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Hotel Sea Green (& South)

Artist Blog by Akshay Mahajan

In my exploration of the city's layered narratives, I delve into its micro-histories through a series titled "The Sea Green (& South)," part of the larger theme "To die is to be turned to gold". This chapter is crafted as a diary, organized by room numbers and portrayed by our protagonist. Each room is depicted through multi-image collages, paired with text and found objects, revealing the transient and mundane aspects of urban life. These spaces serve as a canvas for bygone notions and everyday anachronisms, capturing the essence of transformation - where the ordinary becomes precious, much like turning to gold. It's an homage to the act of creating poignant memories out of the emptiness, celebrating how in the quiet solitude of these rooms, the forgotten is reborn and cherished.

The Sea Green South - Suite 213

It’s the kind of establishment that keeps guest books. Oversized, heavy, handbound, and gold embossed with an art deco font that reads “Sea Green South”. The night manager manoeuvred the dark green register and slid it diagonally towards me in a precise, well-rehearsed fashion. I could imagine the white-gloved hands of his predecessors, deftly leafing through the officious green pages over the years. My turn to “make an entry” to questions for which I possess no answers. Under the column Profession, I scribble ‘journalist’, for some reason, knowing it couldn’t have been truer if I had said, a magician. Coming from? Somewhere. Going to? Who knows. Purpose of travel? To clandestinely photograph this lime green art-deco monolith, but unsure how. There is probably an old cupboard in the back with hundreds of these guest books, going back to the inception of this building, where people pretend to be other than themselves, if only for the briefest of motivations. To fill an answer in a column, or things unsaid; for how is one to condense complexity to fit a three-inch space?

S helps me with my bags, dressed in the signature green of the Sea Green South, his shirt monogrammed SGS on the pocket. We climb two flights of stairs, the wooden steps undulated by many feet before ours. Here we are Room 213, the Queen’s Necklace Suite. I tipped S, he was flummoxed as to why I had booked the family room when I was travelling alone. How can one be alone when one’s balcony overlooks Marine Drive; which at this time of night is a kind of living room for lovers, nestling in pairs, neatly practising social distancing without knowing it? The night sky reflects onto the terrazzo floor. Are the speckles stars? Or bits of quartz left over in mixing cement and coloured stone? A varnished teak partition exudes woody warmth, and an Art Deco geometric panel allows the glow of yellow lighting to bleed from one room to another. I can sense the aesthetic logic, a lime green exterior with leafy green highlights giving way to rich autumn browns of the interior, intensified by rusty heavy curtains, rustling in the south-westerly sea breeze.

I fall asleep quickly from the strain of long travel, is that sea salt on my lips or am I dreaming? In the morning, I watch dawn break from my balcony, bare feet drenched by a leaking air-conditioning unit. I had forgotten how the sky turns the deepest shade of azure just before daybreak. In the first light, the Arabian Sea is a kind of murky grey, that if you stare long enough becomes a sea green, organic, warm, and salty soup.

October 5th, 2022.

Sea Green Hotel - Room 401

I’ve spent many a night in a hotel with a famous ghost. At the Ambos Mundos (meaning 'both worlds'), Havana; we honeymooned in Room 513, next door in 511 Hemingway slept his long sleep after spilling his last daiquiri. Our room smelt eerily fruity, who knows which heads had lain upon the pillows before ours.

Grasping death’s hand is one sort of company, a way of knowing one is not alone in time. One January morning in 1948, a man checked into Room 06, at the Sea Green Hotel, under an alias. His three-night stay was marked with many curious comings and goings, and procurement of a Beretta M1934. He would fly to Delhi the day after, and Gandhi had thirteen days to live.

In Room 401, one finds solace in that people have been here before, these walls have borne witness to a gamut of human emotions; machinations, friendships, great loves, and loss. Last night returning inebriated, the teal and beige corridor loomed labyrinthine. As the clock struck midnight, I was half hoping to take a wrong turn and find myself in the 1950s. Perhaps I’d chance upon a young Captain Mahindra (who’d go on to become my grandfather), then recently returned from War, seeking hedonism in Bombay’s Jazz age. Music spills unto the pavements of Churchgate Road, while we sip a cappuccino sweetened with bootlegged rum from a hip-flask. Till we stumble back to his apartment on the first floor of the mustard-yellow Moti Mahal, only for this drunken dream to lift.

I sink into my bed at the Sea Green, seeing more apparitions everywhere. My mind wanders to a childhood memory of an apartment in Queen’s Court. My father’s boarder when he first arrived in Bombay, Mrs Dorothy Ganapaty held court over a large drawing room decorated like Bombay-as-mélange; a mix of influences, combining colonial and modern Art Deco. Maybe it’s a childhood misremembering, but it was an effortlessly postmodern assemblage of objets d’art and neoclassicism. The main object of this echo was Mrs Ganapaty herself. The dedicatee of Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet book “The Best of Hostesses”. I can’t quite grasp her face, but there is this lingering fragrance from some flacon of intricately cut glass. They were the generation, now long past, that erected these buildings in a quest for the modern, or perhaps as a sign of enthusiasm for newly found freedom.

So many phantoms, is it any wonder half of Bombay is preoccupied with feeding crows? The crow symbolises an ancient rhythm, that which links this world of living, to that of the deceased ancestor. There is a shop somewhere, in the western suburbs, that specializes in selling farsan made exclusively for feeding crows. The BMC issued a notice asking denizens not to feed corvids fried snacks. The people rebelled, saying authorities could not stop them from feeding birds from their balconies. For a city that is hardly ever nostalgic, always valuing new over the old, Bombay sure is obsessed with ghosts.

October 7th, 2022

Akshay Mahajan is part of »Guest Room: David Campany & Taous Dahmani«.