Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A house in Chanapora

Contributed by my Mamaji, Roshan Lal Das. Lots of personal history and great insight on how a house was built in Kashmir. This is part two of A House in Kralkhod, a series in which he remembers all the houses he has lived in and built. 

We sold our ancestral home of Kralkhod in 1975. Some of our heirlooms had to be left behind as back then I felt these things to be useless. I still regret it. One of the heirlooms was a large stone mortar (known as kanz in Kashmiri) along-with a large wooden pestle(moohul). Ladies of earlier generation used to pound rice in mortar. We had large wooden container too in which we stored grains. We called it Ganjeen. We also had wooden bookcase with a sliding top. A broken gramophone with a broken trumpet too was left behind. We also left a stone grinder which was used to grind millet right until till 1950s. Although these heirlooms were heavy and large, but these were worth keeping for. I still regret it.

Anyhow, we left Kralkhod and took up a rented accommodation in Chanapora area (henceforth to be called Chhanpore in the write-up, as we used to say in Kashmiri. Chanapora literally means locality of Carpenters). This was a large house with lot of open land around it. The house had recently been built by a deputy superintendent of police and he charged us a hefty sum as rent. I would wonder as to how he could build such a huge mansion unless he had inherited a large sum of money, which was less likely. Later, I came to know that he was under suspension as he had earned lot of ill wealth while he being posted in Srinagar airport security. He would allow free flow of illicit drugs by smugglers. Later, he got himself reinstated due to his close proximity with the then home minister of the state. While living in this house, we started work on the new house.

We had a small plot in Chhanpore which had been allotted to us by the government. From a large plot of about 4000 sq.ft in Kralkhod, we came down to 1800 sq.ft in Chhanpore. The construction in suburbs had meanwhile changed considerably. Gone were the days of mud plaster, wooden beams and lime. I was confused as to what I should do. There was no one to guide me. I finally approached my uncle who had retired as a civil engineer a decade earlier.There was no system of consulting architects.T he mason decided everything. However, my uncle gave him proper instructions.

We dug up nearly four feet for laying the plinth. Meanwhile, I was asked to buy stones from Pandrethan area near Shankracharya hills. Since hundreds of years, a number of quarries existed at the foot of hills of Shankracharya hills in northeast of Srinagar. I was asked to procure rubbad stones from this quarry. I was advised to sit in a truck to see the stones being loaded in front of me. I was taken almost a kilometre up into the artificial path created by hundred years of constant quarrying. It was explained to me that rubbad stones are named because these are soft and easy to break. These stones are mainly used as fillers. The outer walls were built in stronger quartzite stones known in local lingo as fundai stones. These have bluish hue and are mainly available in Zewan area (known in historical times as Jayawana after the king Jayapida). The corners of the plinth were built in deewri stones, the chiseled stones available in Pantachoke area. The stone cutters of Pantachoke have been doing chiseling of stones right from hindu period when they carved idols. These days they mostly carve names in tombstones for Muslim graves. We purchased almost a dozen load-full of trucks. While unloading I surprised to see that a number of fandai stones had deep impressions of marine arthropods known as crustaceans in zoological terms.I enquired from a palaeontologist friend. He confirmed my observations. This fact compounded my belief that Kashmir valley was indeed a deep lake during geological epochs much before man made it his abode.

The labourers then sorted out small stones and filled the bottom most layer of the plinth with these. The upper layers were filled with larger stones. In the meanwhile, I was asked to fetch sand trucks from Sindh (not connected with Sindh river or Indus revier). When I asked my uncle as to why sand from Sindh nallah when I could easily get sand from nearby Doodh Gunga river, my uncle replied that the sand from Sindh nallah was having larger grains with less of clay sticking to it. Moreover, the sand grains of Sindh are a bit lustrous. Also, these grains bind better with cement.

After dispatching the sand trucks, I took a trip to Kondhbal, a village in Ganderbal tehsil famous for its special kind of lime (kondha in Kashmiri means lime). I had been directed by my uncle to purchase lime only from Kondhabal. I was surprised to see whole of the village as if painted in white. The living huts were situated just adjacent to the lime quarries. The people including women moved around with smudges of lime on their faces and clothes. Comparing the lime of of Kondhabal village to the ones available in the market, I was amazed over its far better quality

The plinth was filled with a lime and surkhi (brick powder) mix.  Rabad stones were arranged haphazardly over the top layers. When the stone layers reached the ground level the Fandai stones were laid were laid over these and fixed with cement. The chiseled stones of Pantachok were laid at the corners which gave a decent look to the plinth.

After plinth reached a height of 4 feet, I was told that a DPC layer was to be put over the top layer of the plinth. I had heard the name DPC for he first time. I was told that DPC meant 'Damp Proof Coating' and it was usually laid along with iron rods.

Upon searching for iron rods in market, one dealer offered me steel rods which he had saved from a much earlier stock from a Tata steel distributor. The stuff was real good but it was a labour intensive exercise to break open these rods. It was not like the TMT rods available these days, but the exercise was worth it as we found it later.

After laying the DPC, we waited about a week so as to allow it to dry.

Later, I was told that that I should build pillars and fill the gaps with a singular layered bricks known in local lingo as Bagal. The walls were laid in mud but the lentils were laid in cement. Meanwhile, the plinth was filled up with the earth which had been dug up earlier during laying of plinth.

