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“Pic of the Week”, January 9, 2015: Kuttan, the face of Colombo’s Galle Face Hotel

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I’ve previously written about my travels to Sri Lanka to visit my favorite author and friend, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.  After the long journey to Sri Lanka from America, I enjoyed settling in at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, a charming Colonial era building adjoining the Indian Ocean, before traveling elsewhere on the island.  This hotel was where Arthur wrote most of his last novel in the Odyssey series, 3001: The Final Odyssey.  It was also among the only places that enticed Arthur to leave the comfort and convenience of his home to join me for dinner or a drink, or to watch the sunset.

I meet many fine people in Sri Lanka during these visits.  One of the first I got to know was Mr. Kuttan. Simply known as ‘Kuttan’, he was the doorman and official greeter of the Galle Face Hotel.  He’d be the one who’d come to your car as it rolled into the driveway to open the car door for you.  Palms pressed together in front of his chest, he’d bow slightly, then help guide you and your bags to the lobby and reception desk.  Kuttan didn’t speak any English, at least not that I ever heard, but his welcoming smile and gracious manner were appreciated by thousands of the Galle Face’s guests over his many years of service to the hotel.  Short of stature, he more than made up for it with his big smile and gracious manner.  He enjoyed posing for photos with guests and became somewhat of a local celebrity.

Many famous people have visited the Galle Face and Kuttan had a chance to greet most of them, and was proud that he had.  Besides Sir Arthur C Clarke, Kuttan had welcomed Emperor Hirohito, President Richard Nixon and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Always looking distinguished, Kuttan’s uniform was a white jacket with shoulder embroidery and white sarong.  In his last years he proudly displayed an assortment of pins on his jacket given him by travelers from around the world.  He was a good looking man, with a grand handle-bar mustache.  He might have been the most loyal employee anyone ever had, because he worked for 72 years at the Galle Face Hotel.  Kuttan never retired, and I know he loved his work.  Sadly he will not be going to work anymore because he recently died at the age 94.

Kuttan always welcomed me on my arrival in his usual manner.  He’d smile and then instead of guiding to reception took me to the bust of Sir Arthur in the hotel’s lobby.  He’d point at the bust, then at me, then at the bust.  I understood these gestures as his way of letting me know he understood I was there to visit Arthur, so I’d smile and nod “yes”.  Kuttan would also smile and bow and resume his duties by the driveway.

Farewell Kuttan,  I hope someone opened that final door for you.  You’ve certainly earned it.

(More about Khutan at this link.)

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