Asia

Sri Lanka's famous Galle Face Hotel doorman dies

In this photograph taken on February 6, 2010, Sri Lanka's legendary doorman, Kottarapattu Chattu Kuttan holds his palms in a traditional greeting, outside the island's historic 146-year-old Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kottarappu Chattu Kuttan was a Colombo institution

A doorman who worked for 72 years at the most famous hotel in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, has died aged 94.

Kottarappu Chattu Kuttan, who had started as a waiter, never retired from his job at the Galle Face Hotel.

Guests would be greeted at the grand seafront entrance by the diminutive Mr Kuttan with his palms pressed together in the traditional greeting.

White-haired with a handlebar moustache, the diminutive figure also sported badges from all over the world.

Mr Kuttan had emigrated from his native Kerala in southern India aged 18 in 1938 after the death of his parents.

Looking for work, he crossed to what was then Ceylon by boat, starting in domestic employment in Colombo and joining the Galle Face in 1942.

The 150-year-old hotel is renowned for its illustrious list of past guests, and Mr Kuttan met many of them.

"Ceylon… was a different country then. Famous people like Emperor Hirohito, Richard Nixon, Sir Laurence Olivier and George Bernard Shaw came and stayed with us," he told Agence France-Presse in 2010.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Kuttan carried on greeting guests almost until his death

He also met Lord Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Princess Elizabeth - and the Bond girl, Ursula Andress. And he saw a Japanese fighter-plane crash-land in the grounds during World War Two.

'People would notice him'

Sanjeev Gardiner, the hotel's chairman, told the BBC it was a "truly sad day".

He said the employee had almost retired after finishing as a waiter in the 1980s but was kept on at the front entrance where he "found his true calling".

"People would notice him," said Mr Gardiner.

He recalled the company suggesting, and funding, a trip back to Kerala for his employee, many decades after he had last seen India. Mr Kuttan still had family there including two sisters.

"If they treat me nicely I'll stay, otherwise I'm coming back tomorrow," he recalled Mr Kuttan as saying. In the event he stayed 10 days.

Mr Gardiner says that after his father and predecessor as chairman, Cyril Gardiner, died in 1996, Mr Kuttan came to the funeral and to every subsequent memorial service, once a year.

"That says a lot about his character."

Mr Kuttan's Sri Lankan wife, who was a Christian, died some years ago and in latter years a grand-daughter looked after him.

He had been ill for his final months but remained on the Galle Face Hotel staff.

The hotel held a minute's silence as a tribute to Mr Kuttan, a devout Hindu, who will be cremated on Wednesday.

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