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Manuu Mansheet placed his left palm on the table and fanned out his fingers. With his right forefinger he poked the table in four directions, “North, East, West, South, and we are in South of South Delhi.” Which, on the map of his hand, meant we were somewhere along the area of his wrist; in Google Maps terms, we were at Manuu’s home in Mahabalipuram Bhatti, Mehrauli.
If the gated residential colonies of Delhi seem aloof and uninviting to visitors’ eyes, then Mehrauli seems even more remote. A neighbourhood in the southern districts of Delhi, this is an area concentrated with wealth and capacity, and though it does in parts seem like a nether region of the well-arranged Capital, Mehrauli is not a satellite town. The area was once a series of villages that were slowly bought over by city-folk and turned into what is euphemistically called, ‘farmhouses’. All along the roadside there are vast gates of promise, presumably protecting beautiful things on the other side of them. And then in between, right beside those enigmatic hints of wealth there are demeaning levels of poverty, and so it goes on like that, a dusty checkered board of haves and have-nots, as far as the eye can see.
Manuu is an interior designer, design lecturer and visual merchandiser with a vast network of clients and experience, especially in and around the Delhi region. He’s been living in Mehrauli for the past five years with his mum, dad and Titli the Bull Mastiff. (Mind you, Titli, whose name means ‘butterfly’ in Hindi, is a languorous and exceptionally gentle giant. The Mansheet family certainly has a nose for irony.)
Since the three of them moved to this farmhouse, Manuu’s sister Manavi Rai has bought a haveli in the adjoining village, restoring it bit by bit, and so the whole family has now decamped to Mehrauli. There are 43 farms in this one development, and Manuu’s home, named appropriately as Bhramand—Hindi for Universe—is #43, the very last in the cul de sac. And it is a dog-loving neighbourhood - the home next door is an animal shelter with more than 20 strays at any given time, and you can hear the cacophony throughout the day. I asked Manuu if there’s a club, an association or some other form of central place to get together with other residents. “I live next door to a home full of dogs, why would I need anything else. Besides, we’re always filled with guests; friends are always coming to stay because this feels like a place to get away to.”
Manuu is a Delhite through and through, born and bred. He’s the kind of person you’d easily place in the Delhi context, even if you’d met him somewhere else. Large of character, friendly, flamboyant, politically opinionated, a Punjabi heart clad in an individualistic, fiercely India-loving style. We met around the time of the annual India Design ID exhibition that takes place in the capital every year. Every day of the exhibition he’d be outfitted in one striking ensemble after the other. One particular evening, he had on a green-and-black military-style long-coat with studs, sharply tailored and draped—not worn—over his shoulders. His favourite looks are Indian in colour and style, with a dandyish panache for cut and accessorising.
Home Of Memories
The family had lived most of their lives in a bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi. When the house was re-developed, they bought and moved to an apartment on Hailey Road in the same area. Then about six years ago they began work on this 1,200 square yard plot in Mehrauli. It was a quick project. Work began in December 2014 and by 21st September 2015, Manuu says the home was finished, styled, and lived in. “This house was based on my memories of the house I grew up in,” says Manuu, who retains their flat as a “city home”.
Bhramand is 6,000 square feet, including four bedrooms. Manuu has put it together with a visual merchandiser’s tactical expertise, an interior designer’s curatorial eye, and the considerateness of an attentive son. The simple layout is easy to maneuver for his aging parents and adheres to Vaastu principles. The public reception areas are placed on the left, and the private bedrooms are on the right. At the heart of it sits a small courtyard, which divides the two parts of the home, while giving light to everything around. There is a room one floor up but otherwise everything is on the ground floor. “We wanted everything to be accessible and easy to manage,” says Manuu.
