(Photo: Mr. Biplab Goswami)
This picture does not, in even a remote manner, indicate towards the dimensions of this grand and magnificent building right at the heart of Kasi: the mansion of Babu Devki Nandan Khatri. My friend Biplab sent me the photo of this old and characteristic building of Kasi after a discussion we had a couple of days ago. He wanted to know exactly what type of places did I want him to click for me. I told him that it’s about Kasi; even a stone would do. Now I am thankful that he did not take it literally and sent me this haveli.
When I was there, I used to pass this haveli on my bicycle very frequently, as Ramapura is close to Godowlia, the centre of my quarter of the city. Moreover, the main road that joins Sonarpura with Godowlia is prohibitively crowded at some times of the day. The Girja Ghar-Bhelupura Road is a better and faster option if there’s no traffic jam at Rewari Talao. That’s a huge “if” there, because that narrow stretch of street for around fifty metres is almost always clogged with traffic.
I had never stopped to look at this huge (horizontally, not vertically) building while passing it. When I see its photograph today I get to know more about it than what i used to know when I could see it in person. This mansion is a story written on stones. The rich textual details of centuries can be seen on this palimpsest. The base of this palimpsest is the sandstone, probably from Chunar. It’s the same variety that has gone into the making of most of the pakki mahaal, and my grand-paternal house too.
The stone has been covered with layers of various colours and ages of white-wash. The stone to the left has a hue of red on it, and that on the right is ochre yello and the centre is yellow. The cemented slope over the steps is definitely an addition that came after scooters became popular in Kasi. Father’s green Vijay Super, UTN 3129, needed a similar slope over the stone stairs at home too. Aesthetically displeasing: that’s what I call the bare slope. Small plants that have taken roots in between the stones are also characteristic of old constructions. I remember how I used to uproot them from our roof top during and after the rainy season. Moss and these plants whose name I don’t know, grow on all available surfaces in the old houses made of stone and surkhi mixed with lime used as surface of rooftops and for joining stones. Soil was filled between the stone balanced over beams and the surface of the roof.
The huge chabutra facing the whole facade is an expanded form of the smaller ones found in the galis of Kasi. The section of the chabutra to the right that’s not in the image is ideal for playing cricket. When they can play cricket on the road, by the road is quite good, in fact, better than on the ghats where ball keeps falling in Gangaji.
The central or main entrance to the mansion has double gates: one just an arch over stone pillars set in the wall, passing which one reaches the door set within the inner gate. I can’t see the motif of the design over the arches but I can guess with some certainty that it is the popular leaves and flowers motif that we have seen over so many other arches in Kasi. The door is the heavy and solid wooden type. The central yellow section has two opposite kinds of indicators on its left and right. To the dilapidated left there’s a turret like structure that blends with the rest of the building. I suspect that the roof of the rooms to the left has caved in. To the right, staring from where another turret could have been, is a yellow coloured brick and cement construction, completely out of sync with the rest of the building. Its windows are iron grilled and of a design quite different from the other non-grilled windows of the rest of the mansion. Where did this toad stool come from? And how could it be constructed over a structure that has a definite historical importance? Does the government or ASI even know about it?
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