Sunday, December 04, 2011

Aane Wala Pal Jaane Wala Hai

As we drove out from Dhaka towards Manekgunj and I busied myself wondering how and when I will blog about it (as all bloggers are wont to do) I could swear it read as a very funny travel post in my mind. I was going to write a note about how The Toddler has picked up on my fondness for the"countryside" albeit he will phrase it as What A Beautiful Country Mama, So Many Country Outside. 
There was also going to be a sly dig about how development discourse has influenced street directories. "You want to go to Baliaiti huh, take a right from Vulnerability" or "Sir jee we are passing through Climate Change now. Do you want to stop the car?"
But let us leave that for another day.

Today let me take you on a journey to the Baliaiti Zamindar Palace.
Technically it is some 40 miles out of Dhaka, and 5 km from Manekgunj where we were for the weekend.
But as we all know the past is another country.
Even if it is just the countryside.

The road to the mysterious mansion. Or haveli as I refer to anything larger than a 2 bed,drawing/dining, attached bath, with its own servant quarter,
or as the Bangalis call it a zamindarbari 
...was winding and crossed many a rickety bridge.  The Toddler and I sang There Was a Crooked Man (and I added "Arhaan, this means he was a crooked contractor and bungled all the funds" ...yes why get into Kyphosis of Notre Dame with a 2 year old) and we deliberated on the crooked miles and the crooked stiles and fences, and saw all the crooked animals scurrying off in the distance.
And I wondered about the mysterious Baliati Palace I had only seen pictures of in a Facebook album (yeah! stalkers are us) and how no one I knew in Dhaka took an interest in it. And how you too dear reader might have opened up another tab in your window browser to google some information about it!
I got some of my answers to these questions when we turned around the corner and I gawked Khudaya!
as I saw this in the distance. 

Even as the driver exclaimed. "Papayas such beautiful papayas and so cheap". 
Beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder.
You also have to have a well fed stomach to admire it.

We neared. The buildings were enclosed in a compound with stone lions at each of the gates.
Shera Ki Aamad! The Lion Enters
We paid up for what the Bengalis call Jadoo Ghar (read museum)--albeit only two rooms of the 200 plus are open to public, inside you will see various items of "household use". Hurricane lanterns, safes oh so many safes, cattles (sic they were kettles) , a teak commode, really beautiful wall mirrors in a room where the wallpaper was still intact, a pair of marble Nandi, impressive chandeliers. A bed and a rifle stand. Basic what they could "salvage from the looters" stuff.

However the true beauty was that of the buildings themselves. Pieces of furniture are only the accessories of our life.

And how handsome were these buildings.
19th century.
So they may have seen three violent partitions. 

I wonder what they made of us. Driver ji looking over his shoulder at the papaya stand.
The Toddler running from one mansion to another.
Gman thinking to himself Bilkul Calcutta (his barometer of all things sophisticated)
And hum?  Dear Reader.
I was ..unlikely behavior..for a motor mouth like me. Stupefied.

Oh if these trees could talk

So once upon a time there was a very rich salt merchant. Who turned zamindar courtesy Taj-e-Bartania. He had four sons. Hence four mansions. Over time he found more money. Also wives. And sons. Leading to seven houses for seven sons. Of those these four survive.
These two on the far right 
Repeat to Self. Its Only Bricks In the end Its Only Bricks . 
And these two to the far left.
Mera Wala Salmon Pink no White No Pink
The problematic (for me at least) white paint for the two buildings in the middle are courtesy a "renovation" project when they did get some funds. The renovation work has been long abandoned due to lack of funds, but the grounds were well maintained. There were rose bushes planted in front of the mansion, and the grass in the back of the buildings well trimmed. There was a ghat, that looked clean, the steps free of moss. Look at me pretending to be a property agent now.

