Whatever Mr. M. S. Oberoi's new hotel at Nariman Point may turn out to be, I do believe that Calcutta's Oberoi Grand will always remain as the chains' grandest hotel.
I had occasion to stay there recently (courtesy : The Telegraph) and I savoured the experience very much.
From the outside, it is most unimpressive, in fact, it does not exist. You walk down Chowringhee, past little shops selling suitcases and ball-pens and photographic equipment, and suddenly there is an unimposing door, almost exactly like that of the shops alongside and a board saying Oberoi Grand.
You walk through a brief corridor, push past a glass door, and you are in a world of deep, though slightly tatty, carpets, heavy chandeliers, potted palms, the graceful Oberoi charming among them, Delhi the least, though that is compared to the other centres, they are also very good).
The hotel is constructed around a tropical garden with a blue swimming pool framed by palm trees. The rooms, with their ornate balconies, look down on it. The guests stay in the rooms, Calcutta's entire bird-life in the garden.
To reach your room, you walk through several long corridors, some of the longest of any hotel in the world, and when you reach your room, to greet you with the management's compliments are plates of Bengali sweets.
In my case, there was also bottle of Chivas Regal, compliments of the Sarkars of the Ananda Bazar group, generally conceded as the most considerate newspaper employers in the country. And, every morning, there was a packet of all the Ananda Bazar publications, in Bengali and English.
It rained most of the time. I was at the Grand, torrents of rain that half flooded Calcutta, shut down its brand new underground, and made the local residents continuously apologise and explain that the kind of rains we were having were unusual for Calcutta.
Not that apologise were required. It was pleasant sitting in the room and watching the rains descend on the tropical garden outside, listen to the occasional crack of a thunderbolt.
The Grand is like an oasis, literally with its palm trees and waterhold and birds, or like a Xanandu, a pleasure dome, with large ballrooms, intimate reception rooms with ante-chambers, a smoke bar that has been immortalised with the late Desmond Doig's Calcutta scenes on the walls. If ever a, city deserved an artis and vice versa, it has been Desmond Doig and Calcutta.
And, if in distant years, the Oberoi chain will be remembered, it will be for the Oberoi Grand on Chowringhee.