“My grandfather was adamant that we follow traditional Thachu Sashtra,” laughs Anil Krishnan, walking around the elegant courtyard from which you can glimpse a gloomy sky. The villa in southern Bangalore is built to resemble his grandfather’s ancestral property – a Nalukettu house in Thrissur, Kerala.
The traditional Nalukettus are hard to find in Kerala these days, but their architecture and design are to be found in replicas that dot the country here and there. For Anil, reconstructing the Nalukettu in the cosmopolitan hub of Bangalore wasn’t as hard as he feared. “Teak was expensive but wasn’t hard to find. And there are many planners and architects now who can design a Nalukettu house plan.” His villa is spread over 3,200 sq.ft with four bedrooms, and one nadumuttom or open courtyard.
The popularity of Nalukettu in modern Indian architecture has been partly led by nostalgia, and mostly because of their value, says architect Swayam Das. Many NRIs who choose to return to India prefer the merging of tradition with modernity, and contemporary Nalukettu house designs offer just that. “Nalukettu houses offer excellent ventilation and ample light,” gushes Anil. But Anil didn’t have a budget constraint when he built his house. That’s a point that Das wants to make.
Das cautions that an exact reproduction of the traditional Nalukettu house would be very expensive because of the quantity of wood required. “So, we have to compromise. Remember these houses were built for a different time when there was no electricity. There was also no need for security! You can’t have the open-type bedrooms that were common in the traditional Nalukettus,” he adds. Nalukettus were also built for the joint families of those days. Today’s nuclear families no longer need that kind of cavernous space.
Not everyone can afford to construct rambling bungalows in the Nalukettu style. Seema Nair instead used rustic wall light fixtures in her apartment that reflected elements of the Nalukettu houses of yore. She also used a beautifully crafted teak door that she bought from a Nalukettu house that was sold to developers. “I feel proud that there are pieces of my Kerala heritage, however small, that I can look at,” Seema says. And Kerala heritage it certainly is. Nalukettu houses have almost disappeared from many parts of Kerala, but the awe, splendour, and serenity that these houses provide will continue to linger in their own way in the houses to come.