>Beauties from a bygone era

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Kannun Villa on Veerapillai Street

This is Kannun Villa. I have no clue when it was built or who owned it but it haunts me day and night with its beauty. Though it stands ravaged by time, I like imagining it as it might have been. After the early morning bath, pooja lamps and incense would have been lit and marigolds offered to the presiding deity. The milkman would have brought his cow in for milking while fresh vegetables arrived from the market. These would have been sorted out in a kitchen bustling with harassed maids, supervised by a sharp eyed housewife in a nine yard sari, the leading lady of this beautiful villa, with diamonds glittering in her nose and ears. Her steel and copper vessels would have shone. Floors would have been wiped till they gleamed and soon the aroma of spicy vegetables and steaming hot sambhar would’ve have sneaked out from the house onto the street.

Dreaming of a life lived fully

There would have been children playing under coconut trees or chanting multiplication tables, even a baby crying perhaps. A house this size would have been shared by a joint family. Brothers living together with wives, children and an ailing septuagenarian patriarch. Do you think they would have had a roll top desk perhaps ? With bills stuffed into the pigeon holes and an ink pot and quill resting on it for the daily accounts ? In the evening, the house would have had lamp light streaming from the windows,  or been lit by bulbs. The family would exchange the news of the day and eat the evening meal together before retiring for the night while the coconut trees conspired with moonlight to cast mysterious shadows. Would there have been secrets ? Intrigues ? Maybe. But this is just me weaving fantasies around my favourite house in Bangalore.
Grill details

In reality, it is a ruin with splendid bone structure that shows me the beauty it might have been once. It speaks to me in whispers, weeping softly at how age weighs heavily on everything that once was youthful and new, flush with the promise of tomorrow. Kannun Villa only has a yesterday. I just wish I knew what it was.

The monkey top

The ornamentation is delicate so it blends into the facade without shouting `look at me ‘ !  The distinct patina of age transforms my favourite shades of blue into a wonderful distressed finish on the walls. There is an attention to detail – the grills and lattice, the door frames, pillars, window arches and the monkey tops that overwhelms me. Even now, I marvel at how much there is for the eye to see. I will live forever regretting I never knew the owner of this beautiful building.

Lattice up close

I marvel at how functional and utilitarian we have become in our approach to life. Beauty has very little place in it. There is very little time to create it or be inspired by it unless you are making money out of it. Kannun Villa would have been owned by either a merchant, trader or landowner. He would not have been a passionate artist, a writer, designer, or architect with a trained eye. But whoever that incredibly lucky man might have been, he built an aesthetic house he could be in love with. Come to think of it, he built a house I could be in love with. And I most definitely am.

Mohammed Ali building on Veerapillai Street

Further up the road from Kannun Villa is the Mohammad Ali Building. Crowded shops around it sell everything from shoes to groceries and telephone wires are festooned over dusty balconies like cobwebs. Signage on every possible square foot of space hide it skilfully so you could walk past and not know it was there.  From whatever is left, I can see that Veerapillai Street was spectacularly beautiful at one point in time. Just these two buildings stand testimony to this, leave alone the others I saw later.

Current occupants

Mohammad Ali Building was built in 1824 by Yejaman Mohammed Ali, an army contractor. It is the last surviving Mews in the city. When town houses were built in London in the 17th and 18th centuries, and nobility rode in from the country, there wasn’t enough space for their horses. They usually had space at the back for stables to house the horses and for the stable hands ( ostlers) to sleep at night. These mews were usually built around a paved courtyard, along a street or a narrow cul-de sac.Today, most of the Mews in London have been converted into pubs, houses or B&B’s.

An urban legacy from 1824

Standing in the centre of the courtyard, my imagination gets the better of me again.Suddenly I can hear the whinnying of horses being led into the stables in the evening as guests arrived for the social and political gatherings that took place here once. Grooms shouting instructions to each other,  vying for a superior place in the hierarchy which will ensure better sleeping quarters once the horses were fed and bedded down for the night. Suddenly, the space seems alive again.
A mews worthy of admiration

So many of Bangalore’s  little details have disappeared with no formal archiving of information, lack of co-ordination or  fragmentation across civic body offices, libraries, government offices and private collections. Gathering it is a daunting and painfully individual task that often results in frustration and despair when the blanks leave gaping holes. But then, that’s why I feel like I am on a treasure hunt. Every now and then life or someone throws up a nugget of information that sets me off again, eager to find more.

God is in the details

I walk out of the building and I sigh. I am back in the crowded little lane again. The shopkeepers look at me curiously. I am used to it. Over the past few days I have seen their quizzical eyes ask questions ” when there are swank malls in this city and more than enough places to eat and drink, why would anyone wander around these lanes looking so deliriously happy ? They don’t know I live in a Bangalore that has morphed overnight into something alien I cannot relate to anymore. I am here desperately trying to build a cocoon of comfort and familiarity for myself  in a city I once knew was mine.

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5 comments

  1. >Anywhere else in the world heritage is preserved with pride.Here, it is allowed to rot away slowly in dusty back alleys.Out of sight, out of mind.

  2. This looks like the archetcture of a Scottish man named George Brown. This style is very common amongst old houses in Trinidad WI built in the 18th century……

    Samantha Rochard

  3. Very well written. I intend to look up these homes when I am in Bangalore.

  4. Sudhindra Srinivas · · Reply

    Beautifully imagined and articulated. Subscribed to your blog!

    1. Welcome to the cloud.:-) Thank you for reading.

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