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In archaeological company

Tripunithura is one town where you bump into history at every corner. Raman Namboodiri's house, perhaps the oldest building around here, has European style murals too, finds PREMA MANMADHAN

TO HELL with history and these firingi paintings. Maybe that's what some people thought two score years ago, when they painted over these mural paintings. Paintings of Tipu Sultan, Queen Victoria , a few other anonymous Western gentlemen in coats and tails, chaperoning pretty women in long flowing gowns and hats.

The strangely designed building, perhaps the oldest one in Tripunithura today, which sports these paintings, has witnessed history, experienced colonial times and savoured independence, apart from seeing red rule, UDF and LDF regimes. Raman Namboodiri's wife inherited this two-room Nilamitta Bungalow, way back in 1976. Mr Namboodiri, being an archaeology person, did not look at it as merely a two-room building. He sensed history in it. (He retired as Archaeologist in charge of exploration and excavation.)

There were two reasons. One, that a Maharajah had once lived here, Ravi Varma, who ruled between 1853-64. Two, he knew there had to be something on the walls. The rooms he got were neatly whitewashed. "But I remembered reading about this Nilamitta Bungalow having mural paintings somewhere," he said. So, with his son Ramesh's and wife's help, he painstakingly set about carefully taking off the whitewash. After some days, he struck gold. His hunch proved right and one by one, the paintings emerged from under the whitewash.

"It took almost a year to wipe off the whitewash as it has to be done very carefully in a professional way. Unfortunately, some of the paintings had vanished altogether," lamented Mr Namboodiri.

Worse, huge nails had punctured some of the paintings so badly that nothing could be done about it. The paint used must have been natural dyes as the building is approximately 250 years old or more. "It must have been built during the Dutch period,'' he feels.

The architecture is simple but strange. The rooms are on the first floor. A sturdy staircase leads you up, but below, in all of the ground floor, it is good earth. Why? Probably, they filled this area with earth because Brahmins need to touch the earth when they chant mantras or perform poojas. There is such a room in the Mattancherry Palace too.

The walls are solid, all sides of four feet thickness. You find windows everywhere. There are 10 of them in one room. Of the 20 paintings, big and small, the eight bigger ones are painted on the walls separating the windows. The details are surprisingly intact in some of them. The gold necklace on a charming lady shines still at dusk and the design is clear. After more than 250 years!

The expressions are thoroughly westernised, as also the demeanour of the characters painted.

Some portraits show the Mughal influence. One painting seems clearly that of Hyder Ali's.

Mr Namboodiri is unmoved about the low utility value of the house he lives in. What will happen to the room when it is too dilapidated to be lived in? He has no answer.

His son has built a house close by, but he and his wife live here. They are happy to cohabit with history.

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