A haveli named after a mystic, Waris Manzil, in Saidanpur, Uttar Pradesh

It is the mango orchards that I see first when I arrive in the village of Saidanpur on a morning of May. At 8 am the temperature is 36 degrees. But it is the open countryside and it does not feel hot. We have driven down from Lucknow with Jyotsna, whose family, the Habibullahs own mango orchards and a haveli in the village.

Saidanpur lies in the district of Barabanki, 54 kilometres from Lucknow. It lies on the route to Faizabad, which was originally the capital of the nawabs before they moved it to Lucknow. There is extensive cultivation of marigold flowers, mangoes and licit opium in the region.

Although I have grown up in Uttar Pradesh, I am now surprised that I have been to an orchard such as this only twice. The first, of which I have hazy memories, was a visit to my mother’s maasi’s orchards in Maslandpur in West Bengal and the second was when my father organised an ‘Indian village experience’ for a couple of American Field Exchange students, one of who came to stay with us. Turned out, since we had never visited an Indian village before, not counting our farm in Naini, it was as much of a village experience for my siblings and I. This ‘village experience’ visit also included a mango orchard where we were given donkey and camel rides while the entire village came to watch the ‘gori mems.’ Later we all sat around buckets of desi mangoes and feasted on them.

A large, low-branching mango tree in the orchard

It is a treat to be in an orchard. The thick tree trunks start branching out very near the ground. They make a perfect place to sit on and I spot a couple of children perched on them. Branches spread all around, reaching skywards. Looking up from under the trees you can hardly see the sky or feel the heat from the sun already blazing. Many of these branches hold the luscious fruit, some green, others tinged with yellow, indicating they are ready to be picked. A few women sit on the cool, beaten earth sorting a large pile of mangoes which will be later packed into plastic crates to be sold in the wholesale market.

We drive up a kilometre or so to the village nearby. It lies in an open area, meandering to my left. Most of its houses have mud walls with thatched roofs. It is neat and surprisingly quiet. You see, I have just arrived from the cacophony of the city of Lucknow and cannot quite remember quietness. I enjoy it.

Sections of the old haveli lie ahead of the new one.

Ahead of us , set away from the village, telling us stories of the past, lies an old boundary wall and beyond it arches in ruins. Further ahead with a fresh coat of white paint lies the wall of the haveli  with a large wooden doorway set in the centre.

The freshly painted facade of the newer building. The wooden gateway is a classic one.

 

Jyotsna’s father-in-law Wajahat’s ancestors had settled in this area, he says, around the 12th or 13th century, during the reign of Muhammad Ghori. They were made taluqdars of Saidanpur by the nawab of Awadh. Later, Wajahat’s grandfather Sheikh Mohmmad, an anglophile, was given ownership of 13 villages and formally made taluqdar by then British government. Wajahat Habibullah is not sure when the buildings that now lie in ruins were built but the first floor of the haveli, in its present form, was built by Wajahat’s great grandfather, Sheikh Inayat in the late 19th century. Although Sheikh Mohammad spent most of his time in Lucknow he rarely visited his village and haveli .

His son, the eminent General Enaith Habibullah and Wajahat’s father, set up a stud farm in the village in the later years of his life. The orchards and haveli were looked after by his wife, Begum Hamida.

In the style of havelis , the large outer gateway leads to a small covered space that, in turn, leads to an inner doorway that creaks open. And in here lies a large courtyard surrounded by rooms. Beyond the rooms, now padlocked, was the zenanakhana, the part of the house where women lived.

The open courtyard inside the gateway. Rooms surround the courtyard.

 

Another view of the courtyard with its mandatory tree and well

A large door to the left opens to a staircase which leads to the upper floor. We arrive at an open verandah. To the left it opens on to a beautiful, large terrace with rooms on one side. The caretaker and his family live there now. A grass roof covers a verandah on  one side. The fact that it is perhaps periodically remade is heartening . Which means craftspeople in the village still know how to make them!   It is quiet, and, with open skies above, we are in a private, secluded space.

