My sister Uttora likes to keep things and her husband Ranjit likes to throw them.
During my last visit to their home, very soon after Uttora left for work(she is a counsellor, he a retired businessman)Ranjit quickly cleared the store upstairs and lined up old knives, boxes and trays for Uttora to review-more as a token gesture because he was determined that these would be banished forever. On her return, as soon as Ranjit stepped out for something,Uttora retrieved most of the things and pushed them deeper into the recesses of the store, determined that these would REMAIN forever!
And so, guided by such propensities, they have been able to achieve many things- among these a home. A home that is both beautiful and unique.
Beautiful because from the moment you enter you get a feeling of warmth with every object placed with thought and care.Unique because many objects, including many of the doors and furniture have been bought at Kabaari wala yards, restored and used cleverly.
For my friends who are not Indian- kabaari walas are professional collectors of junk who recycle almost everything to do with a house. From iron beams and the tiniest bolt used in construction to doors,windows,glass and definitely any piece of furniture–a kabaari wala buys and stores everything-to be re-sold later.
An open gateway on a main road of the locality of Georgetown in Allahabad leads into what is called ‘Chaddha haata’ or Chaddha colony. A cluster of individual houses form this colony.Built by the family of Capt. S.N. Chaddha in the 1920s, some of these houses were actually rows of rooms built around a large courtyard.
My brother-in-law’s father Mr Ratna Kumar came from Etah, in Uttar Pradesh. His mother brought him,his two brothers and a sister to study first at school then at Allahabad university. One of the houses in Chaddha haata was hired by her because it was well located near the university and the old market of Katra. After about 8 years he left Allahabad with his first job. Bit by bit, the rest of the family also dispersed. But about 10 years later Ratna Kumar returned and by chance was able to re-rent the same house. He started to live in it again, raising his two sons with his wife, Chandra Prabha, a green-eyed, brown haired beauty from Ghazipur. Here they are, Mr and Mrs Ratna Kumar-
Ranjit, his son, later bought this house. It was a house(a quarter, really) with a courtyard (actually one section of the original big courtyard)on one side and narrow verandahs with arches lining two sides of it with rooms leading off them. I had spent many days in this old, quite plain looking house on which my sister set to work from the moment she started living in it. When I see it now-I am amazed at how beautifully Uttora and Ranjit have renovated it- creating rooms, enlarging the existing ones while preserving the character of the courtyard and the arches of the verandah.
The gate to the house- the canopy in front fitted with a decorative border rescued from an old house. All the wrought iron work that you see on the gate and inside the house was done in their home, under direct supervision of Uttora and Ranjit-
Here is what it looked like-a ‘before’picture from 20 years ago that I love- the front of the house with Uttora’s daughter and son and her friend-
The small covered entrance lined with plants in interesting pots-
A couple of hand painted clay pots interestingly arranged. These were painted with traditional Bengali Alpana patterns for my own wedding by the very artistic ‘Lau da’ from our paara or neighbourhood. He was a person without whom no ceremony could happen in our own house or any other Bengali house in our locality-
The lobby -a collection of Ganesha statues from different parts of India on one wall. The tall, narrow table in front is really railings of a balcony rescued from Ranjit’s uncle’s home in the old city. These support a simple marble slab on top-a brilliant idea !
A view of the drawing room with a beautiful carved sofa from Indonesia, bought from a relative who was disposing off her furniture-a collection of paintings by yours truly on the wall above-
A corner with a collection of glass bottles and jars from different places with ebony wood carvings from the trip Uttora made to visit us in Tanzania. On the table is a lamp- the base made out of Ranjit’s grandmother’s spittoon which they have inverted and have placed a glass globe on top –there is no shortage of lovely ideas !
The stunning coffee table made from an old rack bought for next to nothing at a kabaari’s. It acts as a container for little pieces of embroidery and tiles which Uttora changes from time to time-another great idea-
Another coffee table which holds beautiful sea shells from Tanzania and doilies crocheted by Ranjit’s grand mother- shells and lace seem to work beautifully together-
A gorgeous paan daan in brass that belonged to Ranjit’s grandmother. Paan daan is a container for the different ingredients that go towards dressing betel leaves. To offer a beautifully dressed and folded betel leaf was considered an etiquette in Indian homes. A cruder form of the art still exists but only in shops-
On top, on the right is a lamp, the brass skeleton of which was recognized and rescued from a neighbour’s junk that had been dumped outside. They later found a glass globe, also at a kabaari’s, to fit the skeleton and look what they have !
On the right is a chair-four of which were bought also at a Kabaari. They were polished, upholstered and the back re-woven with cane-
Another corner with a metal samovar and wash basin bought from a utensils shop in the old part of Allahabad –
The dining area of the room with a marble topped cabinet and a collection of Chinese style paintings also by yours truly–can’t help it- she says why have any one else’s paintings when she can have mine !! And I love it that she loves them-
The table set for tea with old crochet and an assortment of crockery, mismatched and beautiful- from charity shops of Dublin-
One side of the dining area with crockery cabinets. In the middle is another tall table made from wrought iron railings(they had rescued quite a few)and a marble top. On the wall is a collection of old plates bought from flea markets in Romania and from antique shops in India-
The covered corridor which was earlier a verandah. They let the arches remain, exposed the bricks and emphasised their shape, coating them with liquid terracotta. In the foreground is a table with a polished concrete top- the wall has my painting of Kali– a Kukri to match Kali’s hanging next to it-
A ‘before’ picture of the end of the verandah-with the Ratna children-
The doors you see in the picture were also bought at a kabaari. They were cut to size, the peeling paint removed and the teak wood polished under the supervision of Ranjit-
The corridor begins at one end that has a dining table and comfortable benches made from head boards of a bed . This is the most used part of the house with the kitchen opening on one side and the courtyard opening on another-
Wood boxes from a defunct factory bought at a kabaari now act as deep frames for an old brass grater and gujhia and betel nut cutters from their own house-
The courtyard- my favourite part- lined with lush plants- and, I LOVE this bit, they are fed with water that drains into the beds from the Ratna washing machine- soap and all ! What a wonderful way to recycle water in a country with water shortage ! At the far end, cleverly camouflaged by plants and a pretty table, is a small area used to dry clothes-
And just when you might think this is it-you go up the stairs and find a lovely terrace full of plants, including tomato and beetroot and flat beans, carefully tended to by Uttora. The covered part is used by Ranjit to play cards almost everyday, to exercise on a couple of machines every other day or not at all and for their son Madhav to practice on his drums.
Uttora and Ranjit met each other at university where both were studying for their MBA degrees. When they expressed their desire to marry there was mild disapproval from each one’s family- different communities, different backgrounds,etc., they said. Anyway, the families reconciled, the two married and 36 years and two lovely children later, here they are- still ever ready to rush off together( often with the rest of us in tow!) to a mela, to a new kabab seller, or, you cannot miss this one, to a kabaari-
It was Basant Panchami two days ago–I missed being in Allahabad for the auspicious day when about 5 MILLION (!!) people(the entire population of Ireland is 3.5 million !) would have taken a dip in Sangam, the confluence of the three holy rivers. The air of spirituality is magical and the organization superb ! Imagine managing these numbers ! And yes, last year, for the huge Kumbh Mela when the number of devotees was about three times this number( I know it sounds unbelievable!)–Uttora and Ranjit joined the millions to take a dip. And all the other auspicious dips after. Just to be a part of it all !
Hope you have a wonderful weekend !
And please do post your comments …