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The house Lakshman Shenoy built

Palatial doesn’t sum up the two-storied house businessman Lakshman Shenoy built in the early 1940s. Whizzing past that busy stretch of Banerjee Road, chances are you wouldn’t have noticed the house, Arakkaparambil, opposite IS Press Road. Old timers, of course, would know. The gate is a narrow one-car affair and one has no inkling of what is in store inside. What waits is a wow-inspiring house in the style of the times it was built.

The late Lakshman Shenoy’s grandson, Guna Shenoy and his family live in the house. Anil Shenoy, Guna Shenoy’s son, introduces the house. The drawing room is more or less the same as it was before, he says, right down to the flooring and up to the wooden rafters. A large family portrait dominates the room.

The black and white flooring is eye-catching – geometrical designs with a border in the same colour theme. “The flooring in this room hasn't been changed. The flooring in the other rooms we have changed to marble and on the first floor it’s the same old red clay tiles,” says Anil.

On one corner is a door that leads to a corridor that leads straight to the dining room. Halfway down the corridor, on the right, is a puja room and opposite it another entrance to house, this one also faces the main road. The door with horizontal iron grills lets in the light. A tiny gate, parallel to the main gate, also opens out to the main road. It is not used much these days. This second entrance into the house is reserved for special, auspicious occasions such as marriages. The house bears testimony to the cultural mores of the city’s Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community.

At one end of the house are the two kitchens – a new one and the original with the wood-fired stoves. The dining room is remarkably well-lit, with plenty of windows letting in light and air.

Despite the changes made to accommodate modernity, there is space for the old. One wall of the dining room has two ‘aras’, today used as store rooms.

The house has seven rooms on both floors and three staircases. “The concept of privacy was lacking. The rooms are all inter-connected – with doors opening into other rooms. There are many doors to lock…” Anil jokes. Lakshman Shenoy lived in this house with his three sons and their families. Anil does the math and the number is huge in today’s terms.

Lakshman Shenoy’s ancestors came to Kochi from Goa. He built a fortune importing hardware (New Guna Shenoy Company estd. 1843) for the British before diversifying into film distribution and exhibition. He built Lakshman theatre in 1944, Padma theatre in 1946 and his son, Srinivasa Shenoy built Sridhar in 1964 (in memory of his older brother, Sridhar Shenoy), Shenoys and Little Shenoys came later. Sridhar was Kerala’s first air conditioned theatre; it was inaugurated by President V.V. Giri, says Anil.

The house sits on 50 cents of land. Adjacent to the entrance, towards its right is a door with office written on top. “That used to be the office in the old days. Visitors, on business, used to be taken there,” says Anil. The room above is a TV room. The first floor has, what looks like, a room with many windows, which Anil says is nothing but a passage.

No major structural changes have been made to the building made of limestone. The bathrooms which used to be outside have now been brought into the house. No constructions have been made on the first floor either lest the changes damage the original structure.

Long ago, Anil says, a tractor used to be parked outside the house. It was used in the family’s agricultural land in the outskirts of the city. Today, however, there is a nifty, vintage Beetle sitting in one of the car sheds. “There used to be Dodge before the Beetle. My father takes this one out for a spin every Sunday.”

A little bit of history, a lot of culture and tradition – the house Lakshman Shenoy built is a blend of these and more.


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 6:53:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-house-lakshman-shenoy-built/article7977200.ece

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