Ritz Ponnu’s Last Supper
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Ritz Ponnu’s Last Supper

June 23, 2024

On Friday around 11 am I got a call. The message was disturbing, unpleasant, “Ponnu uncle passed away.” It was about the death of Ponnu Muthanna, known simply as Ponnu to his friends, the man behind the Pelican Pub, popular eatery and beer pub, on Hunsur Road in Jayalakshmipuram. He was 86.

The news twanged my heart string with a sense of guilt for not seeing him while in the hospital, no matter there were reasons. For some time thereafter I was recalling memories of Ponnu I knew, not very closely but primarily as a known hospitality Guru of Mysuru city since early 1970s. If one wanted to drink and dine it was the iconic Ritz Hotel on Bengaluru-Nilgiri Road. And Ponnu presided over its affairs for many years.

I had first met him in that hotel in the 1970s. I had gone there with my late brother Dr. K.B. Subbaiah and his wife Swajie, who were known to him. We went to see him in his office and I found him poring over an english novel that I had read. It gave me a chance to engage him in conversation. But he was a man of few words. Very soft spoken that one must be very attentive to hear him. When I said ‘beg your pardon,’ he merely brought a faint smile on his rotund face with eyes twinkling. Indeed a gentle soul, I thought.

Later while we were having our dinner he materialised again as from nowhere, holding the same book and spoke to my brother and sister-in-law and left as quietly as  he came. Years passed. Then I learnt he had quit Hotel Ritz and set up a new eatery near my house in Kuvempunagar with an exotic, or call it swanky, name — “Grub House.”

Probably Ponnu’s journey towards becoming a pioneer in setting up hotels was at a time when there were no “consultants” or “experts” in the field. As I could remember he was the idea man and the founder-promoter of some of the later day hotels in Mysuru. And he was known for naming them like no one could imagine. One was “Dew Drop Inn” in Yelwal on Hunsur Road. I was one of the invitees for the evening gala of its inauguration. A generous, persuasive, attentive host. It was an Inn, a new concept like the Motels of America, and the name Dew Drop…. let your imagination go romancing.

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He was too caring to his guests and for his attire he wore only Khadi, as if paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. When I made discreet enquiry about his sartorial preference, the answer was that he was a staunch nationalist (left-liberal intellectual elite may pardon him) and a philosopher-hotelier. I was amused.

However, it did not take many years for me to see him in a new avatar, so to say. He began to wear blue jeans and tucked in shirt. I did not venture to find out from others why this transformation. I asked him this question myself and his answer was a gentle, winning smile that made me shut my mouth. I used to meet him occasionally in some gathering and our conversation would end abruptly after exchanging pleasantries.

Next I heard of him as being engaged in setting up a new hotel in the central district of the city on Sri Harsha Road, again with an apt name “Parklane Hotel,” the hotel being in front of a park, in association with a rich city businessman. The speciality here was the dancing floor, with psychedelic lights et al with loud music for the young boys and girls who bunk classes! Ponnu was the innovative brain behind this venture. He did not forget to invite me for the inaugural. Thank you Ponnu. This hotel became a roaring success but he had to leave it too.

As I know it was time for him to enter the big-league. “The Green Hotel,” formerly the famous Premier Studio on Hunsur Road with the Chittaranjan Palace, as the Director. Indeed he had a midas touch with hotels but seemed to be experimenting. I do not know of other hotels he had fathered but I know that he remained a bachelor all his life.

Probably, the last one he promoted and partnered, this time successfully, was the “Pelican Pub” on Hunsur Road, Jayalakshmipuram. It became a rendezvous for young and beer gulping of our city.

I have heard despite his entrepreneurial pursuits in the field of hospitality industry, in his personal life he had his own philosophy, principles, values, fads and foibles that he would not compromise. In his Ritz days his name was synonymous with the hotel so much so he was known as Ritz Ponnu, the ladies’ man. He was living in a low-ceiling shelter with minimum creature-comfort hoisted on stilts in Hinkal farmland. His friends called it ‘Ponnu’s Adda.’ Did you get me Steve? It was only when he opened the Pelican Pub he came to be known as Ponoo, a good Samaritan. I know and will vouchsafe for his ascetic ways and ability to renunciate when the attitude of his business partners did not resonate in a just and fair manner. I think this kind of self-denial to make others happy is rare. But, that was the Ponnu I knew.

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Ponnu, a teetotaller, seemed to me more of an Osho Rajneesh freak. This controversial Guru had said ‘live life like a sanyasi without wearing the saffron clothes.’ Ponnu seemed to be living that kind of a life since his Ritz days.

Be that as it may, the last    time I met Ponoo was before the Parliamentary election-2024. He came to my office unannounced. I was surprised no end. He was worried about the voters not exercising their franchise as a duty to our country. He made some suggestions. I gave my commitment to follow his advice and kept my word.

It was because of Ponnu Muthanna I was able to mobilise a few intellectuals and professors of our city and hold a meeting in the Rani Bahadur Auditorium on Hunsur Road. I was amazed at Ponnu’s concern for our country at a time we find businessmen and entrepreneurs concerned about themselves rather than the country.

I may well imagine that Ponnu in his life’s journey must have met with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, denials and selfishness. But he had the wisdom to bear with them all as due to the offenders’ ego and ignorance of what is just, good or bad.

Having said this, the right way to describe Ponnu Muthanna, a mere hotelier to the outward world, is by borrowing the words of William Shakespeare: “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, this was a man!”

RIP dear Ponnu. Om Shanti.

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