If anything gives a Mehrauli home a brush of exceptionalism, then it is space and greenery. A lovely lawn greets visitors to this house, and the living room and kitchen both face the garden. Nirdosh says she likes to be able to look out at the gate and to the front yard when she’s working in the kitchen. “It is my favourite place, and when friends come in from the city, we sit out there and chat and get some sun,” she says. It also allows their gentle giant Titli plenty of space to run around.
There’s no particular theme to the interior design of this home. When you’re a designer, a stylist by nature, you throw things on and it all comes together somehow. And that’s how it is here. Right by the front door sits a little gurgling water feature that is the white noise that reverberates through the home, filling up the pauses in the interactions of its three adult inhabitants.
The various rooms all have completely different personalities, but there’s art, canvases, knick-knacks, and personal effects everywhere, giving the impression of a lifetime of collecting and keeping. “Living in the heart of Delhi, we grew up going to the theatre and exhibitions, my mother wouldn’t let us watch TV,” he says. As a result of those past-times, Manuu is a keen painter and art collector.
There are large Husain-esque canvases, which when you look closely, you see is signed by Manuu himself. He says he went through a Husain phase when he was painting and decided to have some of the works up in his home. “I wanted to be an artist, but my dad didn’t think of it as a proper profession,” he says, echoing that generational complaint about careers.
Manuu calls this “a jugaad house”. Bits of jugaad-esque creative solutions show up everywhere: the large barn-style door to the living room was a salvaged piece, which he up-cycled with pockets of glass. Many different patterns of wallpaper sit comfortably with one another, and Manuu says much of it is left over from projects or bits and bobs that he liked. “Unlike my clients, I had a small budget, and little time so I had to put things together with what I could.”
Having said that, it is replete with beautiful things, handicraft, paintings, antiques like an interesting collection of nutcrackers, lithographs, fabrics, books, as though the people in there were living their best life. He’s created thematic sets in various places, and that makes the collection look dramatic, elegant and more intentional. There’s a Raja Ravi Varma lithograph collection, and above a second seating area, he’s arranged a set of G. Raman paintings. His contemporary art collection has vast order of young artists, namely Ramesh Gujar, Damyanti Sharma, Sachin Sagare, etc. and a pack of stalwarts, like Satish Gupta, Paresh Maity, Suhas Roy Satish Gujral, and MF Husain himself.
You could stay here for days, and never go out of things to discover. We even ran into a collection of vintage typewriters sitting out in the verandah. “In Mehrauli, there are lots of people living in marble palaces with swimming pools and a retinue of servants,” says Manuu. “Mine is an artist’s crazy idea of a home.” One man’s universe, as they say…
Manuu Mansheet’s tips for anyone looking to design their own home:
1. Good living is the best thing one can experience in their lifetime. Incorporate that style/ colour/ piece/ art that you always dreamed of.
2. Don’t follow trends or celebrities blindly. Everything doesn’t work for everyone. Look at your own needs, ergonomics, style, comfort, likes, practicality and then go ahead with a design.
3. When you vacation, find local arts and craft. Look for unique things that will add to your collection.
4. Do not shy away from art. A painting is not good because it is expensive or the artist is famous. Look for art that makes you happy and feel good. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether the artist is famous or will get famous. Follow your heart, the artist will give you joy and make your surroundings look good. You are not an art fund or gallery, where trends and analysis matter (of course, if you are an experienced investor then please go ahead). If you are a homeowner, don’t restrict yourself. Art is not just about famous artists only, we in India have many art forms and craft traditions. Look into that, learn about them and you may like some and invest in them too. Intricate art forms and artists get rare with time.
5. Be practical in your interior design. Look at the real usage—kids, pets, the elderly, and the function of spaces.
6. I do not believe in homes with covers on the furniture, rolled carpets, stored art and heirlooms, where the best crockery is only for special occasions, where flowers and candles are only put out when guests visit. Use your silver. Let the China chip and break, it is meant to.
7. Plants/ flowers/ candles add so much joy to spaces. Make it a part of your daily lifestyle and enjoyment.
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