Friday, July 19, 2013

The way we live : A house by the sea

Society  has produced  the housing it needs, naturally and indigenously... this is not habitat that an outsider has to come in and `design'; rather it is the end product of a process that is organic to society, like flowers that bloom in a meadow
~ Charles Correa 

The homes built in the vernacular of  coastal Maharashtra are hardly for iconic or grandiose architecture. Yet driving past any residential cluster, it is hard to resist their trademark bright colors and individual quirks.

On a muggy monsoon morning, plying the back roads of a sleepy hamlet a few hundred kilometers outside Mumbai, I keep noticing the cottage style houses with simple mud and brick exteriors and thatched roofs. Until a bright crimson door  into a equally vibrant blue coloured squat adobe construction completely stops me in my tracks.

Walking into other peoples homes unannounced, just like that is never without a risk of rejection and embarrassment. This time as in the past, I just go ahead and take that chance anyway..
Inside, an elderly lady has just sit down to her lunch on a simple yet sturdy jhoola swinging from the roof.  I could not have chosen a worse hour to walk in, unannounced.

Luckily for me, home owner- Sailesh Kamath, does not seem to mind. Mr Kamath owns a sweet shop around the corner in Revdanda. He lives in the house with his aged mother and younger brother. Without much ado I am  invited  into his family home with the same warm hospitality I have experienced in countless homes in the region.

The structure,  bright and beautiful on the outside is astounding from the inside. Almost 150 years old I am told!   Its adobe and brick walls painted a vivid sea green are  sturdy and unscathed by time. Various generations have used the houses says Mr Kamat. Not so long ago,  an extended family of 17 would live in that space until demands of livelyhoods and education scattered them within the region and other parts of the country, he adds.

The old matriarch of the house- the gentleman's mother- quietly follows me on my explorations through the interiors. Offering, little nuggets  of information about the space and the family.  The decor, mostly functional and very simple has changed over  the years she says. Her younger son's political leanings and love for 1950's bollywood reflects in bright coloured bazar prints framed and hung as display in the  central foyer and elsewhere in the  house.

The fact that the house goes back years and  has changed hands many times during its history is evident in the way the orientation of the different living spaces is completely mixed up.  What used to be the main door is now permanently barred, and one of the original side entrances  is used for the purpose instead. A  separate cooking area and aangan has been turned into outhouse, segregated from the main structure. I try to take  in as much about the house and its people in the brief time I have inside the little blue house.

A jhoola encountered earlier,  in the kitchen also serves as an informal seating at meal times along with various coloured chowkis stacked neatly against the house.  All rooms have built in shelves and niches in the walls which serve both functional and decorative purposes.

The flooring of the house is made of hard baked clay to which   a coating  of dung fine straw and earth is applied  with the hands once a week. Although tiles would be far more convenient,  (which is why dung floors are vanishing fast across homes such as this every where) the owners say they prefer the old floor to cheap ceramic tiles.

Having taken a lot of the family's time, I take their  leave with a promise of stopping by when I am in these parts next.

  Getting back to the quote by Charles Correa I started the post with - One  thinks about  Mumbai and its built environment. Not so long ago, there was much to choose for the migrant into the city, bungalows, waadis , chawls even village style living . The city's  settlements dating back to the colonial times -( Khotachiwadi) or even  most of Bandra's quaint fishing villages boast structures built in various permutations available within the  Konkan coastal vernacular  mixed with  Portuguese and east Indian styles of housebuilding.  
Unfortunately for us city dwellers, residential architecture is being increasingly governed by singular ideologies of  development that generate high rise vertical housing as Mumbai's colonial diversity and heritage housing festers.


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