I have a friend, a successful entrepreneur, who travels for 20 days in a month. Every time she enters a hotel room and shuts the door behind her, her first task is to go around the room, like an apprentice evangelist, ordering “every evil spirit to flee the room in the name of Jesus Christ”. As someone who believes in the existence of good and evil spirits, she’s certain that she was once accosted by a Victorian-era spirit with a tailored ruff in a London hotel room. She offers a logical explanation for her bizarre behaviour—“No hotel is going to reveal the truth about a room. So, it is better to be safe than sorry.”
In 2011, new research at the Columbia University discovered that some people believed that “emotional residue” can occupy an environment, that emotions leave a trace in physical space. Roughly translated, this means that if the previous owners of a physical space were happy, then the emotional residue they leave behind will be that of joy and that this joy could then potentially be felt by the majority of future occupants.
For over two decades, I have stayed in numerous hotel rooms—from luxury to budget. Since I travel solo and abhor twin sharing, I am always the sole occupant of my hotel room. In all this time, I have never had the privilege of meeting any spirits, Victorian or otherwise, not even a comical Casper. Though one of my recurring travel dreams sees me encounter rocker Janis Joplin in room #100 of Hollywood’s Highlands Gardens Hotel. She died here of a drug overdose. I don’t mind imbibing her heavy-duty ‘emotional residue’. Despite its turmoil, it would surely be a creative cape.
Hotel rooms have always made me wonder about the people that were there before me? Who were they? Were they happy or sad? Good or bad? Did they fail or succeed? And the all-important question: did someone die in this room? For long, I have also pondered about the life of a hotel room after the death of someone within its walls. I finally turned to a friend, the manager of a prominent five-star hotel in the country, for answers.
According to him, if a ‘Do not disturb’ sign hangs on a door for more than 12 hours, the front office is instructed to call the room to check on the guest. If there’s no response, the duty manager would physically check on the guest. If there’s no response to his/her knock on the door, the manager, along with the head of security, will enter the room, after noting the time. If they encounter a ‘dead guest (or a ‘still guest’ in hotel parlance), they’d first inform the police and then impose a gag order on the employees. Then begins Operation Sweep-Everything-Under-The-Carpet.
Once the room is handed back to the hotel after police investigations, it is stripped of its furniture and carpets and is then deep-cleaned and repainted. Some hotels in India even conduct a Ganesh Puja as part of their cleansing ritual. The number of the room is changed and then thrown open for business. Initially, the room and those adjacent to it are let out only to foreign guests. The logic here is simple—chances of them learning about the death from media reports are less likely. Some hotels convert the room into a gym or administrative office for some time before turning it back into a guest room.
For a traveller, a hotel room is both intimate and foreign. It is not as familiar as home because you have no attachment to it. Yet, it is a home away from home for a duration of time. To me, a hotel room has always been a beautifully designed, well-kept compact home, a haven of self-discovery, adventure and learning. Standing in the middle of a 600 square-foot room in a boutique hotel, I realised, I had everything I’d ever want—a bed to snooze, a writing corner, space for dining, a corner to entertain visitors, a closet to hold my clothes, a toilet and shower, a television, a phone, Wi-Fi, flowers, pleasing artwork, and a picturesque window outside which was a blue sky. And the predominant emotion/energy in the room (as always) was that of joy—my own emotional response to a day of travel and discovery, not somebody’s emotional residue. That’s the thing. The energy in your hotel room is always yours and yours alone.