CHENNAI: At Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, Mumbai-based urological cancer surgeon V Srinivas and his wife Vidya were building a homestay. Friends in Mumbai offered numerous suggestions. One friend Reena (name changed) suggested that they should use Burma teakwood for all the floors. Srinivas blanched when he heard that. “It will cost too much,” he said. But Reena said, “Why don’t you find some old ship and get the wood from the deck? They are usually made of seasoned old Burma teak wood.”
As luck would have it, a new patient of Srinivas was from Bhavnagar, Gujarat, and his business was ship-breaking. After the man recovered, the couple went with him to Alang, near Bhavnagar, the centre of ship-breaking in India. There, the ‘1952 Manila Princess’, which had been a floating casino in the Philippines was being dismantled. So, Srinivas bought a lot of teakwood at a very competitive price. Then, a driver agreed to take the entire material to Kotagiri, but he had never been beyond Hyderabad. “We were told that there was no insurance coverage for this type of transport and all we could do was to leave it to God,” says Srinivas. On the fourth day, the wood reached Kotagiri.
This anecdote was recounted in Srinivias’ new book A Tale Of Two Homes published by White Falcon Publishing. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations that the couple faced while trying to build a homestay on 10 acres of land.
Initially buying the land was the problem. “One piece of land was owned by 18 cousins and relatives,” he says. “We had to get a lawyer to check all the papers to make sure everything was okay. Then we had to wait before we could acquire the next six acres.”
But why did the couple want 10 acres? Srinivas says, tongue-in-cheek, “We wanted to avoid neighbours. In over-crowded Mumbai, we have too many neighbours.”
Meanwhile, as construction went on, the couple got an insight into the mindset of the labourers. “The labourers need supervision,” says Srinivas. “They were working on five to six buildings at the same time, so they would disappear for a while. They also like their liquor. After working for six days, as soon as they get their wages they would go to the liquor shop.
Thereafter, they would be absent for two days.” But despite all that, the couple grew to love the local people. “They are simple and honest,” says Srinivas. “After we bought the land, we were going to fence it, but then the local people told us, ‘Nobody puts a fence’. In most places, the boundary was marked with some white stones. So, we did the same. And, to our surprise, there were no squatters at all!”
The couple faced other difficulties. Their architect was keen on vaastu. But when the plans were drawn, they felt that the bedrooms were small. “We were upset about it,” he says. “But then an architect friend of mine came from Mumbai and noticed that there were good verandahs. He told me that in the hills, the beauty is outside the house. So it would be better to have small bedrooms since guests will spend more time outside. Which turned out to be true.”
And throughout his book, Srinivas details numerous episodes from their nine-year odyssey to build their home. But eventually, it was all’s well that end’s well. They called their homestay ‘Raven’s Nest’, after their granddaughter and it is doing well. There are six rooms, out of which three are for the guests while the other three are for Srinivas and his family. “Visitors have come from Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi and Mumbai,” says Srinivas.
Every month, the couple, fly down from Mumbai and spend a week there. “We felt that if we have built a home, we should stay there often, especially in such a salubrious atmosphere as the Nilgiris,” says Srinivas. “It is a place that brings back memories.” Srinivas did his schooling in Lawrence School, Lovedale, so he has a soft spot for the Nilgiris.