I was asked to look for timber which had to be used for building window frames and for supporting the upcoming slab. I had no idea about timber measurements of timber. I learnt that timber in the form of joinery is sold in cubic feet and the planks are sold in square feet. There is a great disadvantage in buying wood in Kashmir as it does not dry in cold climate for months together. I hear that these days it is is heated artificially and treated chemically.The joinery was used as a scaffolding and the planks were laid to spread over these. After spreading a network of steel rods over the wooden planks, I was asked to procure truckloads of small round pebbles from Ganderbal town situated over the Sind Nalla. I asked my Uncle as why I had to buy round pebbles and why not crushed stones (Bajri). I was told that the pebbles make better slab. Next day we collected nearly 20 labourers and work was started. We made a partially dry slurry(unlike the ones made these days which is mostly wet). We were done by 6 p.m. and we had made only 4 inches thick slab unlike others houses which were usuallu 6 inches thick. This must have been one of the few slabs in Kashmir which was 4”thick. We found it later that many 6” slabs developed cracks during winters.

It was turn to build a roof. Tin roofs are the norm in Kashmir since last fifty years. By early seventies, the tin roofs had evolved into various shapes. Our expert carpenter, Luqmaan Shaan suggested me to build either a Rushian Baam ('Baam' in Kashmiri means 'Roof') or a Star Baam.

In Rushian baam, space was left in the middle to build a small sunshine attic or what we call as cats attic - Brair Kani. In the case of Star Baam, curved eaves were built on the corners so as to give a star like shape to the roof. Since we were running short of money, I asked Luqmaan to build a simple roof. A network of joineries was created by using the scaffoldings used earlier to support the slab. The scaffoldings were not available on rent those days.

After completing the superstructure, we moved onto making the staircase. Earlier,we kashmiris were used to having almost 8 foot wide corridors which led to our rooms. With the shrinking of living space, need for optimum utilisation of space was felt and it was difficult to create space for staircase. So, within 5 ft. of corridor, we had to build a semi-spiral staircase giving a flat base at the turnaround. It is known as chaand in local lingo.

After stairs, we started work on flooring the house .One of my cousins suggested that we should use 'chips' for the floor of corridor. I was amazed by it for it was a new thing for us. We did it and for the first time I saw white cement. The labourers got some different kinds and different numbered grinding stones. They rubbed on and on till a smooth finish was obtained, till it emitted a lustre.

After completion of bathrooms, we dug a hole in the near vicinity so as to build a soakage pit. In Jammu and Kashmir very few families dug soakage pits as we were only familiar with open drains which made everyone susceptible to vector infections.

Thus ends the story of my second house which I had to leave in 1985 in very peculiar circumstances.
The present house which I am living in Jammu is my 4th one.


Mamaji had sent me this write-up back in 2012, but I asked him to send a photograph of the house to go along with the write-up. Seems, there are none. The house was burnt down in October 1990. A photograph of the burnt house was used for making insurance claim. But, there are no photographs remaining now, as it was lost due to memory corruption of a Disk drive. 

In an old family album, found a photograph from 1985 of my family's visit to the Chanapora house, my matamal.

Update January 19, 2019

The place where stood my massi's house in Chanpora, Srinagar. My matamaal, burnt down in mid 90s, sold a year later. The initial offers for the house was about 9-10 lakh. It was a house built in around 1975 at an upcoming new suburb after selling the ancestral house at Kralkhod in interior old Srinagar. The dealers kept showing up frequently. After the house was burnt down (a pic had appeared in some paper). It went for about 3 lakh. When my massi went to collect the money for the house, the buyer said he was 10000 short. The "Deal" still happened. And they say it was Kashmiri Pandits who were settings their own houses on fire for insurance money. The greedy scheming pandits. I try to imagine my Massi, a single mother, going back to Kashmir, paying some Kashmiri Muslim to set her house on fire. Horror. A few years ago, I saw the image of the new house that stands in its place. I thought it was my Mama's house, which was in same area but a different location. Last month, after talking to massi I realized it is in fact the place where her house was. My memories have stated to jumble. In 1990, I promised myself I would remember everything. I thought it all meant something. That I might need these memories someday. But, you can't save it all. Every 7 years human body sheds all its cells and the cells are reborn. Perhaps, even as the cells in brain are reborn, the nature of memories change. The cells in my body have been reborn at least 3 times since 1990. Some memories are lost, some freshly remembered and some memories are assigned new meanings. I remember, back them, in mid-90s, I had a recurring nightmare, probably triggered by the news that the house had been burnt down or was sold. In sleep, being stuck in the brair-kani, cat's attic of my matamaal, hearing azaans, or sounds that seem like azaans, getting louder, a dark shadow approaching, walls disappearing, the house disintegrating, brick by brick turning into a mosque with a piece of moon at the top of the attic. Some nightmares they do come true. A few years back I saw the image of the house that stands there, it is house painted green. My memory of the house, my matamaal is now painted green, a peaceful pious green.


  1. Fantastic :) May I use in my Architectural History Classes?

  2. Dear Vinayak, me too. Taking liberty of saving this article for future reference. Dinesh


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