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Column - Living Spaces - Treasuring antiques and memories

Kochi, Kerala, 13/05/2016: For Living spaces : An old house at R Madhavan Nair Road in the city. Photo : Thulasi Kakkat


Kochi, Kerala, 13/05/2016: For Living spaces : An old house at R Madhavan Nair Road in the city. Photo : Thulasi Kakkat


Even at 4 p.m. on a blazing summer’s day, Kottiyezhath House on Old Thevara Road lets very little sunlight in. Colonel Surender Menon, who lives there, switches the light on in the drawing room and pauses to think before saying, “This house must be at least 200 years old.” The drawing room walls bear the weight of the years gone by—the ancient chandeliers and mirrors with thick yellowing frames speaking of a different era. “This house was built by my grandfather A.V. Menon,” he says.

No change has been introduced to the main house, the only upkeep being a fresh round of whitewash and an occasional coat of varnish for the woodwork. However, for the last six years, even the customary upkeep has been given a break. Surender Menon, who has a house in Bangalore and whose wife lives there, shuttles between the two cities. “The wood must be of excellent quality, not once has it given us trouble,” he says.

The sprawling house is a treasure trove of antiques. Almost all the furniture is centuries-old. An aattukattil (swing) where Menon sleeps, he says, was used by his grandmother. Add to this, a few original Raja Ravi Varma paintings.

“My grandfather had an eye for art and these are his personal collections,” says Menon, pointing to two large paintings in the room adjoining the hall. Framed by a filigree of cobwebs, a fine layer of dust covers them. “See how exquisite this Saraswathi is,” Menon says, about Varma’s depiction of the Goddess. “No one really was interested in these. So they remained here.”

Beyond the hall, the traditional naalukettu branches into a squarish dining room on the right and a spacious kitchen on the left. The courtyard ( nadumuttam) has been covered with sheets of plastic to prevent rain from wetting the floor inside. The passage has been converted into a puja room with pictures and little idols of God arranged in a row. “My grandparents lived here. My mother was born here, my parents lived here. And my brothers and I were born here,” says Menon, who served in the Army for 32 years.

His mother, Thankamma Menon was an MLA and he remembers her holding office at the Legislative Assembly, the present Law College. His father, A.N. Menon was a barrister-at-law from London, who, drove down to India in a car. “Here, there’s a photo of my father,” Menon points to a well-preserved photograph of a group of nattily-dressed young men and their car. “The others in the photograph are my father’s cousins. They all lived in London for studies.”

The family owned the entire stretch of land (around four acres) from the point where the shipyard is today till MG Road where Saraf Hospital now stands. Menon, the eldest of the three boys, got the house. “After I finished by Zoology degree at Maharaja’s, I moved to Kerala Varma College in Thrissur to study BCom. From there, I joined the Army. I spent the most part of my life outside Kerala,” he says.

Darkness blankets the dining hall that leads to the staircase until Menon switches on a small incandescent bulb. The short, narrow flight of stairs seems difficult to negotiate for an 83-year-old, but Menon volunteers. “This is still in excellent condition,” he says, climbing up the steep wooden stairs. The elongated lobby overlooks the courtyard and has wooden shutters for windows, painted blue on the outside. The end of the passage is a labyrinthine row of rooms, all connected to one another. At the centre of the passage is a drawing room, which opens out into two rooms.

Most of the house has black oxide floors, except for the bedrooms upstairs, which have been laid with a colourful mosaic of Chinese tiles.

Though well furnished, the upper storey has not been lived in for years, though one room has a few of Menon’s possessions and a few photographs and paintings. “As long as I am alive, I don’t want to do anything to this house. After that, it is up to my children” he says. Menon has two sons who are in the U.S. and a daughter, who lives in Bangalore.

Today, Kottiyezhath House stands on roughly 50 cents. Its padippura (gateway) is still intact, rather fresh with doors painted a bright blue, which bears the names of Menon’s father and himself.

Beyond the padippura , a narrow cemented strip leads to the verandah, built in grand style, with two fading-gold painted lions flanking the steps that lead to it. “I think these were removed from the gates and installed here, but I am not sure,” Menon says.

He still receives his visitors at the verandah, where a few chairs have been laid out, the walls are brighter and his elders smile out of the happy photographs.


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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 10:26:52 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-houseful-of-memories/article8594826.ece