A tiled roof on the right and a grass roof supported on elegant pillars covers a verandah on the terrace on the first floor

The verandah we had stepped into leads into a lobby. An elegant table stands against the facing wall. It has casual chairs on either side. Photographs of family members are arranged on it, almost as if they lived there still.

The European-style lobby that leads from the grass roofed verandah

Unique teak folding chairs with cane woven backs and seats in the lobby. The table has a marble top

There is a large western style drawing room beyond the lobby with chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and a melange of elegant sofas and chairs arranged in a large circle, left alone, exactly as they had been placed perhaps by Sheikh Mohammad.

The European-style drawing room. The painted borders along the ceiling and pelmets are untouched and the colours remain vibrant

An elaborately framed Belgian mirror and coloured glass chandeliers decorate the room

To one side of the drawing room is a bedroom that opens onto a breezy balcony and, on the other, is a room which was used by Haji Waris Ali Shah(1819-1905), the Sufi mystic, whose famous tomb, Dewa Sharif, in the district of Barabanki, near Saidanpur, is well-known and revered by both Hindus and Muslims from across India. Sheikh Mohammad’s father was a devotee and friend of the mystic who frequently visited the haveli and stayed in this room. It lies untouched from that time. The haveli was also named ‘Waris Manzil’ after the mystic.

A bedroom on one side of the drawing room. A fabric,hand-drawn punkha (fan) still remains suspended from the ceiling

 

Haji Waris Shah’s room remains untouched from the late 19th century

The caretaker, Wasi, who lives with his family in a part of the house, serves us hot, puffed puris, aloo rassa, mango pickle and chutney on a table laid out in the front verandah.

The balcony adjoining the bedroom commands a view of open grounds along the village

 

An ideal place for meals-the verandah

Jyotsna, a woman of many talents, takes active interest in the village of Saidanpur. She has organised various training camps for the women and is taking their tradition of weaving forward by marketing gamchas  or cotton towels woven in the village. Her visits to the village are frequent as are her stopovers at the old haveli.

No doubt, the Habibullahs’ ancestors, wherever they are, are happy that the beautiful building stands in good shape, well preserved and looked after.

I have written about the mud-walled, traditional houses in the village of Saidanpur in an earlier post. Read about them here.

The discovery of houses such as this always amazes me. In the middle of the Indian countryside, in villages placed away from arterial roads and highways lie buildings of immense beauty, interest and importance – historical and architectural. And very few people know about them. Think a mapping is greatly needed !

Do keep reading these posts and spreading the word about these gems. Visit them ,if you can. I will be happy to help -write to me on my email or in the’Comments’ section !

Until next time….

 

 

 

 

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Canadian fall and Halloween inspired tablescape

I had actually created this tablescape on the 30th of October. But then by the time I uploaded the images, it was time to go to Allahabad, the city where I was born and brought up, where my sister and two brothers live and where I share a bond of memories with families of friends.

So back in Lucknow, in between planting seasonals, I am writing this post.

Just before Halloween friends from Canada had started putting up Halloween images on Facebook-you know, orange pumpkins on doorsteps, collecting pumpkins from farms, witches and cobwebs in their rooms. And then they shared pictures of the magnificent Canadian fall–trees aflame in reds, oranges and yellows, leaves piled up on the ground,etc. In our garden the dwarf poinciana, an amazing shrub that flowers for almost 7 months, was full of orange blooms.So I felt inspired enough to create a table setting.

The dwarf poinciana with its clusters of orange flowers in our garden

A sabzi wala (vegetable vendor)makes rounds of our neighbourhood almost every day. His cart is loaded with fresh produce. So, sometimes for the sheer pleasure of seeing his cart, I buy at least one or two vegetables every time he comes. He was delighted when I bought all three of his green pumpkins (In India’s cities it is rare to find ripe, orange- skinned pumkins ) that I had decided I would carve.

The sabzi wala and his cart laden with fresh vegetables–inspiration enough for many tablescapes !

I tackled the pumpkin first armed with a couple of kitchen knives. I wonder why my knives never seem sharp enough !

