Hello to you all from sweltering hot Lucknow ! You know, had it not been for a swimming pool I sink into almost every evening, the Panasonic air conditioner that sounds like a helicopter and that we use judiciously-10.30 pm to 6.30 am only and cold nimbu paani–I may have sunk into heat induced depression !
Well, one other thing for me not to get into depression- heat induced or otherwise–a visit to an old house!
I had never heard of Itaunja. When my husband’s friend, Kamlesh Pandey, mentioned that he was arranging to take me to see ‘Itaunja House’, I was re-rescued ! I had to ask him for the name a second time before I even got it right ! But I was thrilled !
Kamlesh Kumar Pandey, himself from the talukdari of Singaha Chana (another place I had never heard about- and I am almost sure you have not either- unless you have read Avadh history or geography)in Gonda– an interesting, idiosyncratic personality- has been my husband’s friend since their days together in the IAS Academy–their common ground being the love of Hindustani classical music and the town they both grew up in–Lucknow. From being a young man who wore leather, had a cigarette dangling perpetually from his mouth while he played rock guitar and roamed the grounds (and stairs!)of Lucknow university in a Royal Enfield painted gold to becoming a serious IAS officer was a long and broad jump ! He loves astrology, music, special Lucknow samosas made with a filling of cubed skin-on potatoes and helping out friends in whichever way he can. He lives in a part of the historic Qaiserbagh palace because of his talukdari(about which I will write later) and has a string of people-from lawyers to carpenters- who can be called his followers. He also holds court from his bed on which he reclines for most of his waking hours.
So Kamlesh and his wife Madhu, my husband and I drove through the maze of chaotic Lucknow roads to a street which lies behind King George’s Medical college, where my father was once a student. Passing pot holes and a beautiful building made of Lakhauri bricks which had probably been a mosque many years ago–now falling apart– Itaunja House lies in an unlikely place- wedged between an old bungalow with a caved-in roof(so what’s new ?) and a small, overgrown yard. I said unlikely because you will never expect a relatively quiet street like this behind the over crowded area of the medical college. The house is impressive on first glance. It is double storied, has a coat of arms and the frontage is topped with a crown-like, graceful arch- and, I am surprised, it has a fresh coat of paint.
The small town of Itaunja is about 31 km from Lucknow. The actual Raj Mahal or palace of its talukdar lies there. For now, I am quite happy to see his city house. I looked up a book listing the talukdaris of Avadh,’ Avadh ke Talukdar’by Pawan Bakshi, which says that the founder of this talukdari was an overlord, Rai Damar. The time this happened is not listed but I imagine this would be about the 12th century.
A couple of servants usher us in. I shamelessly start taking pictures even before meeting our host because I want to make the most of the diminishing evening light. Beautiful arches decorate the frontage-
A beautiful orange and white painted lobby which leads into the house-
The floors are black and white marble, the furniture is white painted cane. The doors and windows really nice with coloured glass-the whole picture well coordinated-
Raghavendra Pratap Singh, the present talukdar’s son, is a pleasant young gentleman and can be credited with restoring this house as well as, thankfully, the one in Itaunja. He trained in accessory design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi. That explains his interest in restoring his houses and accessorizing the interiors with things such as the lovely orange paint in the lobby.
In the line of succession, Rani Brijendra Kunwar, the rani of Itaunja from 1949 to 1978, adopted her sister’s son, Kunwar Bhanu Pratap Singh (Raghavendra’s father) as her successor.
A view of the drawing room-
A beautiful glass candle holder–behind which is a gong-
A close up of figures in brass that make the base of a table-
A view of a corridor-
From the terrace on the third floor–a view of the crumbling house next door-
Dusk had fallen and the lights had come on in Itaunja House- makes a beautiful picture, does it not ?
From an earlier photograph, Raghavendra in formal attire with his wife Malini-
Those of us who love our heritage can be delighted and grateful that people such as Raghavendra Singh are genuinely interested in preserving old houses that they own– in this case not only what he owns in the city but also in the small town of Itaunja !
Thank you so much, Raghavendra Singh for sharing your house with us. And thank you, Kamlesh and Madhu, for making this visit possible.
And to all of you, thank you for stopping by to read and ‘bye until next time !