A Cave of Treasures

Features Issue 43 Aug, 2010
Text by Shrijan Joshi / Photo: Raj Bhai Suwal

In what was previously the expanses of Bikram Bhawan sits a lovely garden. In this lovely garden is a pool where the lotus blooms and the goldfish swim. As the dragon fly flits from one leaf to another teasing the goldfish below, the beautiful Clematis blossoms from its creepers far away from its native England. In this tour of the garden you brush past a riot of colors in all shapes and sizes exuding perfumes of exotic flowers. Introducing us to the many flowers, Muni Rana,  ardent lover of plants and a keen gardener, points to a violet Solanum bloom and expediently says,” Whenever I go abroad I always come back with a new flowering plant.”

The garden path leads up through the patio, where objects of art and potted plants are jostling for space. The portico seems almost ethnic, with small works of Rajesthani earthenware, and wrought iron chairs standing on the rich colors of the terracotta tiles. A solitary stone heron looks on to the goldfish swimming below, as the pampas grass sways in the gentle morning breeze from its confining pot. Everything gravitates toward the large wooden door, almost like entering Ali Baba’s cave of treasures.

There is an immediate feeling of quiet grandeur as you step in. Your attention is arrested by a stone statue of a gentle meditating Buddha sitting on a richly carved Tibetan cabinet with a tapestry of more Buddha’s for a backdrop. Sheila, the lady of the house, lovingly explains, “It was Buddha who came to us.” It is just a glimpse of the treasures that lie in wait to be explored. On your right is an old wall mirror which adorns a carved antique piece. Here, a golden Buddha greets us with a gentle namaste. The setting is tranquil and you absorb the ambience of grandeur at every step.

This is a house where art, artifacts and furniture jostle for space and indicate the owner’s pride in his collection. As the owner himself puts it, “it is an accumulation from all his years of travel.” Muni’s keen eye enables him to happily juxtapose the old with the new: modern art on the walls, antique wooden furniture from Tibet in a corner and bright blue and white woven carpets on the floor. There is no prevalent theme, but several antique pieces jumbled to form a single composition. All the windows are low and large framing various parts of the garden outside. On the pine wooden window sill sits various exotic cactus and blooming African violets, a sight to be cherished.

Every collector has a weakness, and Muni’s is for the glazed texture of blue porcelain. The most visible theme in the living room is porcelain. The various pieces of China in many shapes and sizes, may it be a vase, a decorative plate or a table lamp sitting on the side of each corner of the sofa, the idea here is definitely blue. As the Vriesea blooms over the intricately carved Chinese chest, it almost seems to be competing with the luminous glaze of the ceramic. Even the Tibetan carpets are blue with some white. Some of the floor carpets are old saddle carpets with intricate details. Every nook and cranny has been decorated: whether it is the beautifully painted ceramic dining table stand with a glass top, acquired from a retiring ambassador, or the intricately worked Rajasthani tapestries or the series of Chinese silk works on the wall. The art feast continues with various impressionists’ works of flowers and gardens all beautifully framed in “Kalinta”.

Used primarily to entertain guests and for parties, the room simply is open spaces flowing into each other; interrupted by sofas and antique pieces. If a ceramic dining table sits in one corner facing a show case filled with some more exotic china. His favorite corner with a richly decorated wooden chair from the Rana era is faced by a brass mirror of the same period. Here, a splendid Ganesh from South India carved in stone rests on a well preserved painted Tibetan Cabinet, acquired from Luca Corona’s (of “Kalinta”) collection.

A reclining golden Burmese Buddha stretches on a low pine table which separates the more formal sofas from the other half of the living space. The sofas are upholstered in light pastels in the intricately designed cotton from Shyam Ahuja’s Collection. The curtains are raw silk complementing the light cream walls. As Muni himself put it, he doesn’t likes the furniture to be overpowering rather they should be soothing too the eye preferably done in light pastels. The whole arrangement is a fusion of eastern objects with a western reflection. Muni explains how each item was designated a place even before it was obtained, nothing is just coincidental.

As one moves into the personal spaces, the family living space is more with light furniture with stacks of books and magazines. Here the center piece is the fire place done in a mosaic of crimson and white. Above the mantle piece sits a portrait by Kanak Champa, acquired from a recent exhibition in Siddhartha Art Gallery in Babar Mahal. Complimenting the red hues of the art work is a collection of red pressed glass. As the sunlight streams in through the huge bay window that opens out in to the garden, you can easily picture yourself spending the afternoons lazing away in a cozy corner. He explains how each space he creates looks outward, with the garden spreading into the living spaces which he so loves. Muni is averse to the idea of taking a space and trying to fill it with objects, he’d rather have it the other way round, weaving spaces around objects of desire. 

The house was never designed for so many items he explains. As we move from the wide corridor to the even bigger kitchen, he is already coming up with ideas for extending the house and breaking the walls.  A lover for details, each and every corner has been thoroughly revised. Even as he speaks, he is already dreaming of new spaces. Somewhere in a faraway corner, a new abode is shaping, where his passion for intimate details meets his love for gardening, another cave of treasures in the waiting.