A pumpkin roughly scored with a simple pattern

For those of you not familiar with hollowing out and carving pumpkins/vegetables, I am sure there are better carving techniques but here are my utterly  amateurish ones-                 1) Score a pattern on your pumpkin, the simpler the better.                                                       2) Slice off the top.                                                                                                                                  3) Using a tablespoon, hollow out the pumpkin, removing as much of its flesh as you possibly can.                                                                                                                                               4) Using the tip of the smallest knife you have start cutting out your scored pattern- do be careful to control your knife so as not to slice off a finger !                                                             5) One pumpkin down, just carry on being patient, you have 2 more to go ! Or just abandon the other two and be happy with the one !

Ever since we returned to Lucknow, my large table covers had been all but forgotten in boxes which were gathering mountains of dust in a store upstairs. I remembered my Rajasthani , off-white on off-white embroidered cloth and traced it to one of the boxes. It still had a couple of stains from the last table setting it had seen in Dublin, where my husband held his last post. I used this cloth on my table, bunched up. I used the same cloth on yet another tablescape with Cherry Blossom I created in Dublin. Take a look here.

I created elevations with dishes placed upside down, under the cloth and let the pumpkins sit on them.

Carved pumpkin elevated and placed on a large leaf of the Money Plant

Persimmons from Himachal Pradesh, a fruit introduced in India by European settlers are in season and since they come closest to ripe orange pumpkins both is shape and colour, I bought some and used them on the table. Little vases bought at charity shops in Dublin and a couple of shot glasses worked well to hold the Poinciana blossoms.

Shot glasses hold the flowers

Hundreds of years ago, in 1981, my husband, then a bachelor, employed in the Indian Foreign Service and on his language training at Hong Kong (his language was Mandarin), bought his first china tea set at  one of the ‘China Products’ stores in Hong-Kong. China Products, where I , as a newly married woman, on my maiden voyage abroad, was taken to buy my first winter coat before making the 48 hour train journey to Beijing from Canton, was a chain of stores owned by the Chinese government that sold everything Chinese at prices, which, even then,were the cheapest. So you got dried fruit(including apple, pear, pineapple, crab-apple) in dented cardboard boxes, all kinds of tea in pasty green or bright yellow cartons and tins, a huge range of Chinese medicines in large and small boxes with crackling plastic film and gold and black Chinese lettering, steel cutlery-shiny and cheap (many of which I still use !), carved furniture, down jackets in four standard colours, grey and dark blue overcoats (I got the grey one), jade and porcelain figurines and vases- ranging from diminutive to life-sized ones, and, of course, crockery. The last included the almost translucent, beautiful orange flowered tea set.

So I used these tea cups and saucers on my white dinner plates.

Orange tea cup and saucer from ‘China Products,’ Hong Kong.

 

At our second Halloween in Ottawa, by which time I had learnt a bit about how to decorate your front door with a pumpkin or two, and my two kids had gone out trick or treating, I  got kind of carried away by the witch theme and dressed the part with a shawl draped over my head with fake dracula teeth stuck into my mouth. A little boy rang our doorbell and when I opened the door with my basket of treats, the kid ran off in fright to his waiting father. Turned out he was the very handsome father of my daughter, Geetika’s friend ! I suppose it would have been a far better idea to dress like Snow White !

 

 

Hope you liked the tablescape !   I suppose it is possible, with just a bit of effort, to lay out your table, if not with all the crockery and cutlery, then with your favourite piece of cloth, some fruit or vegetables or with a sprig or two of flowers and , in India, depending on whether you have the ceiling fan on or not, a couple of candles or tea lights . Something pretty and elegant for the eyes !

See you next time !

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In Malihabad- A Home from Shah Jahan’s Time

Hello to all of you !

I wanted to let you know that my book, ‘Rehaish—At Home in Lucknow’ was published by Sanatkada in February this year. It is a coffee table book with stories and pictures of 28 old, beautiful houses of Lucknow. Should some of you be interested in getting it- and I hope you will be- I will give you the link to the book shop that stocks copies in my next post. They will be happy to mail them to you.

The last house I went to record for my book was in December last year. So about 7 months passed till I went to see the latest old house. This one is really old and in Malihabad, near Lucknow.

