The Burma teak writing desk and chair on which Gusev was probably conceived are still there. So is the harbour, just outside the suite's windows, though in 1890 it may have been much quieter, and berthing smaller ships. What has also remained inside the musty interiors of this Grand Oriental hotel room are memories of the great Russian author Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.
A relatively unknown Chekhov had visited Colombo in November 1890 and checked into the Grand Oriental hotel. He was in Sri Lanka for a week and made a trip to Kandy where he visited the Salvation Army camp. A week was enough for him to call Sri Lanka ‘paradise on earth'.
Chekhov was possibly on his way back home after visiting the north Pacific island of Sakhalin where he had interviewed thousands of prisoners in a jail. It is often said that Chekhov's short story ‘Gusev' was written in Sri Lanka. What is possibly true is that the idea was conceived here, while it was written in Russia. Besides the idea of a short story, Chekhov returned home with a polecat and a mongoose.
On Saturday, a two-metre statue of Chekhov was unveiled at the hotel as part of celebrations of the 150th year of his birth. A delegation from the Writers Association of Russia, which is making the rounds of countries that Chekhov visited, is currently in Colombo to mark the occasion.
Chekhov though was not the only famous author to have visited Sri Lanka. DH Lawrence was here in the 1920s and Rabindranath Tagore visited the country at least thrice.
As for spending a night at the Chekhov suite you will have to shell out anywhere between $140- $150.
That's small change for the possibility of checking out with a great idea.