Hotel Shyamprakash: A Love Story

July 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm (Personal Essay, Santosh Ojha)

 

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Hotel Shyamprakash used to be a prominent sight on Infantry Road, right opposite the Indian Express building. Bangalore’s reckless real-estate restructuring  saw the hotel razed down to the ground. A monstrous multistoried building stands in its place now. What a pity!

 

Shyamprakash had that charming feature which once was a hallmark of Bangalore – an open-air restaurant where you could drive in and have a snack, sitting either in your car or in the restaurant.

 

The hotel also offered an inexpensive lodging facility (a rarity in today’s Bangalore) right in the heart of town. The company which hired me as a management trainee had its head office on Cunningham Road. So it made sense to stay at Shyamprakash, which was just a stone’s throw away.

 

I was on a month’s project in Bangalore as part of my training program. Although  hot idli-vada with delicious sambhar for breakfast was a big draw in itself, Shyamprakash’s  prime attraction for me was its spacious open-air restaurant. Much more than the  food, the Kannada and Hindi film songs played by a live band there, made my dinner time something to look forward to.

 

I would reach the restaurant every evening around eight and spend hours drinking beer and nibbling food. The live band was a veritable crowd puller. The lead singers – a young man and a lovely lady whose voice bore a very close resemblance to Asha Bhosle’s – were remarkably good. Together they would sing some great Kishore-Asha duets of the 70s.

 

The band entertained requests from patrons. The steward would pass written requests to the stage through a waiter. No guarantee though that the band would oblige. Requests could come in too late down the queue. Or, the band might not even have the song in their repertoire.

 

While I was keen to request for some of my favorite Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle songs, I don’t know why I would feel shy to do so. One day I summoned up enough courage and passed on a request to the stage. The song I wanted to hear was a classic Asha Bhosle solo, one of my favorites. It goes like Baag mein kali khile, bagiya mehki… It has a Malayalam version ( Saagara) too which featured in Ramu Kariat’s Chemmeen, one of the finest films to come out of Kerala.This relatively obscure gem was composed by one of the true geniuses of Indian music industry – Salil Choudhary.

 

An hour elapsed and there was still no sign of the song. I had nearly given up. As I was about to leave, a little disappointed at my failed maiden request, I heard a familiar tune – the opening strains of Baag mein… I looked back at the stage. Lo and behold! The Asha Bhosle of Shyamprakash was on stage with her lyrics- notebook in hand, getting ready to sing the song. I was thrilled to bits!

 

The next evening, I landed earlier than usual, and occupied my favorite table. Emboldened by my previous evening’s success with the request, I asked for the same song again. The crowd had not yet built up. My request was met with in the next 15 minutes. Evening after evening, the same routine followed.

 

One day, I was preoccupied with some thoughts and forgot to ask for my daily fix. And yet the familiar strains of Baag mein… started wafting. My presence among the diners was enough of a prompt for the singer to croon that number. No request was needed!

 

I later questioned the waiter who served my table on how the singer could figure out the person behind that routine request. He explained that after the third consecutive day of the same request, the singer had asked the waiter who this request came from. The waiter pointed out to her the mystery man!

 

My work in Bangalore got over after a few weeks. I relocated to another city  for a few months only to return to Bangalore for good. This time around, I took a paying guest accommodation. One evening, on an impulse, I decided to visit the hotel with a friend. Was the band still playing there? Were the Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar of  Shyamprakash still around?

 

I reached the hotel and it was great to hear the familiar voice singing as we entered the restaurant. No sooner had we settled down, I asked for the request slip and placed the old request again. Soon enough, Baag mein … filled out the restaurant, sounding as good as ever!

 

And then something happened during the break! The familiar waiter came to me and requested me to follow him outside the restaurant. I was wondering what was going on! I was led to a corner where the band members were taking a break. There they were, the Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar of Shyamprakash!

 

“Hi! My name is Krishna and this is Sabrina,” said  the Kishore Kumar of Shyamprakash.

“Hi,” I mumbled.

“So, you are the one who had only one song to request?” asked Sabrina.

“Yes,” I said, thoroughly perplexed.What were these guys up to?

 

Krishna took out an envelope from his jacket pocket. “May I know your name, Sir?” he asked.

 

He neatly wrote my name on the envelope and gently handed it over to me saying “Mr. Ojha, Sabrina and I are getting married next Sunday. We would be delighted if you could come.”

 

“Are you surprised?” Sabrina asked softly.

 

“As a matter of fact, I am!” I replied.

 

Krishna shyly explained, “When you used to visit Shyamprakash earlier, my friendship with Sabrina was blossoming into something special. But we’re not sure about the nature of the evolving relationship. It was your daily request for a particular song that lent both expression  and direction to our feelings. We discovered the emotional depth of that impossibly romantic song together!”

 

Sabrina added with a smile, “The song that has bound Krishna and me together links back to you. You are special to us! Please do come and bless our union this Sunday.

 

I could not, unfortunately, attend their wedding reception. I hope Sabrina and Krishna are happy in whatever they are doing, wherever they are.

 

– Santosh Ojha.

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1 Comment

  1. lala said,

    why does life have to intervene in a perfect story ending…

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