My dear friend, Yasmin had long promised me a trip to her cousin, Yusuf Kamal’s house and mango orchards in Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad.  This materialises at about 9.30 am on a day that the monsoons have decided to break. The skies are overcast with promise and it has started to drizzle delightfully as we drive towards this place. I love the countryside anywhere, but the Utttar Pradesh countryside is what I am familiar with. It fills me with yearning and nostalgia. It took a day such as this one for my father, a busy Allahabad doctor, to take time off in the afternoon and drive with us in his shiny black Ambassador car to our farm in Naini, near Allahabad to eat roasted bhutta or laiyya/chana and drink hot, sweet tea or  go on a long drive to Phaphamau, also near Allahabad, where a roadside dhaba, next to the Ganga, made the nicest langcha and samosas. The monsoons of North India, in case some of you missed the point, are an event to be celebrated !

In the countryside of Uttar Pradesh on the way to Malihabad- a temple and bridge built around 1787 across the river Baeta by the Wazir,Tikait Rai, in the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-daula

 

Malihabad, 25 kilometres from Lucknow, is not only the birthplace of the poet, Josh Malihabadi(to whom Yasmin is related) but also the mango producing belt of Uttar Pradesh. The road snaking through mango orchards finally leads us to the village, Bakhtiarnagar, to the house of Yusuf Kamal and the gentleman himself.

The ruins of an old haveli next to that of Yusuf Kamal’s.

The building is very much a sprawling haveli. You enter it through a large wooden gateway, set in an unimposing wall, a characteristic of a haveli, which opens into a courtyard.

The main doorway of the haveli set , in characteristic haveli style, in an unimposing wall. Thin, lakhauri brick used for the building clearly visible. In the picture are Yasmin, Matloob and Schiraz Khan

A single jamun tree stands at its centre and is loaded with large jamuns, many of which lie on the ground, whole or squashed, staining the earth around purple.  Hens and chicken squawk and move around. They have just laid a couple of eggs( Yes, these are the desi variety !) in their coup and have been released into the courtyard.

A couple of steps lead you to the main house. In a large room, seated on jute-string woven charpais the kind of which you don’t see in our cities anymore, Yusuf Kamal tells us that his ancestor, Sarmast Khan was sent as Nawab of Malihabad by the then Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. Malihabad, he says, was an important town on the route from Delhi to Lucknow. The route was paved with the thin, strong lakhauri brick which, he says, still exist under the more modern tarmac. 1000 villages were placed under Sarmast Khan’s jurisdiction. His headquarters were in what is now the locality of Aliganj in Lucknow. It was his grandson, Muqarim Khan who continued as the Nawab and built this haveli around the late 1600s at the centre of his extensive mango orchards. The entire structure is made of the thin lakhauri brick, the kind that were used in many buildings in India from the 16th to the 19th century.

The room we are in is actually one long room, leading into another through open dars or doorways with scalloped arches. The high ceiling has wooden beams. The fact that there are no doors makes the room airy and feel spacious. In the first room lie the charpais to sit or sleep on.

The first of the two main rooms of the haveli with its open ‘dars’ and wooden beams in the ceiling. In picture, left to right,Schiraz, Yasmin, Matloob Khan and the owner of the property,Yusuf Kamal.

The second has a more modern addition of a dining table and chairs. Doors open into smaller rooms, one of which is the kitchen. In the past there were no doors even to these rooms. The kitchen is filled with the aroma of mangoes that jostle for space in the ‘niamat-khana’ (a wire-meshed, stand-alone cabinet meant for keeping food) that lies in a corner. Garibe, Yusuf Kamal’s man Friday and a lady from the village who is here to help, wait in the kitchen and smile warmly to see us. There is something touching about the genuine happiness and welcome extended to us by people who seem untouched by the artifice that city life can sometimes generate.

The second room with its ‘dars’ leading to the inner courtyard. The floors are of brick.

The second room leads through dars into a large inner courtyard. Yusuf Kamal shows us the pigeon house on the far end of the courtyard. He asks Garibe to release the dozens of pigeons that he keeps as pets. They come out of the door, flutter up in groups, gutur-gu-ing,  and then they descend to strut around the courtyard.

