City Home – Fareed Mirza, Bazar Shah Abul Khair Marg
Old home glossary.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Suburb-like flats are taking over Old Delhi’s traditional makaan, or houses. Here’s a glossary of domestic spaces soon to be lost to legends. This afternoon, building material merchant Fareed Mirza and his generous family give a tour of the house his pardada (great-grandfather) built 150 years ago on Bazar Shah Abul Khair Marg. It possesses many of the aspects of a quintessential Walled City mansion. (The tenses pretend that all these features are still in use, but they aren’t, reflecting alterations in architectural styles, and in social etiquettes.)
Devri: Narrow corridor connecting the outer door on the street to the door opening into the residence.
Mardana Kamra, or Baithak: Room for visiting mard, or men (yaar-dost!). First room in the house, beside the entrance, so that a guest not on intimate terms with the family stays away from the women of the house.
Zenana: Similar space as mardana, but for women.
Mehman Khana (see photo): Drawing room to host mehman—family friends and relatives. Doubles up as dining room, with the cloth (or plastic) dastarkhan, the dining mat, unrolled along the floor.
Sehen: Courtyard, with or without a fuvvara, or fountain.
Dalaan: The intermediary space between mehman khana and sehen, marked by a row of arches called mehrab, which rest on fluted columns of Agra stone.
Bawarchi Khana: Kitchen, situated on one side of the sehen. The cook sits or squats on the floor, beside the wood or coal-fired earthen chulha.
Gharauchi: Stone tank in the sehen to store the household’s water supply. Filled twice a day by mashak wale, who bring the paani in a goatskin bag from the neighbourhood hand-pump.
Nemat Khana: Wooden cabinet with a jaali, or net, to store leftover food, milk, etc. (Equivalent of modern-day fridge!)
Chheeka: The house’s clay-lined roof (clay keeps the inside temperature cool) is supported on beams of sagwan wood.. A metal crate called chheeka, similar to a birdcage, hangs from one of these beams. Used to keep fruit, laddus etc., away from ants, rats, cats.
Taak: Arch-shaped niches scooped into the wall to keep a holy book or a god’s idol. Also serves as a shelf to keep household objects such as dadi’s chashma, mummy’s mobile, didi’s prize-winning school certificate, bhayya’s dumbbells.
Chatt: It is rare for a house to have an additional floor. But there is always a staircase to chhat (roof).
Kolki: Store underneath the middle landing of the staircase. Usually 5 feet deep. Used to store koyla, or coal (for cooking, etc.)
Roshandaan: Small opening in the dark staircase wall, as well as in the upper reaches of the rooms, to let in roshani, the daylight, and to keep the place ventilated.
Kothri: Small attic-like space built into a corner of the room to keep out-of-season clothes. Equipped with its own tiny basement.
Tehkhana: Every house has a tehkhana, or basement. In summer afternoons, the family retires to its silence, shade and coolness.
The way we are/were
It’s a pleasure to read your articles.
I wish to add a couple of things to your list:
1. A polished copper bowl used for drinking water, simply called ‘katora’. It’s still a common household item in old Delhi homes.
2. The ‘gao-takiya’ or bolster to recline on. You will find traditional ones in old Delhi homes. Some of them can be gigantic in size, stuffed with old clothes from decades ago.
3. Machaan or attic used for stowing away sandooq of festive clothes, esp of women.
4. Aghauri or a copper deep plate, usually served gravy/dal/tarkari in.
There are many more terms my father would know, things I may not have seen in my childhood in the 90s. If you ever do a series on these objects of memory, do meet him!
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