April 26, 2011

Inside the Haveli

I can’t remember when I first began photographing my ancestral haveli in Rajasthan, India. Before I continue, I would like to say that I was contemplating how exactly to explain what a haveli represents; definitions such as a many-roomed, courtyarded mansion do not exactly conjure up the particular atmosphere and personality of a haveli though. I can try to do so, though, in the lines below.

I must say at this point that the haveli is one of my most favorite places in the world. I can speak at length about its historical and family significance yet what essentially remains with me about the haveli are its details: the shuttered and filigreed windows, the whitewashed walls splattered with spider-webs of hair-line cracks, the narrow, low-ceilinged passages, the courtyards, the scallop-edged arches, the time-worn steps, arched alcoves, the stained-glass squares, and the numerous rooms, stories locked within each of them.

I visit it each year and always end up taking identical photographs of the same places inside the haveli; yet, a ritual has emerged from that process, of constancy and familiarity and comfort. When I was at university, I would hang photo prints of the haveli on my dorm room walls; nowadays, the photographs constitute my laptop wallpaper. And, if I am not photographing it, I am writing about it.

I would be hard-pressed to define as to what exactly the haveli means to me beyond the platitudes of beauty, home, and history; yet, what I do know is that it is a world in itself, as it was meant to be and still is, to a certain extent. Once I am inside the haveli, I am at a remove from the happenings that swirl outside it and it is often quite possible to freeze time and even make it redundant in its silent, slumbering interiors.

My favorite time of the day at the haveli is undeniably early in the morning; the new sunbeams gradually climb their way up the walls and stream through the stained glass windows, flooding the room with juice-like light. When you open the larger windows, you can contemplate the vista undisturbed in the cool dawn air while sparrows furiously converse with one another in the massive peepal tree behind the haveli, whose leaves’ shifting shadows dapple the walls throughout the day.

A version of this post also appeared here

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