Pigeons have always been kept as pets in this household. These are called the ‘Girabaz‘ pigeons, Yusuf Kamal tells me. They are the kinds that fly high , unlike the ‘Gole‘ pigeons that fly low and are used for ‘Kabutarbazi,’ a sport. His collection has quite a few varieties of pigeon called, ‘harey,’ ‘amber-sarrey‘ and ‘kalduma.‘  ‘They provide companionship and look beautiful. In the cooler months when they are released they fly away but always return home either at dusk, the same day or a day or two later,’ says Yusuf.

The two doors at the far end of courtyard lead to the pigeon house. The released ‘Girabaz’ pigeons on the far left of courtyard.

A doorway at the far end leads us out of this section of the house to an open area where, on a mound, is a grass roofed shed. ‘My grandfather and father would spend most of the day under this shed meeting people and watching over our mango orchards,’says Yusuf. He points to a few graves and a maqbara( a mausoleum)which lie on one side and says they were found on the property when the house was being built. A small mosque that stands next to these was built later. He respects how old these structures are and has done his best to preserve them.

The grass-roofed canopy under which Yusuf Kamal’s father and grandfather spent most of their daylight hours.

The ancient maqbara, now painted green, the small mosque and the graves that were found on the property

A doorway in the wall of an adjoining building opens into yet another courtyard with rooms on two sides. This was the mardan khana or men’s quarters in the past. Now it is used for housing cattle.

A section of the separate traditional building which was the mardan khana in the past

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A row of traditional squat toilets in the haveli

Yusuf Khan himself spent 15 years in the United Kingdom where he worked as a chartered accountant. His father, finding it difficult to manage the estate all by himself, asked Yusuf to return to Lucknow and Bakhtiarnagar to look after their property. Those were still the days when children obeyed their parents-no questions asked- and Yusuf found himself here plunged headlong into the matters of this area. He soon became very popular among the people because of his genuine desire and ability to help them and, in 2015, got elected as the Pradhan or the headman of their village.

Yusuf Kamal reclines on a charpai

Back in the house, Yusuf Kamal expertly peels off  a mango. He then slices it into ‘phanki and guthli.’ A shiny, scrubbed old aluminium tashteri (a small plate) receives the fruit which he then passes to us. ‘Try this one,’ he says, ‘ It is the Khas-ul-khas.’ The flesh is a sunshine yellow. It is sweet, juicy and has characteristic fragrance. Then he picks up the famous Dusehri from an assortment of mangoes soaked in a bucket of water. ‘ Do you see how the skin is a uniform pale yellow and the flesh perfect and not over-ripe from the inside? This is the Dusehri of Malihabad!’ he says with understandable pride and continues, with a hint of derision, ‘ What you usually get in the markets are Dusehris with green skin and the flesh is almost always over-ripe. That is the kind grown in Barabanki and other places.’

‘Any indigestion caused by the overeating of mangoes can be soothed by eating two pieces of jamun,’ says the owner of the orchards

Earlier in the morning I have asked Yusuf Khan about the ‘Malihabadi safeda’ mango which my husband Debashish remembered eating as a child but could never find in local markets since our return to Lucknow. He says he has them in his orchards. Just when we are about to leave, Garibe, under instructions from his employer, quietly brings a large bag full of these safedas and puts them in the boot of our car for me to take back.

On our way out, more jamuns are collected and handed to us as are the two desi eggs. Yusuf Kamal has been giving all this to us with so much pleasure that it humbles me. My faltering faith in a gracious world has revived.

Thank you Yusuf sahib for sharing your beautiful house with us and for showing us that grace still exists. Thank you, Yasmin, for so kindly arranging this trip.

If you liked what you just read please do share the post. It could help if more people became aware of old houses around them such as this one !

I look forward to hearing your comments. To post comments click on the box that says ‘Comments’ and follow the simple instructions.

Hope your days ahead are happy !

‘Bye for now.

 

 

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The House in Lucknow Built by Walter Burley Griffin

Hello All !  Yes, time does fly and it has been long since I wrote !

