‘That house behind the mango tree’ — The Hindu


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The well-lived in Krishna Mandir seemed resplendent in a new coat of paint. Prema, former banker and translator, has spent a large part of her life in the house.

For as long as it has existed, it was that house behind the mango tree. Prema Jayakumar, whose father Balakrishna Menon built the house 67 years ago, says whenever anyone gave directions to the house, the tree was invariably mentioned. The giant mango tree, which bore sweet Chandrakkaran mangoes and whose canopy covered most of the houses façade, was felled last year. A wayward banyan seed had messed with its system and it had begun to wilt. When it started posing a threat to the house, it had to be brought down unceremoniously. Without the tree, the house on Diwans Road is on full view from the gatea quaint building evocative of the architectural splendour of the early 50s.

The well-lived in Krishna Mandir seemed resplendent in a new coat of paint. Prema, former banker and translator, has spent a large part of her life in the house. It is part of a lot of her childhood memories. There was a small pond in the front yard. Most of us children (cousins) learnt swimming in it, she says. The pond, however, had to be covered as the road became busier. Today, though it is surrounded by high rises and modern-day concrete edifices, the house offers a sense of serenity only old houses can. With its wooden ceiling and baked-tile floors, large grilled windows, wooden pillars and staircase, it is a sanctuary of calm. The chimes of the grandfather clock and the whir of the old-fashioned fans, enhance the antiquity.

When it was built, it had four rooms and a hall on the ground floor and the same plan was replicated on the first floor. That was altered to make the house more spacious, Prema says.

The drawing room wall proudly bears a sword that was gifted to Premas ancestor Karunakara Menon by the East India Company for his role in the Kurichya revolt (1812). It was about Karunakara Menon that Prema wrote her first bookKarunakara Menonum East India Companyum .

The rosewood staircase, Prema says, is one the most valuable items in the house. It is over 200 years old. Equally precious is the pillar, brought in from Kozhikode, which is the centre of attraction in the drawing room. It has intricate carvings on its capital. Two spears, vintage with wooden handles, which flank the clock in the dining room, were brought from her mother K.P. Sarada Devis house in Kozhikode. In addition to the aatukattil (large wooden swing) and a veena, the upper storey has antique furniture the family made and inherited. The other attractions here are the five book shelves packed to capacity. Most of the books are from her fathers collection. Premas husband, advocate V. Jayakumar, too, shares her passion for reading.

One portion of the ceiling is concrete. During that time, I believe, concrete was just starting to become big. My father was fascinated by it and wanted to try it on a small portion, Prema says.

Krishna Mandir has had its brush with history. Congress stalwart C.K. Govindan Nair has lived in it for a while. He was related to Premas mother. During his stay there, the house received many important personalities including statesman V.K. Krishna Menon.

‘That house behind the mango tree’ - The Hindu

Among the sepia pictures adorning the walls of the dining room is a photograph of Prema as a young girl with Jawaharlal Nehru. He had come to Bolghatty Palace and I had an opportunity to meet him. Panditji was fond of mangoes, so we packed some for him. I still remember how he held the mangoes in his hand, she recalls.

The dining room opens out into a sit-out, which has a chaarupadi (wooden backrest common in traditional Kerala homes). The kitchen and the bathrooms are additions to the main structure.

Prema remembers the Diwans Road of the past. There were only about six houses in the area. Our property extended up to Foreshore Road and we even had our own private canal that would bring in the produce from the fields in Njarakkal and Mulavukad, she says.

The garden has always been there, once nurtured by her mother, with mandaram. thechi. thulasi, chembakam, jasmine, coconut, chikoo, mango, jackfruit and even a star apple tree, which bears fruits that nobody eats. But it attracts so many small birds. Its a pleasure to listen to their cacophony in the mornings, she says.

Krishna Mandir hopes to remain the way it is as Premas only son Pradeep, an engineer in Netherlands, is crazy about the house and wants to preserve its ancient beauty.

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