By Kuhu Kinnori
Home is a place of love and dreams. How you decorate your home reflects the many personalistic facets of you and your family. While decoration is not solely dedicated to creative artistry and intellectuality, it also has a touch of sentimentality that binds the people with the items of the house. The house of Mr. Humayun Aziz Chowdhury and his wife Mrs. Zahida Sattar represents such a vibe. The couple creatively named their home “ashbo” (I/we will visit), as if it is an invitation into their cordial and pleasant house. Their rooms, walls, furniture and accessories radiate a Beige and Sepia-themed decoration throughout the house. It is a poetic coincidence that they incorporated their nostalgia into these sepia-themed decorations because in fine art, brown tones or sepia color correspond to cherishing antiquity.
The Promise of “Ashbo”
With this house named “Ashbo”, Mr. Humayun Aziz Chowdhury and Mrs. Zahida Sattar believe that they have their dream of the perfect home realized. Although the original house was built in the year 1956 by Humayun’s father, it was taken down and renovated into the house that they live in today. Although the old house does not exist anymore, most of its rooms and features were preserved, thanks to Humayun’s expert experience as a structural civil engineer. Zahida on the other hand manages the house. As an ex-Postmaster General of the National Postal Service of Bangladesh, she has a deep emotional connection to everything postal, hence the decor is reflected accordingly. From ancient collector’s postcards to miniature letter boxes, their home is like a little museum for postal treasures. Moreover, the man and wife are attached to their cultural and family heritage. They have articles of clothing, utensils and passed-down keepsakes which they adore and cherish. Some ornamental potted plants placed here and there throughout the house not only add to the overall aesthetics but also invite nature indoors.
A Wooden Interior
The living room is furnished with wooden doors, floor tiles, furniture and even picture frames. With this arrangement, Zahida tries to bring a touch of nature into their living space. The room has a simplistic finish with a warm undertone. The natural ‘khadi’ cushions and fabrics from Comilla match the room’s woody and rattan sofas very well. The side tables display ancestral items and some foreign souvenirs. For instance, a Samurai figurine from Japan and a sea conch shell from New Zealand sit on top of the living room end table. Turkish and Saudi Arabian traditional rugs and cushions lay on the floor. A plethora of international traditional art pieces is on display on the walls– Bhutanese textiles, African aboriginal masks, a wooden antique cuckoo bird and so forth. Bangladeshi hand paintings by their family friend and singer Sumona Haque, and an original framed sketch by painter Kamrul Hassan are noteworthy among them.
A corner cabinet houses many more show pieces, for instance, some paper-thin, fine porcelain wares from China. Perhaps the most striking pieces are the ones hailing from Ukraine. Humayun studied for his engineering degree in Kiev, the capital of the now war-ravaged Ukraine. He and his wife preserved these beloved relics from Ukraine with utmost care and fondness.
Mementos to Reminisce the Past Life
Zahida collects and preserves intricately detailed utensils made of Bronze, copper, and brass. Most of these are inherited, while very few are curated from different parts of the country. These items can be seen displayed throughout the house.
Zahida draws attention toward a folding table encrusted with brass trinkets. It is a memorabilia from her father-in-law from the Pakistan era that she preserves with great fondness.
An Assamese woven rug (pati), which was also handed down from her mother, hangs from the adjacent wall to the drawing room where Zahida attached a Japanese hand fan.
The floor plan of the house as built-in 1956 by Mr. Humayun’s father is the monument of what the current house used to be. It also is a sweet emotional reminder to Humayun to stay close to his roots at all times.
Memories from Trips around the World
In the lobby extending from the living space, there are handmade miniature clay dolls, earthen jugs, handmade crafts and miscellanea, mostly from Kiev. A wall rack displays everything that the couple owns from their trips abroad, like from Spain, Portugal and Turkey. Humayun and Zahida said that they have the habit of visiting antique shops and buying interesting artifacts whenever they travel the world.
Beside the door is a uniquely shaped mirror. Zahida explains that the door holds sentimental value to her, passed down from her grandmother to her mother, and now to her. This family heirloom is actually a sculptured plank from the Assamese “palongko” bed that her mother was gifted in her wedding; she creatively recycled this wooden plank into a mirror.
In another corner of their large corridor are a wooden side table and a chair. The wall displays the oeuvre of art from different corners of the world. For instance, Japanese postcard art, a Vietnamese handcrafted silk painting, an Australian aboriginal painting, Islamic decorative calligraphy and so on. On the table, a Russian cobalt-blown glass decorative bowl glows brightly under the indoor lighting.
Recycling the Love for Shari
The undebatable ‘pièce de résistance’ is the swinging door of the drawing room that Zahida customized by a carpenter. She had her favorite but worn-out Jamdani sari fitted between glass slabs and made into a decorative mural in these doors, and she as well as Humayun take pride in this marvelous creation.