The buildings in the back however were in a pretty decrepit condition. And not just because of neglect and ravages of time. Two had been put to fire by a "crazed woman" as the guard put it. I suspect it were the squatters . For once the families that had lived there had moved away (I assume they moved away. I hope they moved away and didnt face any act of violence) the mansions saw a generation of squatters. In one case the area school master. They were driven away some time in Gen Ershad's regime, and the Archaeology Department took over. Perhaps in a "dog in the manger" fit of pique the squatters put the building alight? Or was it looters in the 1940s. Or a disgruntled senior wife before that? Who knows. For other than the board put up at the entrance which spoke of a Shaha family, and how one member of the family,  Sri Kishori Lal Saha (Roy Choudhury) , went on to contribute funds to set up Jagganath College and later Jagganath Hall in Dhaka University; there were no other details. Roy Chodhury was a familiar name for us, as his statue is a familiar sight every Durga Puja at Jagganath Hall .
Here is a pic.
Statue of Roy Choudhury--benefactor Jagganath Hall.

But coming back to Baliati Palace. 

Was it Manderley's Mrs D? Jane Eyre's Mrs R? You Decide

And this
Cue In Andheri Raato Mai. Flickering Lamp Optional

And this
I forget whether these were stables. Or guest houses. Or both. Yes we all have those kinds of guests.
and how could I forget that the Seven Houses for Seven Brothers came with an attached pool. Zenana bathing house, changing rooms ka alag intezam

 And there were rows upon rows of doors. And The Toddler and me launched into a door knock campaign.

A well with steps going in. And though Gman screamed I Can Spot Water. I refused to near it. And looked at this instead.

Walking out towards the four in the front, I took a look at the scrolls and realized at times it is not just the devil in the details. there are some satanic cherubs as well.

Too lazy to zoom in. OK.Here you are.

Say it with me. Mummmmmmyyy

Though friends quizzed me. Was the place haunted? I would say no. Arhaan gamboled happily through it, so it seemed whatever that may have been evil was exorcised in the fire, baptized over the floods of history. It did leave me with a hundred possible stories.
Should I mourn the owners' loss? For what if it was a crooked sixpence (and some more) he may or may not have found on a stile that funded the palace?
How much money can you make in salt? As much as say if your father owned Bambino Cinema Was this the 19th century equivalent of Rockwood/Surrey Mansion?
But I am going off on a tangent which I am also wont to do.
Oh dear me.
It could be that the zamindar was not an evil man. He had a kind and gracious family, and when they moved on, the Lady of the Manor tied up a handful of earth in the pallu of her sari and whispered in the winds. This and my memories of the years here, this is all I take with me wherever I go.
And the brothers four threw open the doors to their mansions. Had an Open House and all their friends and foes danced the night away. That they later unlocked their garages, their wardrobes, and people trooped in and  took away all that they wanted.
But it is also possible that they were horrible people and that when their cars turned around the corner, and the dust died down, the villagers whooped in joy, dancing the evening away, finally collapsed to the floor in mirth setting up camp in the corridors.
But there is something so dignified.
And stately
And calm about these buildings
That I cannot imagine that the muddied fingers of violence, of envy ever clawed over it.
Do you?
So many stories remain untold. Maybe one day we will know what happened next to all who were associated with this palace at one time.
But for now I am a bit kinder towards all who do try telling me tales of rooms they struggle to summon in their dreams. Gman for one has promised to listen more carefully to his grand aunts Perchance they were right, perhaps grandfather did abandon many riches. And I dont think we will be making snide remarks about pudeene ke bagh, orchards of mint any more.
Forgive me all.

Ek baar se Dil Nahi Bharta. Just appreciate how the buildings are lit up by the strange 5pm sun

The next morning we woke up in the community farm/conference centre in Manekgunj. And I exchanged one Social Commentary Of Our Times for another.
Walking with Arhaan , I realised how all my cultural references, my Love For the Countryside comes from Blyton. So if I were to see this, 

I would think of the cool dairy where Sheila from Willow Farm lent a hand to her mother and their help in setting cream and  butter; and where they left the milk to cool down. This building by the way is an apiculture lab.

