Heritage Walk

Waking me up in the morning, Ma complained to our neighbour Sweetu last evening, is an arduous task these days. She first calls me on my cell phone since she is of the opinion that I listen more to the damn phone than her live voice. Gone are the days when Ma would whistle to wake me - almost as if she were calling out to a canary in the zoo. The ઉઠે છે કે? (are you going to wake up soon?) is replaced by a long, monotonous ringtone which I often cut short by pressing the end call button in my half sleep.

Like a lot of nights preceding important mornings when I must get up early enough to get dressed for an outing with one or both of them, last night too was a sleepless one. That meant I was terribly drowsy this morning. To top it, dad had scheduled a trip to the old city to pick up some miscellaneous stuff that "you only get there". Of course, he had told me so I'd get my ass out of bed and finish breakfast in time to leave.

Surprisingly, despite the grogginess, my body somehow yielded without much prodding from either Ma or dad. The prospect of going across the Vishvamitri river ("gutter ganga" for Ma) to the old city is not many people's idea of fun. Unlike the majority of Vadodara's 1.6 million people, I revel in ambling in the 11 o'clock sun in the crowded old city area - start at the end of Raopura at Amdavadi પોળ and don't stop till Music College, taking in the sometimes breath-taking sites (the Faculty of Performing Arts and Sur Sagar Lake with and despite the monstrous Shiva statue and the funny fountain behind it) and sometimes the breath-blocking ones (same lake from close quarters mostly).

Papa n I reached the carpet wala only to be told he had left them "at home" (sounded like a bloody Grade 3 excuse for not presenting homework), so we were left with a 15-minute waiting. Lingering at the basement shop was out of the question for my claustrophobic daddy so we emerged from the cluster of shops that sell several home odds and ends opposite the Gandhi Nagar Gruh near Jubilee Baug. We strolled towards Sur Sagar in the hope to get some cool breeze - no such luck, not only was it a still morning, but also rather sunny with someone breaking a steel structure with an oxy actylene torch (dad must've repeated it at least five times and I still had to double check with Kshitij - uf!) and some urchins and rickshaw walas and street vendors making their noises.

The Sursagar lake with Music College or
Faculty of Performing Arts, MSU in the background

Just then I remembered there was a juicewala in the lane opposite (Kalamandir નો ખાંચો). I had obviously either conjured the vision or was thinking back a long time. After walking up to the crossroad that marks the beginning of Bajwada, dadda suggested we trudge a little ahead - "જોવા માટે". I was game. We had time to kill and the closely placed buildings on both sides of the lane screened the sun adequately.

Prof Ashok Parikh's residence at Bajwada, Vadodara
(with the ghastly water auto)
to the right: the side of Ashok bhai's હવેલી
Suddenly we were met by this house in the Baroda Gaekwadi colours of brown and cream. The carvings at the top and base of the pillars and balcony on the first floor were striking for two reasons - as you can see in the accompanying picture, there was an ugly water flasks tempo parked outside the house along with an electricity pole and some damn ugly new age houses erected on either sides of the beauty.

Even after this RED auto and the other heritage building behind it caught our eyes, we didn't return to the verandah of our discovery-of-the-day with much change - a puny bike instead. Just then, Papa commented that our old Prof Bharti Parikh lived somewhere around here. Having NEVER attended her classes during my Third Year of BA, I was in no mood to go pay a visit now and remind her of just how boring I found her classes. We decided to venture into the lane from where the red auto had emerged to take a closer look at the other site.

Bharti Ma'am. Feeding cows. The lady and her professor husband have known my father for long enough to forget his daughter's puerile follies. My sister teaching at the same department as Bharti ben seemed to have erased much of my scams from her memory. Greetings were exchanged and we were immediately invited into the house. Just as we made to walk towards the "entrance", she asked us, like the goodly hostess, to enter from the front - yup, you guessed it - the house we'd been so vehemently photographing with the phone camera (and thus the horrid resolution) had been hers!
Ashok bhai's mother's photograph taken from a Daguerreotype camera
sandalwood frame, polished, classified antique
Perhaps one of the few people in India who still read SPAN

We were enthralled by the interiors - having only witnessed the living room, the old furniture and family heirlooms were both charming and a matter of wonder all at once. During the conversation several trivia and little facts were revealed - The house is 110 years old and situated in the Bajwada area, which is said to have a recorded history of 2500 years (no sir, I'm not kidding you). The house has beams closely fixed with Burma teak to reinforce the ceiling. Since cement was not found back in those days, they used a mixture of jaggery water and calcium oxide to build the basic structure - the area of a single house that could easily put to shame one of those "mansions" (six-apartment buildings, really) in South Bombay. As we were leaving, Ashok bhai pointed out the initials of his forefathers etched on the entrance punctuated by faces of gods from the Vaishnava pantheon.

What fascinated me most were two things in all of this:
1. the pride of the residents of this century old house, and
2. the things they chose to put on display in their living room - one of those old reel recorders, the frames, a 70-year-old English made steel trunk, and those copies of the SPAN magazine beneath the centre table, apart from all the volumes that adorned a built-in display shelf in a corner of the vast hall. Even the steep and narrow staircase that led to the upper floor of the house was right there, in the living room!

Our 15-minute time killer stroll had clearly turned into a 45-minute unplanned social visit. We were still in no hurry and were rather elated (as an after thought) about the mint-and-lemon sherbet that Bharti Ma'am offered. It was so effortless - the whole impromptu nature of socialising... no calling beforehand to check if the occupants were home, no elaborate sweets and farsaan (a humble bowl of dry fruits and prasaad from the Haveli), no fancy gifts exchanges... Forget all that, one could have a fairly detailed conversation with even a stranger vessel-shop owner in the vicinity whilst looking for antique brassware. We topped out visit with a token purchase of water chestnuts (શિંગોડા) from a lady of about 30 daintily clad in festive red with a kumkum swastika on her weighing scale, cheerfully doling out her day's first sale.

It will be a while before I return to this part of the city - Ma had some bone china purchase in mind... Tomorrow morning's going to be another tricky wake up call - we head to Nareshwar on the banks of the Narmada River...


Sriram said...

Varry Naise. Made one Nosetalgeek

Piyu said...

you should write, actually.