I vaguely remember Bindu Mukherji. He shared my father’s passion for gardening. I remember also, as a child, visiting his enormous rose garden that lay in front of the equally enormous red brick house in George Town, Allahabad- the ancestral house he shared with his three brothers and two sisters. Like my father and many in his generation, Bindu Mukherji is no more. The house, however, still stands, lost amidst many small, gauche houses newly built on the land that was once the rose garden.
It’s occupants are Bindu da’s(‘da’ is a suffix Bengalis like me add, quite indiscriminately, to the names of males older than them. ‘Di’ is added for females) brother, Prabhash Kumar and his wife, Mira. Prabhash Mukherji and his wife lived all over India as he worked as an executive in the Bank of India until his retirement some years ago when they returned to live in this red brick house. In 2012 this house completed its hundredth year.
The double storey house is, in one word, beautiful. And very Bengali.
Prabhash Mukherji’s grand father, Bipin Bihari came to Allahabad in the late 19th century-as many Bengalis did at that time- served as judge in the High Court of Allahabad, and built this large house for himself and, quite common in those days, for his extended family. Mira di reminisces about the army of servants who worked for the large family, phaetons and later, motor cars that they used, and the many classical music soirees that used to be held in their home.
The family were also devotees of Anandmayee Ma, a prominent spiritual guru, for whom a cottage was built in the compound of their house, where she frequently came and stayed.
Among the many prominent Indians that also stayed in their house, for days at a stretch, were the great Indian Classical musicians, Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar. In fact, Bindu da himself was an accomplished classical musician, having learnt music from Ali Akbar Khan.
This picture is for all lovers of Indian classical music, including my husband- Bindu Mukherji with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan-
My sister, Uttora (who knows- or knows someone who knows- a quarter of Allahabad and arranged all this) and I walked in through the gate and into a now small yard overgrown with weed and creeper. And rising like Phoenix was the house- proud and beautiful- giving us glimpses of the splendour of the past. It was like walking into a Satyajit Ray film.
Through an elegant portico, or ‘gaari baranda'(verandah for cars), as it is called in Bengali, essential in all Indian bungalows of that time, the stone clad, small front verandah opens directly into the drawing room. Two other doors on either side open into a bedroom each.
– which opens into the rear verandah and a large courtyard with mango trees.
The overgrown courtyard with an abandoned easy chair- again, giving us a glimpse of the glorious past-
On the right of the courtyard were the large dining room and two kitchens- one for vegetarian food and the other for non-vegetarian. Now you see only a high wall there behind which are more new houses.
The drawing room opens into four bedrooms- two on either side. In one of the rooms, something quintessentially Bengali- twin four poster, elaborately carved teak wood beds-
Upstairs there are six more rooms but they remain shut.
As we sat listening to Mira di and her family’s history, something else, quintessentially Bengali, arrived. It was so Bengali that I HAD to put it into this post. It was jal-khaabar or refreshments served out on individual plates- vegetable cutlets and Bengali sweets- sandesh and orange rosogolla- and excellent tea in china cups- placed befittingly on a table with cloth beautifully appliqued by Mira di’s sister-in-law and held under glass, yellowing with age-
Wonder if this house moves you as much as it did me….
Tell me how you feel…