The most memorable home I have photographed

T S NAGARAJAN writes: Some years ago, I was in Nanjangud, the temple-town near Mysore, photographing a 250-year-old house as part of my project of documenting the interiors of century-old homes in the country. The house was a gift by the then Maharaja of Mysore to the owners’ forefathers.

While I was busy shooting in the home, a frail old man from the neighborhood walked in, curiously watched me work for a while, and invited me to see his own home, which he claimed was also old and even more splendorous—just the kind I was looking for in the town.

He waited patiently till I finished work and then led me to his abode at the end of the road, briefing me all the way about his house.

On reaching his home, I was in for a big surprise. It was a dilapidated structure with most of the roof gone. Even the walls were missing. Only the door in front somehow managed to stay in place like a lone sentinel.

I entered the home and looked up. I saw the sky covered with clouds. There were no rooms. Two lean teak pillars held up the tiled roof of an unpretentious residue of the house in a corner, possibly what was once the kitchen. It was in this surviving portion of the house the couple lived. His wife, standing next to the pillar, welcomed me.

The old man spoke with much pride and love about his home, describing its moments of glory and all the good things that had happened there; not bothering about the present plight of the house. Not once did he feel bad. The couple appeared happy and contented. They gave me the impression that they had everything they wanted. They needed nothing more. All was well with their home.

“What do I photograph?” I asked myself. But the old man stood next to me urging action on my part, giving me enough hints that I take a picture of him in his loved home. I did not have the heart to disappoint him. I clicked a shot, just to please him. To my surprise, the picture later became a favourite in my exhibitions and was even acquired by some famous galleries and collectors.

All homes are built in the mind. Not built of brick and mortar, but built of fond memories, of events, of births, deaths and celebrations. The house contains our dreams.

The image of the old couple in their much-loved home kept coming back to me, especially when my wife and I began dreaming a home of our own. After much thought and discussion, we arrived at a plan—a plan which reflected adequately all our dreams.

Building on paper was indeed effortless and enjoyable. We demolished walls in a jiffy and built storey after storey. We even grew a garden and positioned flowering trees uprooted from the famous avenues. Ultimately, we did build a brick and mortar house for ourselves.

Our dream home? That is another story.