Kochi: N B Majnu has had it enough. An attempt to overcome the COVID-19 crisis has put the owner of the Ginger House Museum Hotel at Mattancherry in a spot. He is now planning to sell his establishment.
Besides the pandemic-spurred crisis, a concerted effort to tarnish his image for denying a DJ party on the hotel premises has prompted Majnu to sell the hotel. He had prevented the DJ party after being warned that banned drugs might change hands during the event.
It all began with the excise and customs preventive wing jointly inspecting three luxury hotels in the city early this month. Organizers of a DJ party, scheduled to be held in a luxury hotel, changed the venue and tried to organize it at Ginger House the next day, using a fashion show as a cover.
The excise and customs officials contacted Majnu, and asked him to prevent the party since they felt drugs were likely to be distributed at the party. He did as instructed.
Next day onwards, a campaign started, painting Majnu as an associate of a drug mafia. The baseless campaign came as a double whammy to the hotelier, whose business had already been hit by the pandemic.
Hotelier followed the authorities
“They are targeting me since I prevented the DJ party from being conducted using the fashion show as a cover. The customs and excise departments asked me to avoid the DJ party since drugs would be distributed. They also told me that DJ Sajanka’s programme is illegal”, Majnu said.
The hotelier acted as advised. “But a rumour campaign was unleashed, saying I have links with the drug mafia. Some media outlets were also part of the campaign”, he added.
Majnu said neither the Excise nor the Customs had raided his hotel. He asked DJ Sajanka to leave, and did not heed to the organizers’ pressure or offers.
“Is that the mistake I have committed? I have been conducting my business legally and will continue to do, even if I incur huge losses”, he said.
After the incident, the customs gave him a letter of commendation, appreciating his honesty.
Ginger House hosted a DJ party for the first time this year. Majnu said he decided to allow DJ parties after COVID prevented foreign tourists from visiting. He also felt it would be an opportunity to introduce the locals to such parties.
“Two DJ parties were organized without any problem. The same agency, which organized the party, approached me for conducting a fashion show on April 11. They said about 200 to 250 people will attend the show. I sought the permission of the Assistant Commissioner of City Special Branch Police, and it was granted around noon on 11”, Majnu said.
Meanwhile, the organizers informed Majnu that a DJ party, scheduled for the previous day, had been postponed and sought his permission to hold it on his premises. He was also told that around 500 people would attend the event.
“I said no, since the approval granted was only for 200 people. We should again seek the police’s permission to hold a DJ party that would be attended by 500 people, and we were short of time”, he said.
Majnu grew suspicious when the organizers said many tickets for the fashion show were still unsold, and several people attending the DJ party had purchased tickets for the show. The hotelier demanded to sign a contract, saying only the fashion show would be conducted.
The contract was signed immediately. By 3-3.30pm, people started arriving in large numbers. Seeing the people, Majnu suspected that they would hold the DJ party. Around 4.30pm, he received a phone call from the excise inspector, asking if a DJ party was being held in the hotel.
Majnu replied in the negative, saying a fashion was on in the hotel. “After a while, they (excise officials) forwarded a photograph of a man over WhatsApp. It was then I saw Sajanka for the first time”, the hotelier said.
He showed the photograph to the organizers and enquired if Sajanka would be holding a DJ party on the hotel premises. They said he would be playing the music.
Meanwhile, Sajanka had reached the hotel, and Majnu informed the excise officials of his presence. The hotelier was told that the DJ was in India on a tourist visa, and if conducted the party, a case would be registered against the organizers and the hotel owner.
“I told them of the contract signed with the organizers for conducting the fashion show”, Majnu said.
Excise officials reached the hotel around 6pm. By then, participants of the fashion show, too, had arrived. “Meanwhile, customs (preventive) superintendent Vivek sir called me, saying a case would be registered if the DJ party was not prevented”, he said.
Majnu conveyed the information to the organizers, who still were adamant on holding the DJ party. “Sun had set by then, and more than 600 people had gathered at the hotel. I argued with the organizers, but they kept ignoring me. They said the DJ party could not be dropped,” the hotelier said.
The organizers even offered to involve political leaders and senior police officers. They also tried to mislead Majnu, saying the excise and customs had granted permission for the party. “I stood my ground, saying I will allow the party only if Vivek sir (Vivek Vasudevan Nair) of the customs tells me”, Majnu recalled.
Sensing that the situation was getting worse, the organizers wrapped Sajanka in a bedsheet they had taken from the hotel, and took him out through the backdoor. Their plan was to lodge the DJ nearby, and if possible bring him back and hold the party. Even after the DJ had left, they kept announcing the party would be held as scheduled.
When Majnu objected to the announcement, they said it was to keep people in the hotel itself. “Meanwhile, the fashion show had begun. Vivek sir called me again, gave me stern instruction against holding the event”, the businessman said.
Majnu sought the help of Assistant Police Commissioner in Mattancherry when some of the organizers tried to force him into a car. “The customs also intervened. Thankfully, it then started raining. The fashion show was being held in the open garden, and the police sent everyone out by 9pm”, he said.
The hotel sold beer worth Rs 40,000 that night, but the food prepared was wasted.
“I didn’t know who Sajanka was. But the next day onwards, some people started spreading rumours, saying I was part of the drug mafia, and a sex racket operated in the hotel”, Majnu said.
