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An authentic Ahmedabad experience

An authentic Ahmedabad experience
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A family in well known pols of Ahmedabad, dodging the trend, chose to stay on and even purchased the adjacent haveli to tide over constraints of...

A family in well known pols of Ahmedabad, dodging the trend, chose to stay on and even purchased the adjacent haveli to tide over constraints of space. A part of the sprawling structure now functions as a heritage home stay, enabling the visitors savour an authentic taste of Ahmedabad pol life

Sriparna Saha

The haveli abutting a narrow winding alley appeared extremely alluring, especially in the mid day heat. And the moment we stepped into the cool and comfortable interiors, the change in ambience had an immediate soothing effect on our stretched tempers already on the edge due to the long walk in late morning sun.

We are within a traditional house in Moto Suthar Wado, one of the well known pols of Ahmedabad. Pol in local dialect means neighborhood �long-winded streets with unexpected twists and turns, cul-de-sacs housing bird feeders against the backdrop of a distinctive social fabric emerging from an ecologically-viable built form - a cluster of inward-looking havelis adorned with brackets, balconies and typical Gujarati style hospitality where every visitor is offered a cooling drink immediately on arrival. In modern homes, this might mean a glass of Sprite, Cola or canned fruit juice if the host is health conscious. But here, in the Mehta house we are treated to the traditional chaas, a pearly and frothy serving of buttermilk spiced with roasted jeera (cumin). The feel of chill cascading down the esophagus soon made us sprint back to action and we are ready for a round of the haveli.

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In the late 1990s, with the advent of new professions triggered by the IT boom, families who had been residing in the pols since centuries started moving out of their old houses. The change in mindset attributed to the lack of modern comforts (for example- attached bathrooms) in the pol houses led to a huge exodus to the new parts of Ahmedabad. However, Jagdip Mehta (popularly referred to as Jagdipbhai) and his family, dodging the trend, chose to stay on and even purchased the adjacent haveli (one of the seven structures belonging to the extended Mehta family) to tide over constraints of space. A part of the sprawling structure now functions as a heritage home stay, enabling the visitors savor an authentic taste of Ahmedabad pol life.

When Jagdip Mehta purchased the two storey 150-yr-old dilapidated mansion in 1998 for about 3 lakhs and spent another few in restoring it, his decision was criticised by many in the neighborhood. The old structure had become critically unstable with woodwork in several places severely infested with termites. The entire building had only one antiquated toilet and that too in the ground floor near the entrance which comprised privacy and convenience of access, especially for the womenfolk of the family.

However in course of time, the Mehtas proved all of them wrong as they embarked on an exciting but exhausting journey of restoring and rejuvenating the structure to its former glory. The structure was first stabilised by removing the dead loads and damaged elements and subsequently the vulnerable wooden parts were strengthened with steel members. For catering to the contemporary lifestyle, toilet was incorporated in each floor by chiseling out small shafts for enhancing ventilation and natural light. The traditional water-harvesting system, initially built for preserving rain water, too was restored and today the 15,000 litre underground tank has eliminated all worries of water shortage.

During the process of restoration, aid came from totally unexpected quarters. The Heritage cell of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation chipped in with technical expertise and financial assistance. They even went to the extent of reworking existing laws to accommodate the unique needs of the property. For example, when it was discovered that banks weren't allowed to issue home renovation loans for buildings which were older than 15 years, the law was changed to enable Mehta receive a loan from HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Corp. Ltd) for the restoration of his haveli.

The haveli is an amazing blend of building elements. The floorings are made of glazed Italian tiles bordered by mosaic designs in an array of rich colors- blue, red, green and white. Ornate Belgian-made stained glass window panels defuse the harsh rays of the sun and create magical living spaces. The living room has an ornate Italian ceiling dating back to the 16th century. The Mehta mansion, a symbol of cultural amalgamation, today has evolved to be a meeting place for local residents and foreign tourists to exchange and enrich from each other's experiences.

Recipient of the "GIHED" (Gujarat Institute of Housing and Estate Developers) Award in 2011 for the best maintained Heritage House in Ahmedabad the house is a trendsetter - the first pol structure to undergo restoration. The adjoining structure, a pistachio-green block of apartments, built obviously over the corpse of an old haveli makes the Mehta house stand out even more, A live lesson in sustainable conservation of bygone heritage, it highlights the fact that when responsible citizens like that of the Mehtas come forward for restoring their heritage homes, chances of the city's 500 year-old history standing tall for another 500 years gets a shot in the arm.

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FACT FILE Location: In Ahmedabad. Directions: Cross the Fernandes bridge and head straight for the used books market at Gandhi Road. Travel further east, turn right at Bala Hanuman temple and follow the street southward to reach Moto Suthar Wado. Stay: For latest tariff, contact Jagdip Mehta at 1871, Moto Suthar Wado, Khadia, Ahmedabad. Email [email protected] [email protected] Phone -9825310315 Activities: Poetry readings, dance and music performances in the courtyard over generous helpings of gathiya, jalebi and chai. Best time to go: During the Navrati celebrations in Sep-Oct when the entire state sways to the beats of the Garba dance. The Kite Festival in January too offers a spectacular display from the roof

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