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Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma
Date of Publish: 2017-06-22

The Assam-type Houses that take us on a trip down nostalgia lane

 

Way back in 1923, a few iron posts were shipped from London for construction of a specially designed Assam-type house in Guwahati. The owner of the house, late Chandranath Baruah, who had returned to this capital city of Assam as an engineer, wanted the pillars to be made of steel while the existing Assam-type houses had wooden posts.

With just six years left for completion of 100 years of its existence, this historic residential house located in Latasil area in the heart of the city is still glowing with the glory of a special house design and residential architecture known as Assam-type House or Ikora House. With the rise in multistoried RCC type buildings, the conventional Assam type houses are rare to find in this fast growing capital city these days. Yet, there remain a few such houses which have been kept the way they used to be.

“Most of the Assam-type houses have wooden posts, but our father preferred building it with steel posts and even we do not know how the drilling had been done so wonderfully such a long time back. The iron posts were shipped from London by a friend our father. But all the other materials that went into the making of the house were locally available, says Dwipen Baruah, a popular Assamese singer known for his melodious playback singing in highest number of Assamese films and the youngest son of late Chandranath Baruah, who owns the house jointly with his elder brother Ramen Baruah, a renowned music director from the Assamese film industry.

“The person who worked alongside deuta and helped in the construction was an Assamese person. I remember him coming to our place sometimes even after completion of the house. But we were too young to remember his name,” Baruah adds. Late Chandranath Baruah, who did engineering from Shibpur Engineering College in West Bengal, did the entire planning and designing of the house.

Owners of the Assam-type houses Guwahati say that this type of house is comfortable and eco-friendly.

“It gives a feeling no big buildings does”, says Nitul Chandra Bharali, resident of a beautiful Assam-type house in Ambari area of Guwahati.

The three brothers, Lalit Bharali, Padmaram Bharali and Rajatchandra Bharali in the year 1939 built their house in Ambari. For many years altogether the house had been a home for several tenants, one of them being Dr, Kanak Baruah. The house also hosted several theatre personalities at that time. There was a time when theatres used to be very popular. Famous groups like Kohinoor used to have shows at Rabindra Bhavan. It is easier for the male members to settle and spend the days in the theatre vicinity but for the female artistes it becomes a problem. That is why the directors preferred them staying at the Bharali residence because it would be safe and comfortable for them and also very nearby to Rabindra Bhavan. Nitul Bharali, son of late Rajatchandra Bharali, shifted to this house with his family lately in the 1990s.

“The walls of the house are made out of bamboo or reed mesh, known locally as ikora and then it has been plastered with layers of mud,” says Bharali. The ikoras are laid vertically and the bamboo is placed horizontally, and then it is left to dry for a few days before applying the plasters, which includes mixture of mud and cow dung.

With modern construction techniques coming in and with increasing competition for space in the city, people started to live in RCC houses which allowed more living space within a small area. Guwahati based senior architect Ashok Saikia says that there are several factors that led to the disappearance of the traditional ikora houses. “Firstly, population size began increasing exponentially, which led to crisis of space for settlement. And also the cost of land had risen gradually and is still rising. That is how the concept of multistoried houses and apartments came up. The apartments allow more than one family to settle in the area, which becomes convenient considering the present crisis situation. Secondly, Assam-type houses were made of wood. At that time good quality wood was affordable and available. In today’s date, the wood that we get in the market is too expensive and the quality is not as promising as before. They get damaged too easily. So people generally do not find it feasible to spend such an expenditure on the maintenance of the wood. The house would have to be renovated quite often. Hence they prefer RCC buildings over Assam-type houses,” says Saikia. He also mentions that now-a-days, resorts and guest houses at certain places are being constructed in the conventional Assam-type style because that attracts tourists a lot and they find it unique. But for residential purposes, multi-storied buildings are mostly preferred.

Uzan Bazar is one of the oldest settlements in the city which perhaps explains why most of the old houses are found in this area itself. Just beside the JB’s in Uzan Bazar, stands the house of late Tilak Das, producer of the Assamese movie “Paarghaat” and also the owner of two cinema halls in Guwahati city- Urvashi and Bijulee. It is so fascinating to see how the age-old Assam-type house has been beautifully maintained till date, and not just that, the campus also has a garden which adds to the beauty of the house. It is just like one of those cottages that are seen in Shillong.

Even then there were people in and around the city who could see the beauty and understand the strengths of Assam type houses over the concrete buildings. “Anwar Cottage” was built by late Anwaruddin Ahmed in 1990. Though the house was built at a later period, the architecture was kept exactly the same as the original Assam type houses. The present occupant, S. Begum, the younger sister of Anwaruddin Ahmed, says the interiors of the house have not been changed much except for few mandatory renovations.

Even though Assam-type houses are rare to find in Guwahati, they are still found in others parts of India’s northeast. It is said that the British introduced this unique housing design and residential architecture blending their modern architecture with traditional local architecture keeping mind the climatic condition and environment of the region.

Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma

( Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma are students of M.A. ( Second Semester) at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Tezpur University. This feature has been produced as part of their Summer Internship at NEZINE. )

Photographs used in this feature were taken by Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma

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