I'm yearning to carry the branches of my family tree in my pocket when I move into a contemporary row house.

My ancestral home will soon become rubble Is holding on practical
Blog Vintage homes Saturday, November 12, 2016 - 11:38

By Jyotsna Venkatraman

“Home is where the heart is...but the ancestral home is where the soul is” was my pitch to my mother when she broke the news of the demolition of our 70-year-old majestic bungalow, nestled amicably in the heart of the city of Madras. She was probably more crushed than I was about the news because she has seen four generations walk its corridors, but being the more practical one between us, she chose to maintain a straight face. Besides, there was little she could do to save this giant heirloom complete with Madras roof rafters, red oxide flooring, trees, cement benches, a well and many other things you would spot in museums displaying yesteryear houses.

I persisted despite knowing that none of my logic laden reasons could convince the elders at home to drop the plan of demolition. After all, they understood the commercially driven world better than I did. I even dreamt of air lifting the bungalow to a distant place to preserve it, just like what was done to a 400 tonne ancestral house in Coimbatore in 2013. In this case, the house owner’s rationale was the same – commercial interests, but he had at least managed to preserve his property.

 I have a hard time coping with the pace at which swanky apartments are replacing bungalows that still ooze with that earthy, old world charm. The most likely reasons for this are the complications involving inheritance, cost of maintenance, security concerns considering the vastness of such properties and the migration of the younger generations towards greener pastures far away from their ancestral villages or towns. Another big hurdle in maintaining these structures is the lack of technical know-how. The labourers more often than not are oblivious to the value of the structure, sometimes chipping away at elements that are antique in nature.

However, many home owners have started leasing out or transforming their properties into hotels, cafes and lounges, in an attempt to preserve them while simultaneously making money. Those who are not monetarily driven, choose to retain their properties to be used as vacation homes. In cases where the entire structure cannot be preserved, the family members try to reuse certain elements such as the furniture or the pillars of their ancestral homes.

Luckily, the trend is accelerating, according to Mr. Ram Ravoori, a renowned architect. He feels that many affluent families are striving to re-employ elements of their ancestral properties in new and exciting ways. For instance, ‘Athankudi tiles’ and the central courtyard are making a comeback in a contemporary avatar. It is interesting to note that Vaastu’s recent claim to fame started out as a science of seamlessly integrating the energy flow in a home. What people conceive as an expensive hygiene factor these days was just common sense in olden times. The primary idea was to let energy flow through ventilation passages planned in harmony with the climatic conditions. For instance, in the living room of old houses, the numerous windows perfectly aid ventilation, thereby being a natural extenuator of heat.

It is hard to say in black and white if the new giving way to the old is acceptable because of practicality. At the end of the day, the decision is highly personal and subjective. For me, I'm yearning to carry the branches of my family tree in my pocket when I move into a contemporary row house after my home is razored down to rubble... it’s the same home that was occupied by my granddad in the prime of his youth, many decades ago. It’s the home which witnessed five grandchildren and one great grandchild crawl on its beautiful, flower-patterned red oxide flooring…it’s the home that stood the test of time in the face of natural calamity and offered strength when we were cast down by a personal tragedy... And it could have been the same home that would have continued to exude the positivity and warmth for many more generations to come, only if it was spared.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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