of social exclusion are divisive,
and arguably Broadlands policy of selectivity
harks back to the colonial era, like the architecture itself. But this
time the rules are being made and enforced by Indians themselves.
The owner and staff reckon they are dubious about letting Indians in
for a variety of reasons, of which Ive heard many during the past
nine years. According to Krishna, rowdy behaviour was a problem back
in the 1970s before Broadlands became more selective. However,
other hotels in the area readily accept both Indians and foreigners,
and lets face it, some foreign backpackers are experts in the
art of excess by partying throughout the day and night. Another reason
that has been given is that many residents stay long term, studying
yoga, music or other aspects of Indian culture; if Indian people were
allowed, guests would not be allowed sufficient personal space or privacy.
A further explanation for being selective is that the place
has communal showers and toilets, and this can involve women walking
to and from the facilities, perhaps dressed in the barest essentials.
It is felt that as the norms and values surrounding gender and sexuality
are different in India, this may cause problems.
Finally, the owners want to ensure that there are always places available
for foreigners who travel large distances to come to India.
Foreigners who stay at Broadlands are often apalled by the owners
selectivity. They do not feel inclined to boycott the place,
however, as the ambience is so magnetic. They stay there despite the
attitudes of those who run it, certainly not because of them. I have
been no different.
However, Broadlands may take some comfort by knowing that elsewhere
in India the same policy exists. In fact, there seems to be an unwritten
law that particular hotels are for foreigners only. This applies to
numerous hotels and guest houses throughout Goa and in the Paharganj
area of New Delhi, where many foreigners rent rooms. The same policy
of selection sometimes exists, but is never formally stated. The Anoop
Hotel, Hare Krishna Hotel and the Ajay Hotel on the Main Bazaar in Delhi
all seem to operate in this manner. The Evergreen Hotel in Jaipur is
a huge, sprawling place with beautiful gardens, but they do not let
locals in and have not done so in 25 years or so.
When questioned by myself about this, many owners cite problems about
letting in undesirables, who stay simply because
there are foreigners staying. Other hotels in India have official signs
stating No Israelis because of the reputation for rowdiness
or rudeness to both Indians and foreigners that certain Israelis develop
as they travel through India. So in fact discrimination exists throughout
the traveller circuit in India.
the advent of guidebooks and mass tourism, travellers stayed as
guests in peoples homes or, if available, in basic lodges,
eating local food and mingling with local people. These days, partly
thanks to various guidebooks, traveller ghettos now exist: foreigners
tend to stay in areas where restaurants serve banana pancakes
and Western menus, where other foreigners congregate and where hotels
and lodges accept only foreign tourists. This is a damning indictment
of modern travel.
As far as Broadlands is concerned, would Indians be prepared to
pay between 230 to 450 rupees per night for quite basic, often run-down
and crumbling rooms, when better quality exists throughout the city?
Some cynics would say that it is foreigners who are losing out and
being taken for a ride when they stay at Broadlands!
I fell in love with
Broadlands when I first visited Chennai in 1997, and over the years
I have come across some of the most eccentric and wonderful people.
For instance, Johannes from the Netherlands is one of the most interesting
people I have ever encountered, with his intense quickfire philosophical
ramblings about the meaning of life, death, God, Hinduism
God again. I love Jo. Jo is intervowen with the fabric of the building,
as are indeed so many others. There is also lovely Lise from Copenhagen,
who impressed me so deeply that I ended up dedicating my one and only
book to her. Through them and people like them I have found so much
beauty, humour and warmth with the walls of Broadlands. Unfortunately,
due to the entrenched attitudes of the owners, no Indian person could
ever say the same.
Broadlands is a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. I have
bittersweet memories of the place. Like certain people, some places
are destined to leave a deep imprint even if that is only by
virtue of being a foreigner!
Perhaps unwritten laws should be spelt out and made public.
Just because they exist and are tacitly accepted by many, does not mean
they are right. Hotels exist throughout India where both Indians and
foreigners co-exist in harmony. There may be good reasons for excluding
certain types, but wholescale social exclusion is divisive
and is the thin end of a more sinister mindset. I think this kind of
thing was tried somewhere else before. I know how I would feel if I
approached a hotel in England only to encounter a No British
© Colin Todhunter May 2006
To Write a Bestseller about India
Daze on Triplicane Rd
Colin Todhunter on dysentry
Colin Todhunter in India
End in Chennai
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