Into a family album.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
How could a handsome, erudite man of romantic sensibilities such as Jawaharlal Nehru bring himself to read Research In Animal Husbandry?
Thousands of similarly titled volumes that line the corridors of Teen Murti Bhavan point to the obligations this book-loving statesman had for the greater common good.
Designed by British architect Robert Tor Russel, who also planned central Delhi’s Connaught Place, Mr Nehru’s last home was built for the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army (circa 1930). Our first prime minister lived in this mansion till his death in 1964. A few months later, the 30-room mansion was turned into a museum. Stepping into it is like opening a family album.
Black and white portraits of the Nehru-Gandhis adorn the walls. Drawing rooms and bedrooms, separated by glass walls, look so alive that you half-expect Mr Nehru to tap you on the back. You can hear peacocks calling in the sprawling gardens; squirrels scurry through the leaves-strewn grass. The estate is wooded, with some of New Delhi’s largest semal trees. The booklet, The Birds At Teen Murti House, lists 54 species. The garden has a rock inscribed with the famous lines extracted from Mr Nehru’s ‘Freedom at midnight’ speech. A planetarium built on one side of the estate is a later addition; the walls of its lobby are plastered with grainy photographs of Mr Nehru posing against backdrops of dams and nuclear plants.
The museum’s canteen serves subsidized food.
At the roundabout outside the mansion stand three famous figures representing the princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore and Jodhpur. Dedicated to the Indian soldiers who died fighting in West Asia during World War I, the three statues — or the teen murtis — give their name to the place. Installed within a landscaped garden, they were made by British sculptor Leonard Jennings.
The only kitschy items in this home to good taste are in the galleries exhibiting the gifts that Mr Nehru received during his foreign jaunts: a metallic olive tree from Lebanon, a replica of Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens from Pakistan, a jewellery box from the erstwhile USSR, and a small magnetic touristy souvenir from France, the kind you would stick on your refrigerator.
One of the exhibits on the museum’s first floor is the sparsely furnished room in which Mr Nehru died; the narrow single bed amplifying the loneliness of his final years.
A home to good taste