My childhood memories are more or less scattered and fragmented between two-three houses. One among those was my ancestral house - Mouttathu in Adoor. I am still not sure about how old that Naalukettu with thatched roof must have been. We were part of a big joint family back then and as there were many children in the same age group, time went by in a jiffy. As soon as we got back from school, the books were thrown aside and we would just dash out to the nearby fields. There would be many engaging activities and games to keep us busy till night fall. For the guests visiting, there was a separate outhouse called ‘Chaavadi’.
Another part of my childhood was spent in a house built by my maternal grandfather at a place called Pallikkal. During that time, the house was considered pretty modern in style and it was called ‘Medayil’. Strangely, most two-story houses were known by that name then. My mother and I stayed at this house for many years. There used to be many mango trees in its backyard and these were often visited by squirrels. Squirrels are picky eaters; they target only the ripe fruits on the trees and ignore the mushy fallen ones. I used to chase them away.
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The Sree Kandaswami temple was near the house and during the 10 days of the festival season, we used to come and stay at Medayil.
A striking memory from that time was of 'Rosie'. The Rajapalayam breed dog came to our house uninvited and we became very close. Once I had to visit a dentist at Kayamkulam accompanied by the caretaker of the house. We travelled in an open bus that was a bit faster than a cycle. Rosie tagged along till the bus stop. When we got onto the bus, we could see Rosie running behind it. She followed the bus all the way till Kayamkulam for around 40 km!
One of my uncles owned a couple of theatres back then and he used to take us for movie outings. The first film I saw was Balan. I remember a few in which Thyagaraja Bhagavathar had acted.
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Right from childhood, I was interested in dramatics. I acted in my first play when I was eight years old. I played the role of Buddha in a drama staged to celebrate the King’s birthday. Then I delved into some scripting and directing of plays, which had my own family members as actors and the stage was my home itself!
In the backstage of ‘Darshana’
Darshana, the house that I live in now at Sreekaryam, was built in 1977. It was my friend Bhaskaran Nair who told me about the auction of an old building that was being demolished and sold at Pazhavangadi. We took part in the auction, which had a number of leading wood merchants and purchased the structure at a good rate. Around 20 truckloads of materials were taken from the site and stored at the plot near the present day Chithralekha Studio as I did not have another place of my own for keeping this. The wood remained here for another 1 to 1.5 years braving rain and sun. I finally bought the plot opposite the studio from a popular arrack dealer in the region with the intention of building a home.
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Around that time, architect Laurie Baker had started with his vernacular sustainable eco-friendly green architecture in India. He had built a church for the Christian missionaries in a place called Azhakiyapandipuram in Tamil Nadu. I was once invited to do a documentary on the church. It was love at first sight for me when I saw that Baker style church. That is how the design of Darshana came to be a mix of Baker style architecture and elements from the memories of my ancestral tharavadu.
I had numbered the pieces of wood when I brought it at the auction back then, but most of the wood had decayed and could not be used. The first set of skilled workers was unable to comprehend my vision for the house and then I hired a second team of workers. This didn’t work either. Finally, it was an aged mason with his team of men that got the work completed. I was unable to inform Baker after my house got completed. But once he noticed the house, which had his style from an aerial view while in an airplane, he came in search of this place! He visited the house and went back wholeheartedly giving it full marks.
There are two entry points to the house. Large glass windows have been used throughout. Many had doubts about the security factor of placing such large windows. That didn’t worry me much though, as there weren’t any valuables in the house. Making the attic was what turned out to be the most expensive part in the construction. This made the interiors quite cool but it was a problem when the toddy cats came to camp there. Anyway, it is all an adjustment now and we happily co-exist!
I feel there is no other race like Malayalees who are so obsessed about building compound or border walls. Even if the house is small, they are adamant about having a huge padipura and can’t do away with a large, intricately worked fancy gate! And then they go about laying tiles all around the house and all over the outer grounds. Our traditional Vaasthu science of architecture is in fact so profound and it is sad that very few realize the importance and follow it. Malayalees are yet to master the art of reusing and recycling of materials without further contributing to waste generation.