And I think of Rory and Benjy and threshing grains at Cherry  Tree.
But at least I can assure myself it will not just be Tammylan that will teach Arhaan to have a love for nature.
On our morning walks we witnessed many a kingfisher. They refused to pose as they complained how the government never offered them any handouts. 
The Kind of Pictures You Take Just  Because You Have a Swanky Camera  Now!  Exhibit A

The Kind of Pictures YouTake Because You Have a Swanky Camera  Now! Exhibit B

And later as we went to our room and Arhaan scanned through channels, and stopped playing with the remote enough to hear this song play. 

I cried. 
And I dont know whether it was Ashura and my moral quandary about The Toddler listening to music that saddened me (For I have always loved Golmal and this song in particular) 
Or were they tears of joy at all the blessings I have? For some the year draws to an end, for us it has just begun and it is my annual stock taking time. But whatever it is. I know time is passing me by, even as it all just begins for Arhaan. May  it be a beautiful journey for him too. For I have had a ball.

And just then The Toddler piped"Such a nice country this is Mama?"
I didnt have the heart to say Countryside kiddo Countryside.
Oh let him live in this "country of his mind"  for as long as he can. Such a nice country it is to be.


  1. Hi Aneela;

    As always a lovely travel post. But for your blog, I would never have known that a stately place like the Baliaiti Zamindar Palace ever existed.

    I wish I could have taken my mother to this place. She loves old buildings, especially of the Mughal Era (I know this one was from a different time, but she would have appreciated it anyways). As she walks by the carved entrances of these buildings, she will notice details which are often hidden behind the hideous "minku loves pinku" scribbling.

    Lastly, loved your reference to the classic, Rebecca.."Was it Manderley's Mrs D?"...Now I am really pinning to read the classic all over again.

    Till later
    take care


  2. This is insane but I never gave thought to the fact that both Manderley and Thornfield burned. Isn't that the way of all ostentation, though? First it impresses, then it becomes a symbol to rally against, then it burns, then it becomes a symbol of the romantic past. What I really liked was how you tried to humanise these buildings, although to many they would just be the symbols I mentioned above.

  3. I agree with Blue Wit. The pictures are just beautiful and I love the toddler's crooked creatures and knock knock bits. It sounds like something I'd do. But I'm in my late 20's so you'd find it a bit obnoxious. Great post. I want to visit Dhaka now! I've heard their cheese is AMAZING! - shazaf

  4. aneela. you make me wanderlusty.

  5. had to rofl for a while after reading...

    "You want to go to Baliaiti huh, take a right from Vulnerability" or "Sir jee we are passing through Climate Change now. Do you want to stop the car?"
    no one can write like you do, aneela:-)

  6. Hey, u still didn't find out y it was abandoned? Very entertaining writing tho... Do u blog regularly?

  7. LOVED This post and all the pictures as well. What camera are you using now? The last two pictures are fabulous!

  8. @Anu: As ever so impressed with how lovely your comments read. I am sure you have excellent penmanship as well.
    @Blue Wit: Aap ne tou darya ko koozey me bund kar diya hai, is se ziada aur kiya kahoo?
    @shazaf: yes the cottage cheese is wonderful, just wonderful; and it travels well too. Do visit me please.
    @leaving1302: arey behen please thoda yeh love lust Dhaka ko bhi dikhao na. VISIT ME!!!
    MiM: I am learning from the best!
    Anon: You know it costs the same if you use all the consonants
    Seo Pak: Thankyou for the vote of confidence
    Shachi: Hey Shachi! welcome back. and that is the Canon EOS 60D

  9. Okay so I'm BACK because now I love this song too! And you've made me nostalgic. And this post has given me the insane concept of time running out through my hands into my children's hands.

  10. Just read your reply above. What is a koozey? (Pardon the ignorance).

  11. @blue wit: an earthen water bottle with a narrow neck. Perhaps I should give this Roman Urdu stint of mine a rest?

  12. A truly fabulous post, Aneela!
    And I want some Dhaka cottage cheese too, please:)

  13. aneela. memoir likho! and i hope you are printing some of these pics for a to enjoy when hes older! hum print ke zamanay ke log hain!


Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line while a customer care rep gets back to you.