“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
~ “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where.”
~”Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
This is exactly how I felt as I traversed through this huge mansion like Alice in Wonderland.
One of the striking features of this house is the sprawling balconies. Verandahs have always been a matter of great charm for me since childhood. The sound of the rolled-up morning newspaper hitting the floor, throwing paper boats and paper airplanes into the waterlogged street and Ma waving us goodbye on our way to school are beautiful memories that I associate with balconies. But this house added more to them and how! The number of balconies here defy counting. One leads to the other. The ornate iron grills guarding them showcase varied fretwork and decorative designs. When sunlight falls on them, they weave shadow-alpona (rangolis) on the floor. Beautiful!
Another impressive feature of this house is the objets d’art adorning the balconies. Owing to the earlier generations’ passion for collecting art items the house flaunts a stunning collection of ‘Angrezon ke zamaane ke’ marble statues, Victorian-style furniture, Chinese garden chairs, urns, paintings by European and Indian artists (both originals and copies), rare photographs of colonial India, large ornamented clocks and mirrors.
Because of the huge expanse of this mansion, needless to say, weddings of every family member were held in the residence itself. “Nahabat” or music tower was a regular feature of Bengali weddings in yester years. A temporary cubicle was built with bamboos and cloth and positioned at the entrance of the wedding hall. Shehnai was played LIVE by musicians (unlike most present day weddings, where Shehnai recitals are played on sound systems). Evident from the size of the building is the number of weddings that took place here. My friend’s grandfather, therefore, constructed a permanent ‘Nahabat-khhana’ at the entrance! (extreme left in the picture below).
I couldn’t resist clicking this switchboard at my friend’s house which speaks of history too. It is guarded by wooden covers on both the sides and is almost as old as the house itself. It looks like a book called ‘Let There Be Light’. : ) What a beauty!
Each room in the house is awe-inspiring. Huge chandeliers, porcelain artifacts, long fans of East-India Company hanging from the wooden framed ceilings (known as ‘korikathh’ in Bengali), ornamental wooden structures and large oil-paintings hanging from the walls will take your breath away.
Floored by their warmth and friendliness, I repeatedly invited my friend and his mother to my home until I saw their drawing room. My entire house seemed like a Lilliput next to the Gulliver-like structure of their drawing room. Here is a sneak peak.
The last but not the least was their terrace. Crowning the beauty that is the house, the terrace looks like a huge playground. The mighty Howrah Bridge at a distance was an added attraction. All I could think of was to place a river grass mat on the sun-soaked floor and sit there for hours on a wintry morning, savouring books and oranges.
A happy foot-note:
My friend told me that they are related to the Mullicks of the famous Marble Palace in Kolkata. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the Marble Palace and hence people who have not visited it can hardly fathom what is inside. My friend showed me photographs of the palace from their family’s album. What a ‘collars-up moment’ it was for me!
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)