Christening houses after places is a trend in Kozhikode

It would rank among the top three life goals of an average Malayali. No one rates “a roof over one's head” more highly than we do, and the desire grows mysterious fangs in our heads. A house, if one can build it — each room, each niche, each pillar in its perfect place — is the culmination of a life's aspirations.

The archetypal Malayali would sail overseas, toil in distant lands and be severed from family to see this dream fulfilled. The house ceases to be a structure. It becomes a monument of achievement, a token of status and a mirror to the owner's sensibilities. The deal is sealed when the dream is christened — a name that befits the complex emotions that went into it.

Some simply name their house after the place where they made a name for themselves. Scout around Kozhikode and you will see Bombay House, Ceylon House, Singapore House, Kuwait House, Jeddah House, Bangkok House, Mecca House and many more. Behind these names are tales of struggle and success and they become the physical evidence of a personal history.

At times, the houses have gone, but the names have stayed, passed on like an ancestral name. Names often are only intriguing hints of a family history now. The tales of the past are lost in the rush of time.

Bombay House is still reckoned with in the Kuttichira locality, despite there being no sign of the original. The house built by C.V. Mammu Haji in 1947 has been torn apart, the property has been partitioned and on the plot stand three houses, though still known by the old name. “The original Bombay House was pulled down two years ago,” says Fathima, who lives in one of the three houses. It was built by her grandfather after his business flourished in Bombay.

Fathima, though, is unable to shed further light on the past. However, P.V. Hassan Koya, a resident of the locality and a keen student of its history, pitches in. “Mammu Haji successfully ran a timber business in Bombay and then built this house,” says Koya and also picks out from old documents the year in which the foundation for the house was laid.

There are no signs proclaiming ‘Ceylon House' around that house. The house and its people are known by the name of their ancestral home, but ‘Ceylon House' comes alive in their postal address. It is a traditional Muslim house with vintage architecture and the floor is said to be covered with Ceylon tiles. Imbichi Haji left for Ceylon in a dhow in 1870 and made his fortune there, according to “Kozhikode Muslimkkalude Charitram”. “He was known as Colombo Imbichi Haji,” says Zubeida P.P., who is the great-granddaughter of the man who built the house.

The house got its name as a tribute to the land where he made his fortune. It stuck so fast that when his descendants built a new house in the vicinity, it came to be known as New Ceylon House. Imbichi Haji thrived in Ceylon with his fish business and visited Kozhikode often, though he finally died in Ceylon.

E.P. Mohammed Koya of Arakinnar has been to Singapore just once but is known as Singapore Koya and his home as Singapore House. “For the past 50 years, I have been running a travel agency. Those days, people travelled mostly to Singapore and Malaysia and I named the agency Singapore Travels,” says the 75-year-old. Success in business left its mark when he built his house. “I made my name staying here,” says Koya.

According to N.P. Hafiz Mohamad, former Head of Department, Sociology, Farook College, initially houses were known by their ancestral names. The practice was started by families who had either feudal or trade clout, he points out. “The concept of building individual houses began in the 20th century, towards the end of the British era, and became prominent in the 1960s,” he says. The norm till then was large, extended families.

With migration came economic prosperity, which was reflected in the house names. “Houses were named after the source of their money, which were particular areas,” says Hafiz. “I have heard of Burma House and Rangoon House. With the 1970s, with migration to the Gulf, houses were named after cities there. It became a symbol of one's status in society.”