My husband ,Debashish, would, once in a while, talk of a Dr.Bir Bhan Bhatia and his house that was designed and built by Walter Burley Griffin. Well, I found the house and here is a post  on it that I wrote sometime back-

When the British decided to expand Lucknow they had looked beyond the river Gomti, not that they could have visualised the area which is almost another city today, Gomtinagar ! In 1921 they built the University of Lucknow in what was Badshah Bagh(originally a garden house of Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider) adjoining the Gomti. Then on its shores, towards the east, the localities of Old and New Hyderabad were set up. University professors, doctors and other professionals were allotted large tracts of land to construct houses. One such person was Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia, an eminent doctor, a pharmacologist, at King George’s Medical College.  Bir Bhan Bhatia had two houses in Lucknow. One was on Ashok Marg and the other that was constructed by the well-known American architect, Walter Burley Griffin. I had never seen that house but knew it was located in New Hyderabad.

A chance, very enjoyable meeting with Dr. Thapar, a retired professor of architecture at Lucknow university and his daughter, Sumita led to a conversation about Walter Burley Griffin and my discovery that they knew the daughter-in-law of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia. Over a fabulous pineapple upside down cake made by Sumita, she told me that she would arrange to take me to see the house built by Griffin, possibly the only one remaining in India !

The large road that lies perpendicular to the Gomti on which the house built by Griffin stands came as a pleasant surprise. The kerbs were wide. The monsoon rains had worked their wonder and made the area very green. Large trees, now sadly rare in Lucknow, dot the area. Then you spot the long, low boundary wall of the house with large trees in the foreground. And beyond those, in the distance is the house- a low lying, not very remarkable, cubic structure with an interesting jaali running along its facade.

 

The boundary wall of Dr. Bhatia's house, named 'Shanti Sadan.'The gate posts have an interesting linked pattern designed by Griffin.

The boundary wall of Dr. Bhatia’s house, named ‘Shanti Sadan.’The gate posts have an interesting linked pattern designed by Griffin.

We walk up the driveway and notice a wall that runs perpendicular to the house, dividing the house and its large garden into two. The half we are visiting today belongs to Bir Bhan Bhatia’s third son, Dr.K.B.Bhatia and his wife, Asha, also a medical doctor. The garden is lush with exotic plants and trees, gifts of, I am told later, Bir Bhan’s good friend and neighbour Mr. Kanjilal, who was a conservator of forests in the 1940s. Mr. Kanjilal was also my grand-father-in-law’s good friend, my husband had told me, and I am excited by this connection!

The single storeyed bungalow at the end of the driveway

The single storeyed bungalow at the end of the driveway

I can visualize the veranda of the Bhatia house in its un-truncated form, running the entire front of the house. It is in polished cement with art deco patterns in black. These patterns are placed far apart and break the monotony of the grey-green cement.

THe polished cement veranda. The black motif was also designed by Griffin

THe polished cement veranda. The black motif was also designed by Griffin

We meet Asha Bhatia on her side of the verandah. She is dressed well in a cream sari with a maroon border and has a brisk air about her. She tells us about her own life and then of her illustrious father-in-law’s. ‘I fled Burma during the second World War amidst fears of a Japanese invasion. I was thirteen years old. With Japanese bombers diving deep to bomb, I fled to India with my mother and brother, leaving my father behind at his work with the education department.’ They finally wound up in Lucknow where she went on to study medicine at the King George’s Medical College. This is where her teacher and mentor, Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia, chose her as his future daughter-in-law to marry his son.

A photograph of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia that sits on a dresser in a room.

A photograph of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia that sits on a dresser in a room.

Bir Bhan Bhatia was an eminent physician at King George’s Medical College, Lucknow. He returned from England in 1928 after becoming a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and started to teach and practice at his alma mater, finally becoming its principal in 1946 till his retirement in 1960. He was charismatic, skilled and could recognise talent. So when he found the by-then-well known American architect, Walter Burley Grifffin staying in Lucknow, he met him and persuaded him to design his house.

