A cave for a lion's family

A cave for a lion's family

A cave for a lion's family

A ten feet granite Charlie Chaplin in the centre of the living room, a two-inches thick first floor, a Balliyapatnam single-span dome for a roof, all built in 1990! No wonder, C R Simha's home, Guhe, continues to evoke interest despite the ever-changing home decor trends, writes S Nanda Kumar

Guhe was the talk of the town when it was completed in 1990, its uniqueness discussed excitedly by architects, engineers and the public alike. Now, 24 years later, thespian C R Simha’s house still retains its fresh individuality, although his presence is certainly missed.

The way the house evolved was a fabulous exercise in creativity and engineering. Simha’s wife, Sharada, and son, Ritwik, recall every step of the journey.

Initial shock

Back then, the now-busy 100 feet Ring Road that runs past the front of the house, in Banashankari 3rd stage, was all mud and stones. There were hardly any other houses there, let alone traffic! Recounts Sharada, “When Simha and I first came to see the site allotted to us, we were taken aback. There was a huge crater towards the bottom end of the site, and we could not access it from the main road as there was a drop of about 10 feet!  We even went to the BDA office to ask them to allot another site. But they convinced us that this was a very good location, and that it would develop well in the future, and that there were many good architects available who could help us.”

An architect’s delight

It was at this time that the couple met Jaisim, the renowned architect known for his out-of-the-ordinary designs, and asked him if he would build their home. Jaisim first wanted to see the site – and when he saw it, he became very excited. Sharada laughs with delight at the memory. “He was so happy when he saw the site,” she says.

“‘Simha, it is such a beautiful site! I will build a beautiful, first class house for you, don’t you worry!’, he told my husband, and that is how it all began.” He told them that since the access to the main road was at a height of 10 feet, he would make them an entrance at that height, with the living quarters at the lower level.

Stream of spontaneity

Simha made it clear that a stage and an amphitheatre to seat at least 100 people were a must. “I want a big stage. Build me a small house next to it,” he told Jaisim. It was all very creative and informal.

“There were no drawings, no elevation charts, no nothing. We would come here, stand on the site, and then discuss what we wanted. We stood here (in the drawing room where we are now seated) and said this should be the hall,” recollects Sharada. Again, the requirement was made clear – that the hall should be big enough for artistes to gather for discussions and rehearsals, and that at least 100 people should be able to sit on the floor and eat a meal, two separate rooms, an open kitchen and an open pooja room.

No window to the cave

Jaisim told the engineer, Neeli, to start building nine pillars at a distance of 10 feet from each other. Once that was completed, he ordered the walls to come up between them, using hollow Balliyapatnam blocks sourced from Kannur. There is no woodwork for the windows.

In fact, there are no formal ‘windows’; light and air enter from jaali work sections. Only two types of materials were used for the house: Balliyapatnam blocks and rough, undressed granite. Doors were made from wood, packing cases and metal frames.

Building blocks of creativity

Once the hall took shape, and the rooms were finished, the architect, and the couple and their kids came and stood there. Reminisces Ritwik, a filmmaker and a theatre professional, “My father asked the architect what the house was going to look like. Jaisim told him, ‘I don’t know. Let us see!’ My father was taken aback. ‘What do you mean you don’t know?’ he asked him in horror. Jaisim explained, ‘When you do a play for the first time or when you make a film, do you know what the final outcome is going to be like? This is like that, too!’”

Statue for a pillar

Then it came to the first floor, which now leads to the most popular feature of the house – the Charlie Chaplin statue in the middle of the living area. Architect Jaisim decided that they should use a huge block of granite statue, rather than the traditional steel-cement pillar, to hold up the ceiling. A four-tonne block of granite was procured, and then began long discussions and debates as to what should be carved on it.

“The whole pantheon of Hindu gods came into the discussion. Since our family deity is Narasimhaswamy, we suggested that he could emerge from the pillar. Or perhaps a huge snake,” says Sharada. Ritwik adds, “And since sculptor John Devaraj liked the theme of hands, even a giant arm was suggested!”

Waking the ‘sleeping Chaplin’

Finally it was decided that the great comedian would be carved out from the 2x2x10 feet granite block. The sculptor worked for four months on the statue, from about 5.30 am till noon, to avoid the sun. Finally, the ‘sleeping Chaplin’ had to be raised into a standing position. Since this was the pre-JCB era, a 25-strong labour force worked with ropes and pulleys, lifting the block one foot at a time and shoring it up with stones as it rose. It took them an entire day.

Then came another dilemma: since Chaplin had been lying down, the rear portion of the pillar was unfinished and rough; should it be carved or chiselled off? Jaisim told the family to leave the statue as it was. “Let it look as if Chaplin is emerging from a rock face,” he had suggested to Simha.

Chaplin’s umbrella for a roof

The flooring for the first floor above Chaplin’s head is another architectural marvel. Rather than the traditional 6-9 inches thick concrete and steel, the floor is just 2 inches thick! As with the rest of the house, this idea too came only when it was time for the roof to be cast.

Explains Ritwik, “Jaisim used a central hub and radial spokes, which all became mini-beams. And it looks like Chaplin is holding up an umbrella!” But what was the real path-breaking first was yet to come – the mini-roof of the house using the same, heavy 6x8x6 Balliyapatnam blocks that were used for the walls of the living area and the rooms above.

A roof, a relief

“The owner of the brick factory in Kannur could not believe his ears when the order for the extra blocks was placed. On the day the roof was being built, he came all the way here to see for himself,” says an amused Ritwik. Nobody had tried this before, and sceptics said the roof would collapse under its own weight. Bits of steel rods were sandwiched between the blocks and concrete poured over it like a single-span dome.

Adds Sharada, “When it was the day to remove the main centring support, everybody was tense. The supports were removed in a balanced manner, first from one end, then another. When the final
support was removed, everybody stood at a distance and watched to see if it would collapse. They waited the whole day. When the roof stood firm, a gleeful Jaisim told Simha, ‘It has stood for the whole day. Don’t worry; it will stand for a 100 years!’ And it has stood firm for 24 years now!”

What’s in a name?

Informs Ritwik, “At a film shoot, cine reporters had asked my dad what the name of the house is. On the spur of the moment, my father told them, ‘Where else will a Simha (lion) live? In a guhe (a cave)!’, and everybody burst out laughing. He recounted it to us that very evening, and we laughed, too. But it struck us that it was very apt! And so, Guhe it is...”

The traffic outside roars too loud. Fewer birds visit their garden in Guhe. Mist no longer hangs over the house in winters. C R Simha is no more. But his Guhe continues to evoke interest despite the ever-changing trends of the home decor field...

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