Wednesday, 29 February 2012

White Palace Hotel

27th February

House swifts flutter and dive over Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport as I drop the last of my clients there this evening. With their departure, I move to a modest hotel close to the airport. Hearing the hotel’s name a few days ago, when the booking was made on my behalf by our ground agents in Kolkata, Sujan intoned, ‘It’s a brothel. Out by the airport they all are.’

It looks like one. In fairness it is dazzlingly clean and smells pungently of the many chemicals which are no doubt used to keep it so. Like so many two-and-a-half star Indian hotels, it is decorated in magnificently bad taste, but the people are friendly and I’m well placed for an early start for my flight tomorrow morning.

It turns out it will be a very early start. Tomorrow there is a national strike and if I leave for the airport – five minutes away by road – later than six, I will not make it there for my ten-fifteen flight. Oh India.

There seems to have been a power cut tonight – hardly a headline in India – and twice a thunderous generator has shuddered into life beneath my windows. In the night-dark hiatus between mains power and the generator’s, the twelve brothel lights set into my stuccoed ceiling continue to glow dimly and for a moment I lie beneath an unexpected canopy of stars.

To bed, with Alan Bennett, so to speak. How his Untold Stories and a card in the book with scratchy watercolours of dead bumblebees came into my possession is a story which, now at a safe distance in space, time and emotion, brings me to smile warmly. One of the dead bumblebees is white-tailed Bombus lucorum while another is unmistakably the tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum, a species which only recently was unknown in Britain and now, tearing north through the country apace, has become so commonplace as to feature in bumblebee art.

I have seen or heard no sign of this being in truth a brothel.


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