There’s a two-storeyed house at the end of Bandra Bandstand, right before SRK’s Mannat, that quietly looks out at the sea. From afar it looks small, dwarfed by the highrises and the fencing around the neighbouring villa. But walk up to it and you notice that it actually occupies quite a large space. An entire apartment block can fit into it.
I first heard of the place when I spoke to Darryl D’Monte in 2009 about the Bandra book. He suggested that I speak to Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, who lived and owned the place. I had no idea that the house I’d be entering would have such old world charm that I wouldn’t mind working as a housekeeper for a week just to discover its secrets.
The book never happened. But, as I decided to chronicle Bandra’s bungalows in this blog, I knew I had to visit Kekee Manzil once more. The pictures accompanying this post were taken in December 2011.
There’s a cobble-stoned driveway that leads up to the house which is basically a ground-plus-two-structure. The wooden door that opens from a side entrance is massive.
The villa built in 1921 has been named after Kekoo, owner of Chemould Art Gallery, by his grandfather. He and his wife reminisce of a time when the area was full of small bungalows. “We could see the coast of Versova right from here,” Kekoo says. He points to a highrise from the verandah on the ground floor, that looks into a well manicured garden, and says, “There used to be another old bungalow there. A round structure. It remained there for a long time.”
There’s enough space in the three-floored house for three families. The Gandhy’s children live on the first and second floor with their spouses and children.
Having taken permission from their daughter Shireen I take the wooden steps to the first floor. Like all old homes built in the early Twentieth Century, this one too, is intricately laid out with wood. The walls, the columns in the hallway, etc are made of Burma teak, which is found in many such homes. Khorshed says, “There are no maintenance or termite problems.” She adds that while the house has undergone maintenance work, contractors have always kept the original look intact.
She moved into the house in 1944 after her marriage. “Bandra station,” she adds, “is just the way it was then. It’s just more crowded now. There was a time we’d be scared to make the journey from the station to the house after sunset.” Neighbours would go to the nearby fort are once a month for a picnic.
There’s sufficient light streaming in through the stained glass windows for us to take photos. Amrita Bagchi (who kindly offered her services as a photographer) balances herself on the foot-wide balcony on the first floor to capture details.
If you are looking for details, this house has many. From door knobs and window stoppers that you won’t find even at Delhi Haat, to tiles on floor landings that you’d be hard-pressed to find for your house. In fact, a restoration architect I spoke to last week said that such tiles are no longer made. You can only get cement versions made to order.
I ask the couple what their favourite spot in the house is. Though I wonder how they can choose. Were I a teenager, I’d like to sit on the driveway discussing the latest gossip with my friends. Were I younger I’d play in the lawns. Were I older, I’d sit under a tree in the lawn and read.
But Kekoo doesn’t hesitate. “That chair,” he says, pointing to a Jacobean piece of furniture in the verandah that is covered by doors that open onto the porch. A sparrow enters through the open glass windows. It’s a quiet morning here.