Through both peace and turmoil, this century-old building in the middle of old Dhaka has been a proud sanctuary for many of our most famous minds.
The name Beauty Boarding may sound like your convenient neighbourhood hair salon, but to many cultural figures, this place has a much deeper significance. If you read Bangla literature, you may have heard of it, as it has made an appearance in various works.
Beauty Boarding was the historical hub of the intellectual adda of Bangali littérateurs, politicians, cultural activists and poets. It has been commemorated in their art and biographies.
The hotel and restaurant is a distinctive two-storied old building, standing proudly in the middle of old Dhaka. A witness of bygone times, Beauty Boarding is far from losing its charm. It still has the power of inspiration for creative minds, and a perfect place for adda over the simple and hearty Bangali food it serves.
Age before Beauty
The property belonged to a zamindar named Shudheer Das. The spread of the grounds is in the style of a typical zamindar house. It has an open central courtyard flanked by a long veranda attached to the bedroom and living apartments, with a separate section for the dining and drawing rooms.
Before Partition in 1947, the building was used as the office of the daily newspaper Shonar Bangla. By 1951, due to political turmoil, the newspaper owner moved his office to Kolkata and abandoned the property.
Soon after the newspaper left, the property was rented by local neighbour Nalini Mohon Saha, who thought of starting a restaurant and hotel business.
Due to its location in a busy neighbourhood of Banglabazar, which has long been the centre of book publishing, printing and stationery wholesaling, Nalini’s initiative got a great response from the very beginning.
It attracted book traders from all over the country who made regular trips to Banglabazar, and often had to stay overnight.
Nalini named the boarding house after his eldest daughter, Beauty.
Nalini named the boarding house after his eldest daughter, Beauty.
Shahid Qadri, eminent poet and writer of post-1947 modern Bangla poetry, visited Beauty Boarding and asked one of his friends to come over for a chat during his stay there.
That was Beauty Boarding’s first illustrious adda. Gradually the word spread, and more and more names from the cultural arena started to gravitate towards the place. After that there was no looking back.
The availability of tea and snacks at modest rates, accompanied by the calm greenery of the surrounding gardens, attracted people who sought a homey environment for thinking and writing in serenity.
During his stays there, poet and writer Syed Shamsul Huq wrote his novels Ek Mahilar Chhobi (Portrait of a Woman, 1959), Anupam Din (Best Days, 1962), Simana Chhariye (Beyond the Bounds, 1964). The script for the very first Bangla talkie film, Mukh O Mukhosh, was also written by director Abdul Jabbar Khan in the yards of Beauty Boarding.
Legendary poet Nirmalendu Goon made it his home for almost five years, and his autobiography includes a special mention of this place.
Painter Debdas Chakrabartee, and the poets Shamsur Rahman, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Rafiq Azad and Al Mahmud were among the many who had their evening tea here.
Even the beloved magician Jewel Aich lived in Beauty Boarding when he first came to Dhaka.
All in the family
Nalini initially ran his business with the help of his younger brother Prohladh Chandra Saha. During the Pakistan period, Nalini decided to move to Kolkata with his family, leaving Prohladh with the authority for the business.
In 1971, Prohladh and 17 others – including guests, staff, and some of Prohladh’s friends – were abducted by the occupying Pakistani army and killed.
He was survived by his two sons and wife, who left the country during the Liberation War. They returned after the war, and the business was restarted by Prohladh’s widow. It was then handed over to Tarak Saha, Prohladh’s eldest son, who has been running the business since 1978.
The beauty of Bangali food
Whenever someone mentions the food of old town, the first thing that typically comes to mind is Mughlai delicasies. The cuisine served at Beauty Boarding, however, is of a more home-grown variety. Everyday its restaurant cooks up delicious, authentic-flavoured classics such as shorshey ilish (hilsa fish cooked in mustard sauce), gulsha fish gravy, chicken, spicy lentil soup, vegetable curry and steamed rice – all served in stainless steel plates and glasses.
Two people can feast on a lunch of fish, chicken, lentil, vegetable, and dessert, all for only Tk400.
The restaurant serves lunch to around 120-150 people daily. Book traders still come here for business. Other regulars include neighbours and visitors from new Dhaka, who also frequent Beauty Boarding for its healthy and authentic “Bangali Bhoj” (feast).
For those who fancy an overnight stay, there is a total of 25 rooms in the hotel: 12 single-bed rooms at Tk200 and 13 double-bed rooms at Tk300.
Board of Beautians
The current owner Tarak Saha was a little boy when his mother captained the business. He grew up hearing stories about the addas of the famous personalities who frequented the hotel over the years.
The lost tales from his uncle were somewhat revived when Tarak took the initiative to reunite those writers and poets, who had spent a good amount of quality time here in Beauty Boarding. In 1994, the reunion of those old “Beautians” inspired them to form a community of Beauty Boarders, who get together here to share fond old memories.
In 1995, they formed an official association under the banner of Beauty Boarding Shudhee Shongho. It also has a 60-member trustee board that has been honouring former “Beautians,” as they call themselves, since 2000.
Reviving a tradition
Although this old Dhaka hotel is is no longer a hotspot, it has not lost its touch. A group of young poets from Dhaka regularly meet at the Beauty Boarding premises. It has also been used as a venue for several exhibitions.
Tarak Saha dreams to recreate the vibrant intellectual adda scene that took place during the Pakistan period and after independence.
While flipping through an autograph book signed by at least 300 renowned personalities who had been guests at the hotel, Tarak says: “I hope to create a platform for young people who can come here and sit for hours and have a productive time.”
He plans to start construction of a library in the hopes of attracting more readers and thinkers.
Tarak admits: “The adda that used to take place here may not be possible in the same manner, as writers no longer need to come to Banglabazar for the printing of scripts. Technology has brought so much change.”
Today, the building and its establishment stands unchanged by time, proud of its legacy. The banner bearing the names of its writers and poets is one of the first things one sees upon entering the office room.
Tarak also plans to build a monument honouring the 17 martyrs who were killed by the Pakistani army, and install a plaque with all the names of the famous guests Beauty Boarding has hosted over the years.
For a trip down the memory lane of some of our nation’s greatest minds, Beauty Boarding – its corridors, hallways and restaurant – is definitely worth visiting.Shared from Dhaka Tribune