Mission Delhi - Murari Lal, Sunny Guest House

Mission Delhi – Murari Lal, Sunny Guest House

Mission Delhi - Murari Lal, Sunny Guest House

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sun sets every evening in Connaught Place (CP). But the sun refuses to set in CP’s Sunny Guest House. More than fifty years old, the upper-floor lodge is a lesser-known but lasting CP institution, continuing to survive even as many places of its kind have shut shop in the colonial-era district. It found a honourable mention in the third edition of Lonely Planet India (1993), then titled India: A Survival Kit.

The longtime landmark has its own longtime living landmark—its “room boy,” the venerable Murari Lal (real name: Brij Lal). In his 60s, he has been with the guest house since 1985. “I had come to Delhi from Moradabad in search of work, found a job in a garment export factory in Okhla, later I landed here,” he says, with chin up, arms crossed. This afternoon, Murari Lal (see photo) is standing by the reception desk, being manned by the guest house’s new manager Rishabh. This young man with a tattooed arm remarks that all the nine rooms are currently occupied. Murali Lal notes that “earlier most guests used to be foreign backpackers.”

The guest house is quiet, the only sound is the deep whirring of the staircase’s air cooler. The staircase winds down into the lane outside through a discreetly positioned door, beside which a fading painted text warns of “touts and misleading information.” Much has altered in the CP side-lane outside the guest house. Many similar guest houses shut down one by one. Murali Lal lists some of the names, taking time to dig each out from his memory: Asian Guest House, Gandhi Guest House, Ringo Guest House, Sona Rupa Guest House. Ringo enjoyed a cult status among the foreign backpackers in the 1980s and 90s; sleeping on a rooftop charpoy used to cost 40 rupees.

Illustrating the duties of a “room boy,” Murari Lal explains the typical tasks of a hotel housekeeper—making the bed, replenishing the supplies etc. The elderly man confirms he has remained a “room boy” through the years. “This job has provided dal-roti to me and my family for many years.”

Soon the sun will start to set, and Sunny’s “room boy” will board bus no. 602 for his home in Vasant Vihar.

[This is the 579th portrait of Mission Delhi project]