Walter Burley Griffin with his wife Marion

Walter Burley Griffin with his wife Marion

Walter Burley Griffin had arrived in Lucknow in 1936 after his tender to design the library of Lucknow University was accepted. He had earlier designed the Australian capital Canberra(though was unable to construct most of it) and many prominent buildings in Chicago. Asha Bhatia recalls that on being approached by Dr. Bhatia, Griffin had told him that he was fully occupied with the Library and a trade fair in Victoria Park in Lucknow that he was commissioned to design. On being pressed further, he said that the only time he could spare him was during his lunch hour. Since Dr. Bhatia’s place of work, the Medical College was quite near Victoria Park where Griffin spent most of the day, Dr. Bhatia immediately agreed.  Asha says that her husband, then a seven year old, would be first picked up from school by his father then driven to Griffin’s office. ‘K.B. would be thoroughly bored with long discussions between his father and Griffin on the plans of the house’ Asha laughs.

The house in New Hyderabad, on a large plot of land, was completed in 1937. Work went on for two years. Asha Bhatia says that Griffin used inventive roofing for this house. It is made out of inverted concrete troughs, allowing space for air, creating good insulation against the searing Indian heat. She points out faint outlines of the troughs on the roof. The walls, too, have inventive brick work called ‘Rat-trap bonds’ also made for insulation.

‘This was one of the first houses in Lucknow to have concealed wiring’, Asha says, ‘People would line up to see this unique method of wiring and roofing that this ‘gora’ architect was implementing !’

Griffin, sadly, died suddenly in Lucknow in 1937 of Peritonitis. He had not completed this house. It was his wife, Marion Griffin, also a renowned architect, who oversaw the completion of the house as well as of the Pioneer building in Lucknow. Walter Burley Griffin was buried in the Christian Cemetery in Lucknow. Sadly, most of the Pioneer building has been pulled down by developers.

The rooms leading from the front verandah are spacious. The floors are of beautifully polished cement, in its natural grey-green and the crimson of red oxide. The drawing room with its red oxide floors has a border in black terrazzo with a swastika pattern in the four corners, all designed by Griffin. The design of the ventilators as well as the pattern on the doors with mosquito netting were also designed by the architect himself.

The drawing room in Asha Bhatia's portion of the house. The floors are of polished red cement. The swastika pattern was put in by the architect

The drawing room in Asha Bhatia’s portion of the house. The floors are of polished red cement. The swastika pattern was put in by the architect

The geometric pattern, inspired by nature, on the door created by the architect

The geometric pattern, inspired by nature, on the door created by the architect

When Asha Bhatia tells me that Mr. Kanjilal’s house still exists and is just up the road, I go out, walk up the road and try to peer into Mr.Kanjilal’s house. What was once a beautiful garden is fully overgrow with wild shrubs and weed. The low lying house is obscured from view.   ‘He would come to our house almost every day at 6.30am for a cup of tea with my father-in-law. The days he would not come, someone from our house would be sent to enquire and ask him over!’ says Asha Bhatia. ‘Later in the day and evening there would be queues of patients waiting to consult my father-in-law!’  A room in the house, now Asha’s drawing room, was the consultation room and benches would be put outside for the patients to sit on. She spent about a year in this house before Dr. Bir Bhan passed away and it is a time she cherishes. He was not only a skilled doctor but also one of the nicest human beings she met, she says.

The house, slightly changed from the original, has an interesting linked grill pattern running along its roof.

The house, slightly changed from the original, has two rows of interesting linked grill pattern running along its roof.

The lush garden, many plants of which were gifted by the well-known botanist, P.C.Kanjilal

The lush garden, many plants of which were gifted by the well-known botanist, P.C.Kanjilal

Dr. Asha Bhatia

Dr. Asha Bhatia

It is time to go yet I feel like lingering. Asha walks us to the gate, up the beautiful tree and shrub lined driveway. I look at the house from the driveway and think this is how Griffin must have seen it. He must have stood about here and supervised its construction, making sure every brick was laid correctly! Not sure if he is watching from up there, but if he were, he would see his legacy in Lucknow, perhaps the only one of its kind in India, alive and beautiful !

Thank you, Dr.Thapar and Sumita for making this visit possible. Thank you, Dr.Asha Bhatia for opening your home to us !

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