The man, who had started off with a small antiques shop, toiled hard to become a hotelier. He owes his success to the benevolence of Goddess Paramara.
“As a heritage hotel, it’s eligible for a bar licence. I didn’t go for it. I started the beer and wine parlour in February 2020, following the advice of a few friends”, he said.
A success story
Majnu had brought ginger and architecture together to script the success of the hotel, set up by the Kochi backwaters of Kochi. It took him decades of effort to develop the property to the present stage. The century-old building was once a godown, storing spices, mostly ginger.
Even after the godown took the avatar of the hotel, ginger still is its mainstay. Ginger-based special dishes are the hotel’s specialty.
Huge antique collection
Majnu, who graduated in Botany from Sacred Heart College at Thevara in 1981, had worked in a finance firm and fish processing unit, besides simultaneously running a homoeo medical shop. A year after graduation, he started working as a tourist guide on Sundays, and eight years later, founded an antiques shop in 800 sq. ft, space in a building.
As the business grew, the shop expanded to the other parts of the building. Today, the antiques shop and the hotel operate out of an 80,000 sq. ft. building. The godown and the hotel function from adjacent buildings.
Furniture, urns, stone pillars, ornamental wooden pillars, wooden ceiling, parts of temples, sacred idol made of traditional five-metal alloys adore the property. The highlight, however, is the Rs 1 crore idol of the second incarnation of Lord Vishnu, ‘koormam’ or the turtle, made in five-metal alloys.
A 150-year-old altar finished in teakwood is also exhibited. Majnu claimed that this is the largest antique collection in south India, and all has been officially documented by the Archeology Department. He also said he has antiques as old as 400 years old. Besides antiques, he also has an impressive collection of paintings and curios.
Majnu procured 40 cents by the lake from P S Abu, actor Mammootty’s father-in-law, in 2006, after paying only the advance amount. He paid the complete amount years later. Majnu started another antiques shop on the purchased land. In 2007, he opened Ginger House Coffee Shop next to the antiques outlet.
“I hoped that those coming for tea or coffee would visit the antiques shop also”, he said. The shop was profitable.
In 2017, Majnu established the luxury hotel. “Each room has been differently designed. Several people have shown interest in buying the property, but I declined. There won’t be another hotel like this one anywhere in the world”, he said.
A 132-year-old snake-boat brought from Aranmula welcomes the guests to the hotel lobby, adorned by antique furniture. The hall that follows the Chettinad architecture was transplanted from Karakkudi in Tamil Nadu. Parts of a building brought from Karaikal in Puducherry provide a French touch.
A chandelier brought from Holland catches the eye. Antique furniture is stored in eight rooms. The hotel rooms are royal, and the washrooms, modern and washbasins, plated in gold.
Each room measures between 500 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft. Antique furniture adds to the verandahs’ old-world charm. Kochi Lake adds to the tranquility.
“I spent crores, borrowed and otherwise, to set these up. I ignored my wife and children’s opposition. The hotel received the heritage status from the Central tourism department in early 2020”, he said.
Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic prevented foreigners from visiting Kerala. “I tried to attract domestic tourists, and decided to hold DJ parties as part of the decision. Two DJ parties were held without any issues. If they were raided, I would have faced more serious allegations”, Majnu said.
The Ginger House Museum House, which Majnu plans to sell, will cost more than Rs 60 crore. Majnu’s success story has found a place in the book, “Reflections in Tranquility,” by management consultant P Jayaraman.
Other success stories in the book on entrepreneurs are the lives of Metroman E Sreedharan, Kochouseph Chittilappilly, Dr Varghese Kurien, GPC Nair and Mathew Anthraper.
Blessings of Paramara Devi
Before floating the antiques shop, Majnu had a finance company. His father gave the capital, Rs 300. The rent for the antiques shop in 300 sq ft was Rs 300.
Majnu is a devotee of Paramara Devi. “Before I started the antiques shop, I was offered partnership in a finance company where I had worked earlier. I prayed before the Paramara Devi temple with a partnership contract.
I went to the managing director of the finance company with Rs 3,000. He refused to make me a partner since I had been his employee. I returned to the temple, and tore up the contract”, Majnu said.
He later started a small finance company on the floor above the previous firm in the same building. He later acquired the earlier firm.
Majnu and family visit the Paramara temple daily. His wife Neethu, children Vishnu and Lakshmi, children-in-law Gopika and Vishnu have been helping Majnu in his business.
COVID-19 has forced Majnu to close the hotel on April 27. He, however, will open the antiques shop.
“The rooms were going on a rent of $500 - $1,000. COVID scuttled all plans. I didn’t take any advice while designing and decorating the hotel rooms. The washbasins alone will cost several lakhs of rupees. Everything was my decision and ideas. I am facing the backlash for it now”, he said.
The rumour campaign aimed at insulting the hotelier began even as Majnu’s liabilities have been increasing. “I am quitting the hotel business. I have an antiques shop. It will at least provide me peace of mind,” he added.
The disappointment is clear and loud. He had single-handedly developed a world-class hotel without the help of any hotel chain. Majnu, the entrepreneur, is not familiar to Kochiites. His appearance doesn’t help him look like an owner of a Rs 60 crore heritage hotel or the biggest antiques collector in south India.
It’s not known whether foreigners could taste Majnu’s ginger specials in future. It’s not known whether he will be in the heritage hotel either. But Majnu promises to be around in Mattancherry, as a watchman of antiques