Society

With an old world charm

Unniyattil, an old house at T.D Road, Kochi.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Between the narrow T.D Road and the Maharaja’s College ground there is a little shady patch of land upon which stands Unniyattil, an old-school malika built roughly 80 years ago. With wood panelling and grandfather clocks, large televisions and gaming consoles, it is an example of a dwelling that has seen the sensibilities and preferences of different generations come together.

The front of the house, set a way back from the road, with a patch of shade serving as a doormat, greets visitors with a sitting area where an earthy brown dominates the roof tiles and walls. The sitting room with wooden floors and an aattukattil adds to the old world charm of the house. “My late husband’s mother got married to a thampuran from Tripunithura kovilakam, and the house was built by his grandmother, Karthiyani Amma, for them to stay in,” says Santha Nandakumar, who now lives in the house with her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren.

Ahead of the sitting room is a small corridor that branches off to one of the six bedrooms in the house on one side and opens out to the staircase leading to the first floor . Another, larger, hall-cum-dining room beyond opens out to the kitchen and two more bedrooms. “The area now used as the kitchen used to be a bedroom, and the third bedroom, and the TV room beyond it used to be a part of one long hall, which was used for prayer a long time ago,” says Santha, adding, “the television room also has a koni, a small wooden staircase which was used by the household help to take meals to the first floor.”

The wooden stairs, Santha says, are among the few aspects of the house that set it apart from most modern ones. The house itself is mostly unchanged from its original form, with minor renovations inside having been done only in the last few years. What used to be a veranda at the end of the long prayer hall is now a small antechamber with tasteful wood panelling and tiles that compliment the rustic appeal of the house.

“I came to this house only in the 1970s and it was already quite well equipped even by today’s standards. The door frames, which are traditionally quite low in old houses, are large and easy-to-walk through here, and there were attached toilets, which have now been expanded into proper bathrooms after renovation,” says Santha, for whom the only challenging task was sitting cross-legged and having food at the dedicated oottupura located just outside what is now a secondary kitchen and work area on one side of the 22 cent compound.

While the present house is nearing a century, the ancestral house used to stand in the current Maharaja’s College ground, and that house is said to have been visited by Swami Vivekananda during his visit to Kochi in 1892. It served as a meeting place between him and Chattambi Swami. “I am told that in those days the main house was directly visible from the Ernakulam Boat Jetty, and it was while residing there that my husband’s grandmother built this house, for Rs.10, 000,” says Santha.

The upper storey of the house is dominated by three large bedrooms, with a kitchen leading straight off the black-and-white tiled corridor the staircase arrives at. Santha says that the upkeep of the house has not been easy, with termites attacking the wood. “The walls used to be made of lime, but now we have changed them to cement.”

She also says that Karthiyani Amma’s sister, Pappu Amma, was one of the first gynaecologists in Ernakulam. Santha’s brother-in-law, Unniyattil Karunakaran, served in the military. Karunakaran died in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war and now has a road in the city, Lt. Unniyattil Karunakaran Road, named after him. If it was not for the occasional sounds of traffic filtering into the house, it would be only too easy to feel transported to the gentle pace of the countryside, or a look at all the little knick-knacks kept around the house and go back in time. Despite its sprawling size and history, the house has remained mostly unchanged as it watched buildings rise and obscure its view of the boat jetty and the path Swami Vivekananda once walked.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 2:15:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/with-an-old-world-charm/article6469071.ece

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