Living spaces Homes and gardens

Picturesque Sreerangam

Sreerangam Photo: S. Mahinsha

Sreerangam Photo: S. Mahinsha  

Sreerangam at Vazhuthacaud, which is more than 100 years old, stands out for its simplicity and elegance

Mossy red roof tiles and faded red terracotta tiles complement picturesque Sreerangam, a charming, single-storeyed residence, on Vazhuthacaud-AIR road. Framed by tall, leafy trees and surrounded on three sides by an old fashioned garden of hibiscus, oleander and Ixora, the 100-plus-year-old house on nearly 27 cents is now a rarity on the busy road. Once, statuesque buildings and large compounds were a common sight in this part of the city. However, those gracious structures have been replaced in the recent past by concrete towers with novel names.

Sreerangam seems to have escaped those dramatic changes of modernity for the time being. The red and cream coloured house with its thick, rounded white pillars seems to be cocooned in a time warp. Jackfruit, mango and guava trees jostle for space in the front yard along with a couple of nutmeg and cinnamon trees.

If you can tear your eyes away from the homely, informal greenery, a short flight of steps takes visitors to a serene L-shaped verandah with fat pillars. The glare of the afternoon sun hardly affects the veranda on account of the low roof and large trees sheltering it from the heat. The white pillars are the only extravagant gesture that stands out amidst the Spartan simplicity of the house.

The veranda, furnished with comfortable chairs, opens into a formal living room with old-fashioned furniture and sepia-tinted photographs aplenty. A chubby tom cat, fast asleep, occupies a table in a corner of the living room while sunny yellow curtains on the windows add a dash of colour.

The formal dining room and the courtyard with a marble-top table at Sreerangam Photo: S.Mahinsha

The formal dining room and the courtyard with a marble-top table at Sreerangam Photo: S.Mahinsha  

The pride of the house is a bedroom with a wonderful view of the garden and the trees, which is also accessible from the veranda. The sparsely furnished room has a carved narrow bed and a table. “Chattambi Swami used to live in this room when he used to come to our house for short visits. My father remembered him coming to our house,” recalls M. Prema Nair, the present owner of the house.

Family lore has it that the saint told Prema’s grandparents to plant a kanikonna near the entrance, one that would flower all the year around. “It was planted and, true to his word, it used to flower all through the year. A few years ago, it toppled over and we had to cut it down,” says Prema, leading the way to a boudoir next to the living room.

Adjacent to the boudoir is a spacious room with a courtyard that also functions as a dining room. A marble-top round table with four cane arm chairs around it is Prema’s favourite place in her home, and where she spends a lot of her time now, meeting friends and relatives.

Living room at Sreerangam Photo: S. Mahinsha

Living room at Sreerangam Photo: S. Mahinsha  

“My father’s grandfather Krishna Pillai, a judge, built this house at least 116 years ago. His daughter Chellamma Pillai was married to P.N. Krishna Pillai, who was Peishkar. They also used to live here. My father, Dr. K. Madhavan Nair, born in 1902, remembers being put inside the nadumuttam when he was about three year old for being naughty. That is how we guesstimate that the house must be about 116 years old, if not older,” says Prema.

She adds with a smile that her grandfather used to have his breakfast on the marble top table. “If this table could speak, it would have told tales of umpteen marriages that were decided around this table, of deals made and decisions taken and tales of well-known people of his time who used to call on him,” says Prema.

Generations of Prema’s family were born and brought up in this house that has been continuously occupied after it was built on a steep incline. But the master craftsmen of those times did not disturb the lay of the land to build the house. Instead, they built the house to suit the contours of the land. So the split-level house with more than 3,500 square feet gently slopes away from the road. Large cellars to the right of the main structure can be accessed by a steep flight of steps. “Before the partition in our family, these steps led to a corridor and then on to the dining room and kitchens that were further way. But when my mother, Rajamma, aged, she found it difficult to tackle the steps and so a dining room and kitchen were added to the level ground in front of the main structure,” explains Prema.

The new addition is about 60 years old and includes a dining room, store and a large, old fashioned kitchen. A wooden door in the dining room opens into the garden in the front while the shape of the house ensures that all the rooms have windows that open to sunshine and wind.

Rooms meant for domestic staff were built on the side of the kitchen. A bathroom there has an opening for firewood to heat a stove inside the bathroom; an old-fashioned idea for getting hot water for a bath! Inside one of the open rooms, one can spot kitchen implements of the past: different kinds of grinding stones such as uralu, ammi, kallu….

“I don’t have the heart to throw them out. After someone flicked an ulakka ( a heavy wooden pestle for pounding) I have kept the one left inside the house. Many of the unused rooms are now used to store old furniture and stuff that my sons leave behind when they change houses,” she says with a smile.

“In those days, rooms were built and were used according to the needs of the family. There were four bedrooms but I knocked out the walls and made them into three bedrooms after my husband, V. Mohanan Nair, retired and we came to the city to settle down,” says Prema.

On one side, the sprawling room with the courtyard has been partitioned into a bedroom. Outside the room is an airy open verandah with a view of the houses behind Sreerangam. Only then is one aware of how steep is the slope on which the house has been built. Steps lead to a small, narrow ground that is filled with plantain.

The patina of age that clothes the house is what sets it apart from many such houses and makes it such a precious memento from the past. “The wooden ceiling and floors are difficult to maintain. Civets live in the loft and looking after such structures is not easy. But my sons cherish this place and I hope they will keep it going,” says Prema.

(A column on houses in and around the city that are more than 50 years old)

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 6:49:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/Picturesque-Sreerangam/article16700551.ece

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