Living spaces Society

Where memories come alive

The 90-plus Rajalekshmi Vilas at Palayam

The 90-plus Rajalekshmi Vilas at Palayam   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Rajalekshmi Vilas at Palayam still retains its distinctive features of another era

Every house has a timeline that is decided by a number of factors. One important feature that determines the longevity of a house is the character of the locality in which the house is located. When quiet residential areas transform into bustling commercial spaces, the homes seem to lose their very identity.

But thanks to some tenacious residents, even when their homes become islands in the middle of maddening crowds and traffic, their personality and presence lend the house a certain grace and homeliness. Such is the case with the sprawling, 90-year-old Rajalekshmi Vilas situated in the heart of Palayam on Extra Police Road, right between the hostel of the College of Fine Arts and the parking space of a major textile outlet.

Different varieties of jasmine spill their scent into the well-swept grounds and a gentle breeze ruffles the leaves of plants in the front yard. An oasis of serenity, the old structure’s lifeline is its owner, Rajalekshmi Amma, a 89-year-old matriarch, who lives there with her domestic help. Built in the traditional architectural style, the house, long ago, had a pathayam, naalukettu et al. The ravages of time have wrought many changes and all that has become a memory for her and her sister-in-law Lalithambika Devi.

However, in the mellow light of the day that filters into the house, thanks to a verandah that runs all around the house, it is easy to imagine a time when the rooms were alive with the sounds of laughter and conversations. Many of the rooms of the L-shaped structure open into the verandah. What was once the pathayam has become a modern dining room, pantry, kitchen and bedroom that is used by the octogenarian.

“My parents moved into the house when I was two or three from our ancestral home Karanaviruthi Vilaakathu Veedu in Pazhavangadi. Then this was a small place with a thatched roof and a pathayam. It was my mother’s share. My father, Velayudhan Pillai, who retired from service as Devaswom Commissioner, added to the existing structure and those are the rooms that are beyond the present living room,” recalls Rajalekshmi Amma.

Vintage feel

Old-fashioned furniture in solid teak and rosewood still furnish many of the rooms, including the living room.

Rajalekshmi Amma’s husband, Parmeswaran Nair, also added rooms to the house. But he retained the wooden roof and greenish cement floors that gleam with the patina of age even when it is broken in many places.

A room with an old-world look at Rajalekshmi Vilas

A room with an old-world look at Rajalekshmi Vilas   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Portraits of her grandparents and parents adorn the walls of the rooms, most of which are kept locked. As her younger daughter R. Sreeparvathy takes me around their ancestral home, each nook and corner comes alive in her memories. “This was our bedroom and my elder sister R. Sreekala and I used to sit in this verandah and study. My grandfather had built a dressing room connected to the bedroom and it was attached to the toilet. In those days, such a dressing room was not common,” she says opening the door to a spacious room that is also locked up.

Another room opens into a pooja room with its collection of old pictures of gods and goddesses.

Since Rajalekshmi Amma found it difficult to negotiate the many doors and distance from her bedroom to the pooja room, it was also locked and a corner of the living room has been converted into a space for her pooja.

Sreeparvathy says that many decades ago, there used to be regular poojas and rituals in her house and then a makeshift kitchen by the side of the pooja room was used to cook the prasadam. She remembers how a long covered passage led to the kitchen and servants’ quarters. It has now been converted into another house in the same compound. Yet another room from the verandah in the front opens into a room that looks like an office room.

A magnificent planter’s chair in rosewood has pride of place in the otherwise sparsely-furnished room. “That belonged to my grandfather’s father and is an antique piece,” says Sreeparvathy who also stays in a different house on the same 50-cent compound.

Sreeparvathy smiles when she points out that they are one of the few families on the road who have continued to stay in the same place. Over the years, some of their neighbours’ houses have changed hands while some remain locked. As the octogenarian sisters-in-law shoot the breeze in the verandah, it is as if time has stood still in this part of the city.

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

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 2:55:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/vintage-charm-at-rajalekshmi-vilas/article19473910.ece

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