My friend Kapeesh is an enterprising guy. Of course Kapeesh is not his real name, which I'm withholding to maintain our friendship. He's the owner of a home-stay in a well-known coastal town near the Kerala capital.
He has been pestering me to visit his facility for quite some time, which I finally did the other day. The visit was instructive.
A little background info is in order. Kapeesh bought the home-stay property three years ago with the money he had made during his decade-long stint in the Gulf. He got 20 cents of land and a dilapidated house at a throwaway price because the previous owner of the property had hung himself from a ceiling fan in the house. The debt-ridden family desperately wanted to dispose it of but there were few takers for it.
Then Kapeesh visited them one day and struck the deal. The property, surrounded by shacks and resorts of all hues, is about a kilometre from the beach. He made some modifications to the house and converted it into a home-stay. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now it looks like a century-old villa, complete with tiled roofs and whitewashed walls. The musty smell of decaying carpets and phenol greets you as you enter the front room where the receptionist sits. The walls are adorned with cheap paintings and Ravi Varma reprints. The vintage furniture are all made of bamboo and ratan cane.
"The foreigners just love this heritage feel," Kapeesh mused.
He took me to a small room adjacent to the reception. It was stacked with seashells, beads, peacock feathers and other trinkets. Kapeesh confided that it was a lucrative business.
One trinket caught my eye. It looked like a glazed horn of a buffalo. Kapeesh confirmed that it was indeed the polished horn of a buffalo. He said it was in great demand. It is touted as the horn of a mythical animal called 'mahisha' that roamed this planet in ancient times.
"Something like your unicorn, you know!"
Many a gullible foreigner gets conned and shells out Rs 500 for it, unaware that the mythical mahishas are alive and kicking in nearby dairy farms.
The rooms have a strong stench of decay. The cots, tables and chairs, which I'm sure he got from scrap dealers, looked ancient. None of the half a dozen rooms is bath attached but he charges a daily rent of Rs 3,000 during the peak season, Kapeesh told me.
One room is special. He pointed to the ceiling fan in it and told me that the former owner had hung from it. The room is called "ghost room" and he charges Rs 5,000 for a night there in the company of the deceased.
"You mean you tell the guests about the suicide?" I asked.
"Oh yes, many are excited and want to spend the night there. When they come in groups, they take turns to sleep in that room," he said with a grin.
The Indian style bathrooms and toilets are common for all guests. A pungent smell of phenol wafted from them.
"Westerners just love this heritage ambience," Kapeesh repeated.
A large wooden box with a hole in the upper lid was placed outside a bathroom. "That's for steam bath," Kapeesh said.
"Quite rudimentary," I observed.
"That's what the foreigners want," he reiterated. "I arrange ayurvedic massage for them. A steam bath after that is invigorating."
It was bemusing to think of bulky foreigners sweating it out in that wooden contraption for a "heritage feel."
As I took leave, I was wondering when Kapeesh would hit upon the idea of open defecation to give foreigners a feel of how the bygone generations did business in the open air!