I know you are wondering where I have suddenly disappeared after all that activity—
Well,I am in Lucknow–trying to begin settling in in my husband Debashish’s grandfather’s house ! There are lots of hiccups as Debashish and I try to decide which part of the house we should tackle first- my mother-in-law’s(all of a sprightly 88 !)junk accumulated in all possible storage spaces, the crumbling bathrooms or the leaking kitchen !
Alright,alright–it SHALL happen ! Eventually !
I have just got our internet connection-so things are beginning to feel more normal..back to writing this blog, etc…
This is a flashback to Allahabad- film style !
To continue with its beautiful houses– we must now visit chowk, the centre of the old city in Allahabad. I am very happy amidst the timelessness of the chaos and colour. Something very unpretentious about it. The girls of our family- my sister, niece, my daughter and I often make trips on rickshas and spend many hours happily browsing through tiny shops bursting at the seams with jewellery, baskets, fresh flower garlands, gold and silver lace and borders, mirrors, utensils and almost everything conceivable !
The streets are narrow and crowded around the Ghanta Ghar (the Clock Tower-a British era tower built in mid 19th century),the centre of chowk. Behind this tower lies the locality of Attarsuiya, where, in traditional style, homes rise from the road side and shops busily ply their wares from the ground floors of these homes.
My sister and I sit on a ricksha and are carried past these places till the narrow streets widen and the area becomes residential. We have come to the locality of Kalyani Devi- one of the oldest parts of the city.I confess I have never been there and am pleasantly surprised to find the place clean, quiet and full of decrepit, small, mostly traditional houses-some quite beautiful .
Ahead of us, different from all, we see the kothi or traditional Indian mansion of Choudhary Naunihal Singh.That is where we are headed. Everyone in the area knows it. Not surprising. Ch.Naunihal Singh’s family have been residents in this large mansion for about 200 years !
From where we are it looks large and sprawling but unremarkable. We follow the house and reach its front on the other side and are stunned by the beauty of its frontage.
We are led through the imposing doorway, through a verandah and into a courtyard that is absolutely beautiful.Actually out of a Rajasthan Palace. It is stone clad and leads up two steps into verandahs on all four sides. The pillars, and one of the walls, are intricately carved in stone-the patterns exquisite.
A view of this courtyard from a balcony upstairs-
We sit in one of the verandahs and almost out of nowhere our hosts Jitendra Singh and his wife, Vinita appear. They are pleasant and warm, and, as they show us the house, they do so with love and pride. They share the house, they tell us, with Jitendra’s brother and his family and some older relatives.
The decorations on a wall of the courtyard carved out of a single piece of sandstone- the verandah within where visitors sit, still referred to as ‘durbar’ in classic zamindari style –
The Choudhary family, over generations have been zamindars and talukdars, owning large tracts of land near Sirathu, Sitapur and Banda in Uttar Pradesh and Sitamarhi in Bihar.
In the 17th century, their ancestor, Choudhary Suba Lal, was the person who started to build this beautiful mansion.
Craftspeople were brought in from Rajasthan to make the carvings as was the sandstone.
In the late 19th century, another ancestor, Choudhary Mahadev Prasad, contributed large sums of money to make a trust which helped build many institutions of higher education in Allahabad- among them, the Kayastha Pathshala and the Choudhary Mahadev Prasad (CMP)College.
Vinita takes us upstairs to see the ‘Naatch Ghar’or Room for Dance, where, until the mid 20th century, sophisticated tawaifs or courtesans performed. Yes,dear people, you can think ‘Umrao Jaan’! So on special occasions the house would be filled with music, dance(mujra) and Urdu poetry-all performed by courtesans- something straight out of a Hindi film !
Stairs leading upstairs with Vinita standing at the head-
The design of the first floor mimics the groundfloor. Rooms on all four sides opening into verandahs and balconies which look down into the courtyard below.. A large, open terrace leads on one side into yet another courtyard and identical block of rooms. Lots of open spaces and breeze–how ideal for the hot Indian weather !
Across the Naatch Ghar- a balcony leads to the dining room- previously a billiards room- used only on special occasions –
Jitendra Singh’s father, Choudhary Naunihal Singh was a well known politician from the Congress party, having been elected twice as Member of the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh – in 1962 and then ’67. He had been given important portfolios in the state government in Lucknow.
I was delighted to see this house and even more delighted to learn that the younger generation of the family have returned, after their education, to live in this very house and are proud to maintain it in it’s fullest glory. Here is a mother, old but stunningly beautiful, blossoming in the love and care showered by her newest generation of children.
Thank you Jitendra Singh and Vinita-and indeed the whole family- for showing us how !
And for reviving our faith in preservation of Indian heritage !
We plan to visit friends of the family this evening and go to the Lucknow cantonment for a leisurely walk tomorrow morning–in between cleaning our home, that is !
Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
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