All around me are skyscrapers. But I have hopes. I turn left and find myself on a narrow cobbled street with laterite stone bricked hedges and bougainvillea blooms. I walk down the street, find myself on a dead end and turn left again. More apartments, huge bungalows with manicured lawns greet me but I plunge on. Another dead end and lo just to my right I finally see it- a Mangalore tiled house nestled among coconut trees complete with a verandah, tiled roof and the red oxide flooring. The house is dilapidated, the clay tiles are broken, doors are in shambles but the house or what is left of it is still beautiful. The Tulsi in front of the home is thriving – no doubt some passerby continues to water this holy plant everyday.
The house eerily reminds me of my grandpa’s home now in the hands of a stranger who has plans to convert the place in to a seven storied apartment. Grandpa’s home was a delight surrounded by Jackfruit,Mango and Coconut trees and two wells. There was a spacious veranda- a pillared gallery with grilled windows and sit-outs that opened out to them. I remember counting stars at night, swinging my legs out of these sit-outs.
The verandah led to a living room that had multiple doors. Each door led to a different room-bed room, storage but not the god’s room.The devarakone or the god’s room was at the center of the living room ,huge with miniature paintings of various gods and goddesses. There were various wooden boxes where my grandfather kept small deities and the sacred saligramas. Each morning the gods would be taken out of their boxes for the pooja and dutifully kept back -intact once the pooja would be over.
The kitchen was huge, the ceiling above made of wood with plenty of storage space to stock food items . I remember the storage room above the ceiling. It was always noisy at night, squeaking, perhaps due to mice foraging for food . So there was no question of sneaking in to the kitchen for Jaggery or milk powder at nights. Who wanted a mouse accidentally falling down on their heads ?
The wooden panels, the clay tiles, the verandah, grilled windows,laterite bricks, the lime plaster finish – these features kept the house refreshingly cool. It was a delight to sleep on the cold red oxide floors. They were cool to touch and provided the perfect setting for the afternoon slumber. The Mangalore tiles overhead kept the sun out. If there was a slit, we kids knew about it immediately. The dark rooms would be lit with a small shaft of light pouring in from these broken tiles.
Structures like these are slowly disappearing from Mangalore giving way to multi storied apartments. But Mangalore still has some of these- the government colleges, schools and libraries. They don’t scream for attention like the skyscrapers but they can be found in nooks and corners still. Go near them and you will be lured by their old world charm and simplicity. For a few seconds at least you will leave behind the rush life and embrace the slowness that only a clay tiled home can offer.