Luz House, a sustainable bungalow telling the stories of a Madras from years gone by
There are cracks in the floor, but the house bears them like proud scars.
On a humid Madras afternoon, a light drizzle sprinkles the path to two pristine white columns, blades of grass giving way as the drops tease the lawn. Ripples of granite cast a timid glance through the portico. “They are called adaptation stones,” explains Abhimanyu Prakashrao, a sixth generation owner of the Luz house. In a sense, that’s what the lovely bungalow has been doing for over 250 years: face it. And how.
The path to Mylapore’s royal structure is littered with suburban cars and apartments, nothing like the 100 acres of lush forest that faced the house 250 years ago. Luz, or the original Lutz, is said to have got its name when Portuguese priests waded through a storm and prayed to Mother Mary. The light that guided them was where the Church of Luz was built. Portuguese barracks were stationed in the bungalow which was the Luz house.
First floor corridor
What was once a barracks was then passed on to Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu, the patriarch, who was a translator, then known as dubash, at Parry & Co. The story goes that he became extremely wealthy thanks to his business dealings as a principal translator for the British and acquired twenty acres in Luz where the Luz House already existed.
In 1868, Venkata Mahipathi Naidu, better known as Buchi Babu, developed a fondness for cricket as a young boy. “Cricket was then seen as the game of the white man, not the black man, as they called us,” says Abhimanyu. His nannies took him to Chepauk, and he started playing between the two mango trees in front of his large portico. Facing the British in a match after being outraged at not being able to use the MCC flag, he was part of the first all-Indian team to win against an all-British team in the South. So goes the story of the father of South Indian cricket. He then founded the Madras United Cricket Club.
Maison Luz itself has always remained in the family.
“In the past, wealthy patrons invited artists to come and perform. They had big guys, like the governor of Madras, who came together to witness these events. We have the impression of coming back to this past and revisiting it at each event, ”says Abhimanyu. But despite all the opening, the bungalow gives off a reserved air. It is an exclusive space which always bears the weight of an undeniable privilege and elitism. in Madras society.
But Buchi Babu as a character himself was one for open spaces and challenged the status quo. Cricket in Madras until his arrival was an English game. His dream of having a playing field open to all was the start of the process by which the Chepauk courts were freed from the MCC monopoly and ultimately leased to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. Naidu also challenged social norms embodied in Madras cricket, such as the rule that non-Europeans cannot enjoy the comfort of the lodge during lunch and sit in the shade of trees for lunch.
First floor hall
The house thus became the home of an illustrious family of sportsmen – Buchi Babu mastered horsemanship, tennis and cricket, while his younger brother, Chitti Babu, was a tennis champion and cricketer. Buchi Babu’s three sons continued to play trial cricket, and subsequent generations competed in Ranji Trophy matches.
Abhimanyu’s grandfather presented a fascinating contrast in terms of the definition of space – he lived in a “room” at the back of his house which was a corrugated iron roof held up by four slender columns with a small fan. and without walls. It was a minimalist idea of an airy open space that didn’t carry any ostentation unlike the bungalow, but was extremely private.
The checkered tiles on the patio crumpled over time, alternating throughout the house with red oxide flooring. Each room has its own smell and its own warmth. Cream walls carry the weight of history – faded photographs of the family’s boastful past hang.
Marketing hovers above the spaces and slipped through the doors, which have gone from squeaky shutters to studio windows. Buttons were ordered from Jaipur to stay in antiquity. Most of the wood is new and the spiral staircases have corroded over time.
“Once the foundation was shaking when a column moved. And Kalpana Ahmed, the architect in charge of the restoration, got down to work to redo the roof. She saw a crack and quickly called the engineer, spending 3-4 days trying to figure out what to do with it, “Abhimanyu recalls. A long green carpet with a plastic cover that screams orange hangs over the treated pillar, and the plaster barely shows.
An image of five men positioned around a giant trophy appears from the walls. “At the head of the British Empire, Raja de Kolanka was an amateur polo player who felt insulted that he was not recognized enough to be one of the greatest. So what did he do? satiated himself by making one of the biggest trophies in the world that could fill 10 bottles of champagne, “he laughs.
Cracks run across the floor, brazenly showing the wear and tear of the house like proud scars instead of shameful bruises. Abhimanyu thinks it goes with the weathered look. He shares a whimsical moment from the past. “My grandfather once hosted a few people and they were wary of old houses because they were hubs for ghosts, at least they believed so. My father and brother cut two white sheets to make them scared, ”he said with a smile.
The back of the house is a revelation of what it was like, with wet patches of rain crowding around the mud walls. Windows and bricks are neatly stacked around the backyard which was once used by Hindustan Motors. The blue paint on the mud walls is peeling off with pops of moss scribbling the space. “This is the part of the house that is the most worn out and needs a lot of work, but it is also the one that has the most character,” observes Abhimanyu.
The house is precariously sunk at least three inches, forcing the roots to burst and crawl along the walls. “Preserving the walls without uprooting the trees remains the biggest challenge,” says Abhimanyu. The sinking of a large house is usually attributed to the urbanization of a space and a better drainage system – streets and sidewalks are built at a higher level than the dominant level so that the sewers can drain by gravity. But no inheritance, judiciously treated with love and affection, can fall under its own weight.
All the photos of the Luz house.
Note: This article was first published on August 16, 2016.