Under my byline

Caution: irreverent work in progress

Posted in Architecture/Design, Profiles by Rrishi on 8 November 2008

Arthur Rackham, The Three Bears, 1918Like a box of allsorts, the Alva-Chauhan home is a mix of flavours which creates a welcoming buzz

To a visiting Delhiite, accustomed to the city’s more neighbourly scale, the setting of Niret Alva and Anuja Chauhan’s Gurgaon home is almost alien. Their suburban-spacious flat is midway up a midsize tower between a blank-faced mall, a monster highway and a construction zone which promises yet another stolid behemoth. Yet it is quiet and even secluded.

“I like this colony,” says Chauhan, who is creative director and vice-president of ad agency J Walter Thompson and the brain behind such popular taglines as Pepsi’s “Oye Bubbly” and “Yeh dil maange more” — not to mention author of The Zoya Factor, a recent hit novel that combined cricket with chick-lit and is now (to no one’s surprise) being turned into a movie. “My kids have a lot of friends here,” she says. “I know all the kids. The ladies [who work in the house] have friends and feel good.” The residents are mostly long-term ones, so they have had time to develop into a community.

There’s proof of this not far from the front door. To the left of the broad foyer is what Chauhan calls their Blue Room, and on its long, blue-painted wall, one of the colourful framed posters reads “Kids of G Block Present CINDRELLA”. (Chauhan’s flat is in G Block.) The spelling mistake makes it more endearing.

Chauhan and her husband, who is president of Miditech, the television production company behind Indian Idol 4, Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Indian version of Sesame Street) and various other programmes, have lived here for six years. Alva’s mother is the Congress politician Margaret Alva, and years ago they shared her official bungalow in New Delhi. There, Chauhan’s eldest daughter Niharika had no company of her own age. “Somnath Chatterjee lived half a km away, and she could not play with him,” Chauhan says with a laugh. So Gurgaon is a happy change.

The children — Niharika, 13, Tara, 10, and Daivik, 7 — are at the heart of the home. Across the foyer from the entrance is a corridor leading to the bedrooms, and it is lined with seriously framed paintings by the children. Their bold, unselfconscious colours and shapes seem to set the pattern for the home as a whole.

For instance: the bar in the big “formal” room (to the right of the foyer), where adult guests are brought and where the family dog, a moody Apso, is not allowed onto the sofas. It occupies a corner where there was once a “powder room”. On the front of the curving bar-counter is stencilled in big letters “The Tispy Toad Tea Shop” — “As in, he is so tipsy that he’s saying ’tispy’,” Chauhan explains.

“Yes, it sounds very Yee Oldee Englishee Pubbee,” but “We just had those stencils.” Who thought of the name? “It was a consensus thing,” she says, adding mysteriously, “Some names were too raunchy, some were too dark.” The barstools are converted gas cylinders, each painted a different bright colour by Chauhan herself.

Niharika, the eldest, helps with the design work. “We’ll plot and we’ll scheme, and then we order on the Net,” says Chauhan. As for her husband, “I think in these things if you have two arty people, one has to be a haan-haan.” Alva gets to choose the fridges, ACs, washing machines and cars (“Maybe on the colour I have an option”), and Chauhan and Niharika choose what goes in the house. Alva’s only rule is — “Don’t make it too childish and don’t make it too girly.”

It is a bit of both, but it’s neither. Wisely, whatever draws the eye — from hand-painted (often by Chauhan herself) walls and shelves to posters, toys, even a giant, two-faced clock that looks like it belongs on a railway platform — is at eye level and away from clumsy feet. “It’s neat because I don’t make it fussy — no carpet, no glass, nothing you have to put away.”

Her husband has managed to save one corner of the home for himself. It is the study, an almost exaggeratedly manly space with shelves of dark wood lined with serious-looking books (including a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) and Miditech DVDs, and exercise machines festooned with weights. One long wall is papered with classified ad pages, and lacquered to a dull brown sheen. Chauhan did that herself. The walls also support shoals of postcard-size family photographs. As we are admiring them, the nail holding one up departs from the wall. Still chatting away, Chauhan scurries off, returning with hammer and nail with which she quickly re-hangs the photo.

Chauhan is proudest of her kitchen, which is only just (re)finished. It is big but cosy, with “a slightly fairytale feel” thanks to a plump sideboard and “Goldilocks” cottagey wooden chairs around a little table. “My mother-in-law comes and sits here and doesn’t go any farther,” says Chauhan.

The Alva-Chauhan home breaks more than a few design rules — but it works, because they know what they’re doing. “I like being irreverent with the house,” says Chauhan. “I like the work-in-progress feel.”

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2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on 18 December 2008 at 4:28 am

    Great celebration of mediocrity, pal. You need to read more before you write.

  2. Rrishi Raote said, on 18 December 2008 at 10:04 am

    Need to read more, and write more. Working on both. Thanks for your advice.


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