Enter the house of an Indian princess in Delhi | Architectural Summary
In a leafy 1950s neighborhood of garden bungalows set in symmetrical squares adjoining the Delhi Zoo, the home of Priti Pratap Singh, princess of the former kingdom of Kuchaman, retains its original whitewashed form. But inside its creaking iron gate lies a realm of fantasy, a visionary creation of the unknown housed in a rather expected shell. When she first inherited the house as a young mother in the 1970s, she deemed the conventional front lawn “too boring” and set about ripping it up to transform it into a clever magical wilderness. .
A benign granite sculpture of Nandi, the vahana bull of the Hindu god Shiva, takes center stage. It is set between red sandstone paving and flowerbeds of lush vegetation, bisected by a narrow channel where water gushes from stone spheres. The veranda is shaded by vine-laden bamboo scaffolding, made denser with bunches of grapes. With the noise and sight of the city erased, one could be anywhere – a corner of Tuscany, perhaps, or a secluded garden – except in the heart of a teeming metropolis.
The interiors, with their soaring 16ft high ceilings, effortlessly intensify the theme and panoply of royal Rajasthan, the Indian state in which the house is located. The area is highlighted in particular by a dazzling display of ancient textiles – an embroidered blanket for the howdah of an elephant on a wall, a beautiful block print kalamkari on another, and one painted Nathdwara pichwai above the fireplace. Amid the gleaming brass and silver are elaborate embellishments of Priti’s own work: a corner of the living room is converted into a tent baithak (lounge area) in saffron silk framed with architraves carved with haveli the doors and, in her bedroom, the plain closets are covered in crewel-embroidered aqua silk.
It’s a house of memories, or as she evocatively puts it, “memories intertwined with history.” Emblems of personal history, family history and labor history – as his living room doubles as a showroom for his famous quilts – form a rich tapestry, sepia-toned photographs of centuries-old courtly ceremonies to the modernist portraits given to her by the famous Cuban artist René Portocarrero, when she lived there.
Priti Singh’s home is a palimpsest of her varied life. His father was an Oxford-educated ruler of Kuchaman, a town between Jaipur and Jodhpur known for its imposing 16th-century fort and frescoed palace – ‘one of those rare places’, writes historian Mitchell Crites , “where if you close your eyes and listen, you can still conjure up the shameless pleasures of a royal court. His mother came from a feudal family talukdars near Lucknow. Educated in Jaipur and Lucknow, Priti imbibed the stylized confluence of two disappearing worlds. Later, she married a politician from Goa who was an ambassador in Havana.
Among her everlasting memories of life in Kuchaman are the quilts that her mother had remade every year and lined with sumptuous satin. “I remember very well meters of freshly dyed earth Bandhani and leheriya fabrics left to dry on terraces. Decades later, in 1989, in an effort to support unemployed village artisans, she revived the intricate art of quilting by setting up a small workshop in a thatched-roof shed in her garden.