Another instance of the usage of Jamdani is seen as a see-through tapestry framed over a dormer window. This works as a suncatcher that gorgeously reflects the sunlight and lights up the corridor. Frames of a handmade stamp, a Mongolian hand painting and an aboriginal mural hang from the walls surrounding the dormer. The Mongolian art depicts the story of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian emperor, and is particularly awe-inspiring.
Everything about Postal Service
Zahida was in the national postal service, in lieu of which she received a considerable number of gifts related to the Bangladeshi postal system. There is a miniature post box that they preserved as a memento. On the opposite wall is a Postcard from Japan that Zahida recycled into an artwork. As a departing gift from her office, Zahida received a golden balance for letters and postal documents. She recalls how in the yesteryears, all of the letters, mails, postal documents and packages used to be measured to determine the postal price. She shows off her treasured collection of the first set of stamps and posters of Bangladesh. The stamps go back as far back as before the liberation war of Bangladesh, hence the process of the stamps are written in Pakistani Rupee. She shows the pictures and descriptions which introduce Biman Mollik, who was the first stamp designer of independent Bangladesh, and his pictures with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gifting the stamp.
A remarkable life-sized stamp is a custom stamp with Zahida’s face on it that is hung in the study room. Zahida was pleasantly surprised by this gift from her ex-colleagues to her as a departing gift. The arithmetically accurate design and vibrant use of colors make it a jaw-dropping work of art. As she explains with joy, these mementos are very close to her heart.
The open space of the dining area continues from the living space. The dining decor is a simplistic beige look that is soothing to look at. The centerpiece is the wooden dining table which is customized with Sylheti Shitol Pati under the glass top. A traditional Russian teapot called the Samovar is very unique.
The wall opposite the dining space has a corner featuring paintings of different kinds of Indian food carts that Humayun brought from Mumbai, which match the theme of the dining space.
A side table beside the dining table holds many crockeries and dinnerware handed down from both sides of the spouses’ families.
The open kitchen has a rustic, monochromatic but elegant ambiance. Rattan blinds slightly shade the kitchen window. The cabinets and cupboards are made out of wood and fitted to the ceiling. The countertop is of marble stone resting on top of wooden cabinets. An antique wooden table and a wooden crockeries rack, originally of Humayun’s parents, have an incredible traditional design that truly tells about how aged these actually are. Some quaint copper and brass ladles, sieves and even a teapot in one corner.
Transparent cupboard specifically for cups from different countries. A brightly colored porcelain tea set from Kiev that Humayun brought while a student stands out from the rest. Moreover, Zahida is fond of a Soviet block teacup, famous in Russia for drinking tea.
A Ukrainian wall clock hangs near the cupboard which continues to tell the time, even though it’s quite old and worn out but no less beautiful.
The Study-cum-Guest Room:
The study room doubles as a guest room for the invitees to the house. Zahida says that the family also uses the room to do their office work.
On one end is the spacious reading table that holds a desktop computer. Beside it is a built-in plaster shelf that houses some intricate showpieces. Particularly, the letter sorting box is an eye-catcher. Made of dark varnished wood, it doubles as a showpiece and a functional item to store important letters of Mrs. Zahida, the proud owner.
The other side of the room has a cozy bedding arrangement with a wooden bed, draped window and a tall wall cabinet.
Zahida is very fond of the rooftop garden in their house. A narrow passage joins two segments of the rooftop floor together. The amount of greenery is enchanting. Zahida and her husband admit to enjoying most of their leisure time lounging in the rattan easy chairs in the garden. Their morning starts with a cup of tea in the midst of greenery offered by this fresh and airy garden, as well as breakfast and afternoon tea. They also entertain extended family, friends, peers and other visiting guests in this garden.
Mrs. Zahida primarily takes care of this garden. She explains that she nurtures different kinds of plants that date back to even 50 years ago! She learned the craft of bonsai and grafting from Mr. Humayun’s pal, and this has helped her to produce and preserve new generational lines of very old plants. In her own words, these plants are an “oxygen factory” that “gives back her life”. She loves to bond with her plants through talking as well because she believes that trees can understand her and it factors into their growth and well-being.
According to Mr. Humayun and Mrs. Zaheda, their house is their own personal haven. Coming back home is the best remedy for stress and recovery. Their peaceful home allows them to relax, recharge and most importantly, express their identity as cultural and sentimental individuals. The couple is flattered by the appreciation and warm compliments of everyone, especially their family and peers.
Each of the objects in the house is of sentimental value and not just a random something. Be it just an old table, plate or even a cushion cover, they all have a story to tell. These induce nostalgia and a sense of belonging because they induce happy memories and take them back to their roots. With all these arrangements, Humayun and Zaheda indeed believe that their home is a fabulous house.