Our house is under heavy repair. Our small garden with a pond in the middle is strewn with tall bamboo poles, heaps of sand and crushed brick. Everything looks pretty moth-eaten and, well, broken down. Still, through all of this it is rejuvenating to see the greenery. I had lost all hope of the water lilies in the pond flowering again. But they did ! Then the fragrant bela shrub and the tulsi that looked diseased in winter have sprouted fresh green leaves and are beginning to flower—there is a time for everything to bear fruit, isn’t there ? And as far as plants and flowering shrubs go–it is only now–now that we have started to actually live in India–that I am beginning to know the Indian ones !
Meanwhile, I looked through pictures of Calcutta and, in an immodest manner, admired my own photographs of the beautiful North Calcutta mansions especially of the Pathuriaghata Ghosh’s mansion, as it is called in Calcutta. It is the mama-r baari of my friend Indrani’s brother-in-law. That is how my sister and I got to see it and it delights me each time I see the pictures !
As I said in my previous post, a lot of such mansions in old parts of Indian cities look unassuming and small from the outside. They are built inwards and are actually enormous. Here is our first view of the Ghosh house-
There was construction going on on the narrow lane outside the house.
The woodwork along the windows beautiful but in degrees of disrepair- I can see what a huge task it must be to maintain a house as old and as large as this-
The gracious Smita Ghosh, the present owner of the house, received us on the top of the stairs. In her fresh cotton Tangail sari she was framed so beautifully that I paused to take a picture even before I could say hello !
In this mansion lived the father-in-law of Smita Ghosh, Manmatha Nath Ghosh, a personality well known in the world of Indian Classical music as its great patron. The all night concerts that he organized in this very house were famous and much sought after.
You climb a flight of stairs that open into a beautiful room- the walls filled with oil portraits of, I am convinced and you will be,too, ALL the great Indian Classical musicians, many of who have performed within the walls of this house. Here it is-
My husband Debashish could have identified most of them but I could identify only a very few. I know you said this, Hirak da- Debashish, being the music lover that he is, would have loved just being in this house, amidst the aura of music history !
On one side of this lovely room a marble topped table with a collection of portraits-
Overhead are Belgian glass chandeliers and fans, the likes of which I have never seen before. The rods with which the fans are suspended and the body of the fans are encased in cut glass–absolutely beautiful ! They had had the house painted and these fixtures had been covered in sheets. Smita Ghosh had forgotten all about uncovering them but you can get an idea.
Manmatha Ghosh, dressed in the classic Bengali dhoti and kurta with the shaal wrapped across in typical bhadrolok style, looks upon us-
A historic picture–that of Rabindranath Tagore with Monmotho Ghosh at the opening of the first All Bengal Music conference-
This room opens into another large room(they are all in a row, moving away from the street)–a billiards room- the table now covered in a sheet-
All these rooms open onto narrow balconies that border the courtyard below. There are three courtyards in a row, moving away from the street and each one has rooms built around. The first and the largest is also the ‘Thakur Dalan’ where Durga puja is still held. This is also the place where the larger music performances took place.
Here is the beautiful lady of the house-Smita Ghosh- on the balcony with a view of the courtyard-
From another well known family in Bongshobati, Bengal, she married Manmatha Ghosh’s son at the age of 18 and upon the assurance that she would be allowed to continue her studies. She did and went on to get a BA degree from Lady Brabourne College. Servants would accompany her to college and she used to be so embarrassed she would do her best to lose them. Then, at home, she recalls, there was always some artist or the other staying. So there was music day and night. Mornings the musicians would do their riyaz and evenings they would all gather to discuss music or the artists would perform for either just the family members or for larger crowds. It was always a house full of activity and fun and, always, lots of music.
They still host musical soirees in this house, the last one held in 2007 year at the birth centenary of Manmatha Ghosh. Amjad Ali Khan and his two sons had performed.
Further into the house, on the same side, Smita di’s grand mother-in-law’s room with a beautiful carved teak wood bed with bolsters, small pieces of lovely old furniture and portraits of family members on the walls-
On this bed many from the family would sit with their thaku-ma, talking and laughing well into the night.
Past the second courtyard-
With neat store rooms for puja utensils –
And a beautiful dining room with lots of light coming in through the many windows-
Smita Ghosh, with the graciousness of a Bengali hostess, serving out individual portions of jal-khabar herself-
In the picture is also a maid- in a traditionally worn white sari and even she was blending so well into the ethos of the old house.
My mother-in-law writes a diary everyday- actually everyday since 1949 ! A fabulous chronicle of everyday life-should any of you ever wish to do a study. Showing great obsession to food, a large part of most pages is devoted to the meals that were cooked at home or at whosoever’s place she was invited to. Sometimes, like her, I too, devote notes to and take pictures of the food that I ate. This time it was matar kachauri, aloo-r dam (a classic Bengali jal-khabar), a modern day addition- sandwiches- and two kinds of sandesh–all delicious !
It makes it all the more fascinating when you know that this house was bought by the Ghoshs’ great great grandfather, Ram Lochan Ghosh in 1782. So, Smita Ghosh feels, this house is at least a few years older than that- perhaps 230 years old.
It has striking similarity to Choudhary Naunihal Singh’s kothi in Allahabad which is 200 years old. Take a look at the Singh house here.
Past a third courtyard into a room used by Smita di’s children when they are in town. It is dominated by an absolutely beautiful bed-
This bedroom opens into a dressing room with- I was wondering when I would see it- black and white marble floors and lovely carved teak cupboards and chests-
It was Manmatha Ghosh’s father, Bhupendra Krishna who visited Allahabad for, I am proud to say, its famed classical music conference. He returned to Calcutta and started organizing a similar conference where music lovers would be treated to the best performances in the country. And in 1934 the first All Bengal Music Conference was inaugurated by Rabindranath Tagore. Thereafter Monomoto carried this tradition forward, introducing all night performances in this house in 1949.
Take a look at the home of one of the founding families of the Allahabad classical music scene here.
Bringing up the rear, is Smita Ghosh’s own bedroom- the woodwork beautiful but this time, painted in pink-
Smita di was looking out of the window- at the roof tops of the many North Calcutta houses. It was looking so much like a scene from a Satyajit Ray film–that I had to take a picture-
An interesting sign, written out by Smita Ghosh’s daughter for her mother to follow– she does her best, Smita di says-
It was dusk by the time we were ready to leave. Actually we weren’t but we had to. Smita di’s aunt standing on the balcony bidding us goodbye. In the rooms the lights are on- it makes me want to go back to see what the house looks like with its lights on!
On days of concerts, it would be around this time that the artists would be ready to perform. The audience would be seated in the thakur dalan, women dressed well in Banarasi saris and men in dhoti-kurtas, waiting expectantly, excitedly.
Smita Ghosh hopes to carry on hosting concerts for as long as she can– after all, she has a legacy to follow !
Thank you, Indrani and Hirak da for arranging this. And thank you so much, Smita di, for sharing your beautiful home with us !
Hope you have a happy and relaxed weekend. Do hope you enjoyed visiting this home as much as I did !
Please leave your comments–I value them a lot !