Old Cities: Banaras, Lucknow, Kolkata, Delhi

I was watching In Custody the other day. The protagonist, an ageing Noor Shahjahanabaadi, resembled someone from Kasi whom I know, and his greatness that goes nearly unacknowledged, resembled someone else’s whose greatness has largely gone unacknowledged. I was not in a very good mood while watching the movie yet I couldn’t but finish it. Good movies, those that touch you (yeah, no aesthetic sophistication here, plain audience response) have that kind of power over you.

The parts of the movie that centre on the old city and buildings around Noor‘s place lend their colour to the atmosphere. There’s an old mansion or haweli of a Mr. Siddiqui in the film, the place where once a soiree was organized. The beautiful mansion has to give way for a more modern multi-utility building in the end. And then, there’s the poet’s own mansion and houses around it. Those old houses constantly reminded me those other old houses in Lucknow, Delhi, Kolkata, and the ones I saw in Jaipur.

I am drawn naturally towards old houses with a stamp of their age all over them. There is an appeal in them that carries within it the element of melancholy. It can be felt as when one reads Grey’s Elegy. In that sweet melancholy, and the knowledge of the sand of time slipping from between the fingers, lies the mysterious pull of the ancient and, even the ruinscapes. I’ve been to Kolkata a couple of times and have seen old Bengali houses in Kasi too. The house below resembles the other pre-Independence Bengali houses so much that I am forced to conjecture that it once belonged to a Bengali. There’s no use of the present tense in the previous sentence, as my experience in patterns tells me that the original owners left decades ago, and the house was either unlawfully occupied by some muscleman or tenants who have been paying absurd rents since or was sold later to some Hindustani (the opposite of Bangali. It’s a term employed to denote those born to non-Bengali parents, although they may speak Bangla).

old bhadiani house

(Photo: Mr. Biplab Goswami)

(His comment: address B.1/187, Bhadaini, details not known ) 

So, naturally, I’m attracted towards the house in the image above. It’s a very common sight in Kasi: the old and dilapidated houses that’ll fall in the next monsoon. The elements that I want to emphasize are in the cropped images below:

old-bhadiani-house - Copy (2)

(Photo: Mr. Biplab Goswami)

The columns that are half-embedded in the wall and the arches over the real and false openings to the house become prominent because of the seven such openings in the facade. The corbels on the top of the columns also go a long way in giving the house a character. The roof has parapets that has columns arising out of its base, the same columns that start at the plinth. The portion shown above must be of a side of the house because there’s no chabutra in the picture and that marker of the front of the house being absent, it cannot be the front of the house.

old-bhadiani-house - Copy (3)

(Photo: Mr. Biplab Goswami)

The back wall of the house proves it clearly that the images above do not include those of the entrance section. The symmetrically placed false columns on two sides of the two windows and the central false one, and the arches above them lend their beauty to the overall view. The central flowers under the arches and two over them also add interest to what would have been an empty wall. The trees around the house and the gali that passes by, lend an old world kind of charm to it.

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The house above belongs to the place so much that I feel a strong urge to name it Banaras: the one we will not see few years from now.

house

(Photo: Mr. Biplab Goswami)

(His comment: A hotel at Assi Ghat … the name is Palace on Ganges)

This house above is not so old and dilapidated as the one covered before it. What’s more, it’s not a purely privately owned and occupied house. It’s a hotel, as my friend has mentioned already.

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