Hotel Ashok Bhavan and the aftertaste of nostalgia


For a small vegetarian hotel, Ashok Bhavan has garnered enduring fanfare. So much so that when the hotel shut shop early this week, the social media was abuzz with posts about the unalloyed delight brought on by a meal at this modest hotel that stood on GB Road in Sulthanpettu, Palakkad. Memories of the unmatched 'sambar vada', 'ghee roast' and 'masala dosa' were posted, shared and retweeted - like an aftertaste that one refuses to wash down.

The people of Palakkad received the news of Ashok Bhavan's closing down with mixed emotions. For some, it signalled the march of a generation of football-worshippers into their twilight years. The owners of the hotel, Divakaran and Sudhkaran, were themselves among the early footballers from the district. "There was a time when star football players of Palakkad gathered at our hotel every evening. There was great banter, almost always about the game and the fans would sit around and listen," remember the brothers.

To the regulars, the closing of Ashok Bhavan is like tearing off a page from their growing up years. Back in the days when hotel visits were rarer and much anticipated, many a child growing up in the district thought of trips to Ashok Bhavan as the ultimate indulgence. The tidy interiors, the large hall decked up with rows of tables and chairs, the 'family' room - which meant you and your family sat in a crammed but exclusive room while other visitors shared the large hall, the luxury of the air-conditioned dining hall upstairs - the hotel cultivated not just a taste for good food but the aesthetics of it as well.

Hotel Ashok Bhavan and the aftertaste of nostalgia

As the years rolled by, the brothers struggled to have the hotel live up to the high standards set by their father when he opened it in 1956. For almost four decades after the sons took over, it seemed as if Ashok Bhavan could go on forever without making a single change to the menu or the setting. But then, time did catch up and some of the old timers had to leave on account of failing health. When old chefs left and new recruits took over, the classic Ashok Bhavan recipes became a casualty.

But the regulars kept coming, for it had never been just about food. On the last day too, up until the moment the shutters were down, people kept walking in - for their favourite kind of dosa or coffee or simply to savour the taste of years gone by. And just like that, from the beginning of this June, Ashok Bhavan became a cherished aftertaste of nostalgia.

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