Society

Doors open to tales of a century

There is a room in the 120-year-old Kavalaparambil family home at Konthuruthy, Thevara, whose walls have heard the first cries of seven newborns. The non-descript little room bears the enormity of the seminal births in the quiet elegance of a polished four poster bed, a chest of drawers and a cupboard that came as dowry. It is positioned at the centre of the house and is the coolest room.

Of the 10 family children who grew up in the large and spacious house, it has come to be in the hands of the youngest, Sash George, Applications Development Manager, Microsoft in Dallas, Texas.

In its romantic vicissitudes the house saw many changes, faced many hard and happy times and has opened as a service villa replete with tales of a century.

Sitting over old style tea service in a western style open kitchen, a later day addition, savouring traditional vattappams and kozhukattas hark back to a time when this would have been the scene, decades ago, with children hovering over tea and hot snacks. Sash and his brother recount the frisson in the kalavara, the storeroom that was added on by their father. “It held a wooden trunk to store rice. My mother would have the snacks placed there and as children we would run to open the box,” says Sash. Today, the storeroom remains much the same but the kitchen has changed into an open one looking on to a wide corridor that loops the house.

The area, before the family houses, three of them, came up, had several ponds, water bodies and was swampy. Mango trees grew in large numbers. There was a pond for bathing, one for drinking and one for fermenting coconut leaves. The house was built by Sash’s grandfather, Kochu Varkey, a man with a taste for fine living, as is seen by the art pieces he made on the walls. The house bears evidences of his artistry and of his faith.

Before the road came up to the house in 1976 and changed the entrance to the house, the main thoroughfare was the water body. Boats brought people up to the edge of the land on which stood the house. “When my grandmother’s arrival was announced a chair used to be put on the skiff and was sent to bring her,” says Sash who is in the process of collating photographs and incidents of yore “for the sake of the future”. If one ventured to arrive at the house on land it was through 16 or 17 turns, says Sebastian, Sash’s older brother, a former Sr. Manager with LIC and one who takes care of the house after it opened itself to hospitality.

Much of the grandeur of the house comes from its simple architecture, a fusion of European and traditional style. It was one of the few two-storied houses in Ernakulam in its time. Two rooms atop two rooms encircled by breeze ways or wide corridors remains its main form. Rooms were added, but not ad-hoc, to the house, as realities changed. The area around was paved. Earlier, the house had no attached bathrooms and these were added as European habits replaced traditional lifestyle. A shed with cows was a sign of wealth and it existed for a long time. The area was quiet and wooded. Sounds and sightings of birds and tree animals were common. As the family grew and moved away the house was closed down for nearly eight to 10 years, until Sash, nostalgic and faraway in America, decided to bring alive his heritage.

“The family elders used to talk so often about a flood that saw the verandas of the house accommodate the affected people. It was called the flood of 99, in the Malayalam year. There are lots of memories around this house,” he says.

Today, memories arise from the preserved utensils and objects, from the shiny brown baby cot, the inscribed wooden bowl, old doors, measuring bowls, trunk, vase, jars and such. A photograph of Kochu Varkey hangs with pride. The delicately restored house has now all modern facilities in the new wing with two rooms and attached baths.

In its new mode, Kavalaparambil, now Lake County Heritage Home, offers guests the best of both worlds, the delicately preserved past and the swiftly changing present.



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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 10:00:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Doors-open-to-tales-of-a-century/article14515128.ece

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