My brother, as a young lawyer( now, I am proud to say, a lawyer of good standing), would come home after work and regale us with stories of Allahabad lawyers and other lesser beings-a lot of them narrated to him by his senior, Mr Satyendra Nath Varma. Mr Varma is a veteran Allahabadi who my brother, and indeed many others in Allahabad hold in very high esteem-not only for being a very good, principled lawyer but also a fine musician and raconteur. My late parents respected him a lot and it naturally followed that we siblings did,too. Actually, Mr Varma’s maternal grandfather,Dr.Ranjit Singh, a physician was a dear friend of my father’s grandfather,Rai Bahadur Sarju Kumar Mukherji, a surgeon. So, in a way, we felt our families were linked.
I have met Mr Varma and his soft-spoken wife, Shiela, often but had never visited their home until now. For me,as I had heard, it was a place where many stories happened and excellent sandwiches and coffee flowed for junior lawyers.
Writing this blog has given me a great excuse for looking inside people’s homes-and through their homes a bit into what makes them what they are.
On meeting the couple, there are two words that come to mind- character and refinement. And juxtaposed with their old, characterful bungalow- you could say that one seemed to have made the other.
A view of the beautiful bungalow on Elgin Road-the sun was directly overhead so I have to apologize for the overexposed top of the picture-
My sister and I were served the famous sandwiches, kababs and coffee with much warmth. They were extremely welcome as my sister had come directly from work and is quite famished at that time,and I, well, I am generally keen on food.
The house, Mr Varma, tells us, was in existence in 1860. There is a mention of it in Thacker’s directory from 1882, present in the India Office Library in London (now part of the British Library). Mr Varma’s father , Surendra Nath, also a lawyer(Satyendra Nath’s is the sixth generation of lawyers!)shifted from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh to Allahabad. He moved into this house in 1935.
His practice flourished as did his family- 8 sons and 4 daughters-who he fondly called,’ a team and an extra’!
Sheila Varma recalls that when she came into this house as a bride it was full of people and fun. With her master’s degree in English literature, she would spend time teaching her younger sisters and brothers-in law English.
The famous freedom fighter, Acharya Kripalani was a frequent visitor to this house and interestingly, Mr Verma says, always requested meat cooked Kayastha-style for his meals !
Mr. Varma, an accomplished musician, inherited his talent and love for North Indian Classical music from his mother, Raj Kumari, a student of Pandit Kashalkar, and his maternal grandfather, Dr. Ranjit Singh. Dr.Singh was the founder of the famous school of classical music of Allahabad, Prayag Sangeet Samiti. Mr. Varma remains a stalwart of the classical music scene of Allahabad, himself accompanying many famous musicians on the harmonium and hosting innumerable classical music soirees in their home.
What an unbelievably complete picture it made ! Vintage, refined and full of character-just like the Varma’s bungalow and, indeed, they themselves .
In Lucknow the weather has cooled down ever so slightly. At night we feel the need to use light covers. Outside, the smell of tiny white Harsingar flowers fill the air at night. I can smell the Durga puja festival and sense winter! Wonder if you have Harsingar trees in your neighbourhood ? I think I will plant one–if only to experience the fragrance in our own garden.
For those of you celebrating Durga Puja and Navratri- hope you have joyous celebrations !
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