By Casey Monteiro
The Turkish playwright, Mehmet Murat Ildan, once wrote, 'Old houses are full with memories and that’s why, they resist to collapse.'
Giving these old Goan houses a new lease of life aren’t just the posh non-Goans, laden with moolah, who renovate old Goan houses and turn them into resto bars, healing centres and guest inns. A significant number of Goans are also into restoring and renovating their old, decrepit houses, instead of allowing them to fall into disrepair and ruin.
Goa-based conservation architect, Abhijit Sadhale, says that when Goans get into the restoration of their old houses, it’s not with the intention of having a collectible, but rather, it is done to restore their heritage, an intangible cultural heritage and practice which they see themselves as part of.
When Kevin Rebello decided to renovate his 200-year old ancestral house ‘Vivenda de Rebellos’ in Cuncolim years ago, it was with the sole intention of preserving his ancestral heritage.
“There are a lot of Goans who are showing a keen interest in restoring their old houses,” says Kevin, a restoration artist, attributing the reasons to pure love for heritage, greater success rate at which family property disputes are being resolved, an increase in spending power, especially of the NRI Goans, those working on the ship etc.
“I get Goan clients who want to restore and live in a Goan house because the house is reminiscent of their childhood. I also get those whose parents lived in these old houses, but as children were brought up in flats, and they now want to get back to their roots,” says Abhijit.
“These are the Goans who have a certain amount of economic affluence,” he explains.
Kevin, who restores works of art, says, “Today, I help my friends and acquaintances restore their houses.” Remembering the joy after helping restore his friend's house in Salvador do Mundo, Bardez, Kevin recalls how ecstatic his friend was on seeing it that he said, “My ancestors will be happy now!"
It’s an uphill task to restore old houses. Sourcing the right kind of wood, sand and other material, are all part of the process of restoration. That apart, getting the right workers, especially the mason is important, says Kevin who usually gets the mason from Goa itself because the local ones have more knowledge and acumen with regards to plastering and design of old Goan houses.
“It’s meticulous work and the locals are tidy in their work,” he says.
The real challenge lies in, not just restoring structures, but creating systems related to restoration, voices Abhijit. He explains how there are a variety of cultural practices, associated with a structure, practices that are associated with when to extract and how to extract material, traditional thumb rules, treatment, etc. It’s a whole broad spectrum of traditional knowledge, that needs to be imparted to train talent associated with restoration, says Abhijit.
“We are more focused on developing artists, instead of bringing them from out of Goa. We have to ensure that the craftsmen, who will get this training in restoring old Goan houses, get sufficient kind of such work in future because, for anything to become viable, there has to be demand for it. There is definitely a demand for restoring old Goan houses, but the challenge is to create a sustained and coordinated demand,” he says.
MODERN MEETS TRADITION
A lot of restoration work involves renovation of a house in such a way that it will accommodate modern facilities. However, Abhijit says that restoration is not about compromising for a contemporary kind of structure, but restoration could involve allowing for a decent, contemporary lifestyle where there is a suitable toilet system, plumbing system, etc.
Work is usually done during the non-rainy months, and can be completed in one season or more depending on how much work needs to be done. During the monsoons, work on the interiors of the house is generally executed.
COSTS AREN’T A TURN OFF
You might think that tons of money is needed to restore an old, dilapidated Goan house, but that’s not the case. While it’s not cheap, either, says Abhijit, it can be done within a reasonable amount. In most structures, there’s an inherent beauty, says Abhijit and the client should be able to see that.
“The idea of restoration is not to transform a house into something different from what it was. If that was the case, it would be called ‘transformation’ and not ‘restoration’,” he adds.
“There is beauty even in irregular walls. Every house was not a traditional ballroom house, for instance. You don't have to add a ballroom when there was never a ballroom in the original design. What some people have is a romantic idea of a structure, because this is seen in magazines, movies etc, portraying Goan houses. There is a tendency to transform a structure into a tourism-related project, but economics is not always a quick fix,” says Abhijit adding, “If that's the case, I would not call it ‘restoration’, but ‘transformation’ and for that, you will need a lot of money!” he concludes.