The ‘Shashi Kapoor Room’ in Kolkata – a Living Memorial

As the nation bid teary farewell to Shashi Kapoor, Kolkata’s Fairlawn Hotel bemoaned the loss of a good human being.

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4 min read

The decor of Room 17 at Fairlawn Hotel in central Kolkata is like a snapshot from the past: the old flower vases, the marble-top table and the mahogany chairs. But what attracts your attention is a framed, sepia-tinted photograph of one of the hotel’s best-known patrons – Shashi Kapoor.

The spiral wooden staircase in the main hall leads to the first floor, where room no. 17 would look like just another room available on rent. Except, it was here that newly married couple – Jennifer and Shashi – had spent time after getting married in 1958. Thus, it was dubbed as the ‘Shashi Kapoor Room’.

Actor Shashi Kapoor with the manager of Fairlawn Hotel, Rabindra Nath Pal.
Actor Shashi Kapoor with the manager of Fairlawn Hotel, Rabindra Nath Pal.
(Photo: Gurvinder Singh)

On 13-A Sudder Street in Kolkata, the Fairlawn Hotel plunged into deep sorrow and loneliness as the news of the death of the legendary actor Shashi Kapoor came. It was on the lawns of the Fairlawn that Shashi Kapoor had met his future wife for the first time in 1956, while they were traveling with their respective theatre groups.

Kolkata, the city of joy, shared a special bond with Shashi Kapoor. The actor was not just born here, but had also met Jennifer Kendal in the city. He later married her and the couple led a blissful life before her untimely death due to cancer in 1984.

Personal Loss for the Fairlawn Hotel

The staff members of the Fairlawn Hotel were finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that the superstar who was always polite and humble, had bid farewell to the world.

He was fond of the hotel as it reminded him of Jennifer, said Rabindra Nath Pal, the hotel manager who has been working here since 1976.

The Shashi Kapoor Room at Kolkata’s Fairlawn Hotel.
The Shashi Kapoor Room at Kolkata’s Fairlawn Hotel.
(Photo: Gurvinder Singh)
They had stayed in room 17 during their honeymoon. We have named the room after him. He used to stay here during his visits and never preferred any other hotel in the city. He was a very humble and a down-to-earth man. He always chatted with the staff members and was extremely cordial. His demise is a personal loss for us. We have no words to express our sorrow.
Rabindra Nath Pal, Manager, Fairlawn Hotel

Pal says that he had first met the Adonis of Bollywood in the early 1980s, when he had come to the city along with his family to shoot for 36, Chowringhee Lane. Pal recalled that the veteran had stayed in the hotel for 40 days at a stretch to complete the shooting.

The chef, Bishal Ghorai, who has been working at the Fairlawn Hotel for the last 17 years recollected how he was hesitant to approach the actor for a photograph but was soon overwhelmed by his humility after the latter asked him to be comfortable and sit next to him.

We feel so proud to have met the legendary actor. He came here for the last time in 2005 along with his family when his grandson was participating in a sports competition. We always made special food arrangements whenever he came. This hotel was like a family for him.
Bishal Ghorai, Chef, Fairlawn Hotel
Staircase in the hall leading to room 17, famously called the Shashi Kapoor Room.
Staircase in the hall leading to room 17, famously called the Shashi Kapoor Room.
(Photo: Gurvinder Singh)

Prakash Paswan, the chauffeur who used to drive Shashi Kapoor to the studio, remembered that he always used to inquire about the well-being of his family:

It never occurred to me that I was talking to such a big man. He always inquired about my family and children. I will always feel proud that I was able to meet the ace actor. We will cherish these memories forever.

The hotel staff said that Kunal Kapoor, the actor’s son, had last stayed here in 2014.

Glorious Past of the Fairlawn Hotel

Apart from Shashi Kapoor, actors like Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Victor Banerjee and singer Usha Uthup, among several others, have enjoyed the hospitality of the hotel.

The 231-year-old hotel has an illustrious past to its credit. The land on which it stands was first purchased by William Ford, a European from Sheik Ramjan and Bhonay on 27 May, 1781. Spread over an area of over 2 bighas, the main building came up around 1783, several years before Washington DC was declared the capital of the US.

The building was handed over to George Chisholm in 1801 and subsequently it exchanged several hands before coming under the possession of the grandparents of the present owner in 1936.  The owner Jennifer Ann Fowler lives in London.

The hotel has received awards from the Union Ministry of Tourism and a National Award for Excellence in Tourism in 2002.

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

(The writer is a Kolkata-based journalist. He can be reached @gurus3398 .)

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