Kazi Mobarak Hossain,
Published: 03 Aug 2020 09:48 AM BdST
Updated: 03 Aug 2020 09:56 AM BdST
The city of Dhaka is intrinsic to the history of Bangladesh, just as ‘Beauty Boarding’ is to the country’s capital. The double-storeyed yellow building in Old Dhaka’s Shrishchandra Lane is not only a residential hotel, but a literary and cultural hub of great historical significance.
But with the passage of time, Beauty Boarding began to lose its sparkle as Dhaka developed into a city adorned by plush neighbourhoods and modern amenities.
There was a time when Beauty Boarding was a favourite haunt for noted literary figures, actors, artists, filmmakers and politicians. But those days now seem long gone. Hardly a soul can be found in Beauty Boarding nowadays.
The coronavirus pandemic threatens to hasten its demise as the lodge stopped taking boarders from March this year. The restaurant inside has reopened but very few customers are turning up to dine.
Even recently, people used to throng the boarding house during the Eid holidays but that has not been the case this year, mainly because of the pandemic.
The heritage building now seems to have reached the twilight of its journey.
In the 1940s, a Banglabazar-centred publication industry had emerged in Dhaka. The weekly magazine ‘Shonar Bangla’ had its offices in the house of landlord Sudhir Chandra Das before the partition of India in 1947. This was the magazine that published the first poem of Shamsur Rahman. But Shonar Bangla relocated its office to Kolkata after the partition.
Later in 1949, the Saha brothers — Prahlad Chandra and Nalini Mohan — opened a residential hotel and restaurant in the house vacated by Shonar Bangla.
“Beauty Boarding, sprawling on an 11-katha land, was named after Beauty, the eldest daughter of Nalini Saha,” said Samar Saha, son of Prahlad Chandra Saha.
“During the Liberation War in 1971, Beauty Boarding became the den of the freedom fighters. Bangabandhu would visit the place. I was around 10 years old at the time. When the Razakars (collaborators) became aware of it, the Pakistani forces attacked the boarding house on Mar 28 in 1971, killing 17 people, including my father.”
Prahlad Chandra’s family moved to India but later in 1972, his wife Pratibha Saha came back with their sons Samar Saha and Tarak Saha and reopened Beauty Boarding. Although some of its old charm was lost, the restaurant in the boarding house still attracts food enthusiasts in Dhaka.
To keep up with tradition, food is still served in steel crockeries at Beauty Boarding. The menu includes Bengali cuisine such as rice, curries and lentils both for lunch and dinner. It also offers luchi (deep-fried flatbread) for evening snacks.
The hotel has 22 rooms to offer boarders. A big room is rented out for Tk 1,200 per day while a small room costs Tk 200 to 300. Although the prices are cheap, the rooms mostly remain vacant.
Director Samar Saha
PAST AND PRESENT OF BEAUTY BOARDING
One can find Shrishchandra Lane beside the river Buriganga, just after entering Banglabazar in Old Dhaka and rest their eyes on the mesmerising Beauty Boarding.
The antique structure with a sprawling courtyard at the centre, surrounded by foliage, offers a step back in time.
The adjacent dining area has few photographs of famous people at Beauty Boarding from the back in the old days.
Then there are the bedrooms and the staircase — matching the storybook descriptions of the old palaces of landlords. In one corner, there is a memorial plaque honouring the poet Shamsur Rahman. Further down, another plaque bears the names of all 17 people martyred at Beauty Boarding during the Liberation War.
Since its inception, Beauty Boarding had been the den of famed poets, literary figures, intellectuals, artists, journalists, singers, actors and many others. Those were the golden days for Beauty Boarding
The new generation may not know it, but Beauty Boarding still has the same appeal to those familiar with it, who still make visits.
Beauty Boarding in Old Dhaka rose to prominence in the 1940s. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, poets Jasimuddin, Shamsur Rahman and Syed Shamsul Haque were all among its visitors. Popular filmmaker Abdul Jabbar Khan wrote his script for ‘Mukh O Mukhosh’, the first Bengali movie with sound, at Beauty Boarding. In 1957, poet Fazal Shahabuddin brought out his literary magazine ‘Kobikantho’ from here. Magician Jewel Aich also started his journey there while music composer Samar Das composed many songs sitting in Beauty Boarding.
“Once we all used to rush to Beauty Boarding – a place within the labyrinth of Old Dhaka — only to meet each other,” poet Sahmsur Rahman wrote about his memories of Beauty Boarding. Noted author Syed Shamsul Haque wrote at Beauty Boarding until 1962.
Many regular visitors rue the fact that they are unable to visit Beauty Boarding this year due to the pandemic.
“Some of us have been hanging out at Beauty Boarding from the 1960s. We still meet there once a year and planned to go there this year as well. But that was foiled by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun.
Poet Nirmalendu Goon, who was also a regular visitor to Beauty Boarding, misses going there.
“I used to hang out at Beauty Boarding regularly when I visited Banglabazar for publication works. I used to write while sitting there. Nowadays I don’t go there,” he said.
In 1995, ‘Beauty Boarding Sudhee Trust’ was formed by the people formerly attached to the place. Later in 2003, a 60-strong trustee board was formed with poet Imrul Chowdhury as its convener and Tarak Saha as the member secretary. Through the trustees, Beauty Boarding has been handing out awards to writers, artists, poets and cultural figures since 2005.
“We have suffered a heavy blow from the coronavirus pandemic as only a small number of customers are now turning up. People come here to hang out but no-one helps us. The government hasn’t helped us either,” said Samar Saha, director of Beauty Boarding.
“A certain quarter tried to take over this heritage site that belongs to my forefathers by forging documents,” he added.
The authorities are incurring huge financial losses in trying to maintain the establishment, which is a part of the heritage of Dhaka and the country.
Despite the losses, they are trying their best to keep Beauty Boarding running if only to preserve its heritage, according to Samar. But it won’t be long before the establishment is lost to the annals of history unless the government steps in, he said.