City Landmark – Old Bungalows, Patel Nagar
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The faded yellow paint of the exteriors have peeled off in many places—is probably peeling off at this moment too, while you read these words. The old paint underneath the yellow, resurfacing, has the dull pink glow of a perpetual sunset. The building seems empty. Facing the smoggy road, it stands between modern glass-grey edifices.
The bungalow is a souvenir of the old Patel Nagar. The central Delhi locality is littered with similarly elegant residues of our city’s recent past. Some houses are tucked deep within the back-lanes, adorned with the the chippy floors and swirly staircases of decades-old architectural trends. A few of these look forlorn. They must be vacant, awaiting their turn to be replaced by multi-stories.
A handful of Patel Nagar’s aged relics line both sides of its main road, easily visible to passers-by. One such bungalow has a huge porch colonised by a huge banyan. Another exists only in the memories of a celebrated Shakespeare scholar. In his 80s, Professor Rupin Walter Desai grew up in the “large, rambling” Rangoon Villa built in 1952 by his father, who used to teach Far Eastern history at the University of Rangoon in Burma. The main road house had two gardens, five rooms, and many terraces and balconies. There were guava and papaya trees, and a giant fig tree. The young Desai would reread Hamlet in the back garden or in his room upstairs. The drinking water for the “villa” would be sourced from Karol Bagh; no water pipeline existed in Patel Nagar during the early years of the bungalow. “Too expensive to maintain,” it was sold in the 1970s, obliging the venerable academic to move to his current flat in a Patel Nagar back-lane. A “big hotel” stands on the site of the professor’s former home; the hotel actually occupies the plots of two former bungalows.
Not far from where Rangoon Villa was, a moderately dilapidated bungalow continues to be inhabited. Two of the rooms have fireplaces. The dimly lit pooja room with its musty peeling walls evokes the hushed ambiance of a sacred cloister; so soulful here that one palpably feels the divinity’s presence. Sadly, portions of the beautiful woodwork in one of the rooms were destroyed by a termite invasion. The family recognises the rarity of the house, but is resigned to the inevitability of its demise. (A multi-storey overlooks the bungalow.)
Meanwhile, on the main road, a building is coming up. A bungalow stood on the site.