Rose Garden on Club Road is a reminder of love in bygone times and the rich cultural history of Kochi
On Club Road, just around the bend after the Collector’s home, is a stately white house half-eclipsed by a chikoo tree, a tall neem and a resplendent mango tree. Bound in by a short wall that curves along the road, the house leans back before a tiled drive-in, hemmed on either side by patches of lush lawn. Goldfish swim in a little pond, a black cat meanders by and at the verandah, seated on a half-century old chair, is businessman Mathew Antony. As the rumble of traffic outside grows louder, Mathew watches the world go by from his home’s spot of quiet, just as his father C.M. Antony did every evening from 1955.
‘Rose Garden’ announces a black plaque on the right side of the house’s gate; ‘C.M. Antony’, reads another on the left. Best remembered as the Chief Engineer of the PWD, and mastermind behind Kochi’s M.G. Road and NH7, Antony named his house after his daughter, Rose. “Back when he built it, my father designed this house as he wished it to look, little knowing that the architecture he chose was effectively art deco,” says Mathew. Built on land that was once a cremation ground, and made of laterite and plastered over with lime, the house stands today, 59 years later, outwardly just the same.
A kitchen with a traditional wood stove, grinding stone and chimney, now closed off, bookends the house’s backyard. It leads into a large living room, guest room and staircase landing, replete with ironwood woodwork, and door and window leaves of teak, all wonderfully cooled from generous cross ventilation. The living room leads out into a one-storeyed structure, the first floor of which was Antony’s office and the ground floor, his wife, Mary Antony’s clinic. “Auto drivers in the area still remember the locality for gynaecologist Mary,” says Mathew, who was five when the family moved into this house. He fondly remembers the backyard’s sugarcane and vegetable garden, the milkman who came to milk Radha, their cow, and the chicken coop, all of which time has taken away.
A polished wooden staircase heads upstairs to two bedrooms, a balcony, dining room and kitchen that are today Mathew’s quarters. Every bedroom in the house is appended by an attached dressing room and bathroom all with cupboards, dressers and desks mostly sourced from Mattancherry in the 50s, for Mary was Jewish. “My parents met when my father broke his leg at a football game and landed at the general hospital where my mother worked.” Despite familial opposition on both sides, the two were wedded in Madras and later moved to Kochi. Mary’s maiden name was Malka Lilly Salem, for she was daughter of ‘Jewish Gandhi’ A.B. Salem.
Her favourite wooden rocking chair with cane seating still remains on the first floor.
The major change in the house has been the withering away from termites of the long, sloping roof Antony had installed. An aluminium one now stands in its place. Rose’s house occupies the backyard and the walkway has been raised several inches for the road outside has risen in height with repeated tarring. Two tall Ashoka trees no longer stand for one fell over in a storm and the mango tree now marks the burial spot of the family’s old dog. The balcony above still overlooks the road outside, except that the view has drastically altered. “As kids we could see right across the Durbar ground. To the left stood one of the palaces of the Cochin royal family and the plot opposite was the thampuratti’s bathing pond. During the arattu procession, we fed elephants that walked past our gate and gave lime to the chenda players. I remember watching the fireworks all night from our balcony,” says Mathew. The house today faces the homes of the Collector and High Court judges.
In 2011, Antony passed away having long outlived his wife who died in 1978. Mathew moved back to their home to look after his ailing father in 2007, and today maintains the house alone with two helpers. From his mother’s Jewish side, Mathew holds precious newspaper cuttings of grandfather Salem, a copy of the book he wrote on Jewish synagogue and the handwritten manuscript of Cochini Jewish history by Hallen Hallegua. Painted portraits of his family members and an old pendulum clock gifted at his parents’ wedding still grace the walls. “I will have to let go of this house someday,” says Mathew, for his children are permanently settled abroad and maintaining such a large home is expensive. Until then, the house remains a haven for cherished memories from a time long ago.