I can’t remember when I first began photographing my ancestral haveli in Rajasthan, India. As I’m writing this I’m wondering how exactly to explain what a haveli represents; definitions such as “a many-roomed, courtyarded mansion” do not exactly conjure up the particular atmosphere and personality of a haveli, though. I’ll try my best.
I’ll start by saying that the haveli is one of my favorite places in the world. I can speak at length about its historical and family significance yet what essentially remains with me about the haveli are its details: the shuttered and filigreed windows; the whitewashed walls splattered with spider-webs of hair-line cracks; the narrow, low-ceilinged passages; the courtyards and the scallop-edged arches and alcoves; the time-worn steps; the stained-glass squares; and the numerous rooms, each still echoing with so many stories.
I visit it each year and always end up taking identical photographs of the same places inside the haveli; yet, a ritual has emerged from that process, one rooted in constancy and familiarity and comfort. When I was at university, I would hang photo prints of the haveli on my dorm room walls; nowadays, the photographs constitute my laptop wallpaper. And, if I am not photographing it, I am writing about it.
I would be hard-pressed to define what exactly the haveli means to me beyond the platitudes of beauty, home, and history; yet, what I do know is that it is a world in itself, as it was meant to be and still is, to a certain extent. Once I am inside the haveli, I am removed from the events that swirl outside it, and it often feels quite possible to freeze time—to make time seem superfluous—in its silent, slumbering interiors.
My favorite time of the day at the haveli is undoubtedly early in the morning; the new sunbeams gradually climb their way up the walls and stream through the stained glass windows, flooding the room with juice-like light. When you open the larger windows, you can contemplate the vista undisturbed in the cool dawn air while sparrows furiously converse with one another in the massive Peepal tree behind the haveli, whose leaves’ shifting shadows dapple the walls throughout the day. What else could one ask of their home?
Priyanka Sacheti is an independent cultural writer living in Pittsburgh; having recently moved from Muscat, Oman, she’s currently working on a collection of short stories. Some of Priyanka’s haveli photographs first appeared on her blog. You can see more of her photos on Instagram.