The mansions of Chettinad were once hailing glory, homes teeming with activity and purpose, observing generations of a family pass through its colonnades and arches. So involved were they in the lives of their inhabitants that they became family themselves. A secret here, a celebration there, a bruise from a fall, or a fight in the central courtyard – they were privy to these to the extent that it became difficult to draw a line separating the animate and the inanimate, the living and the stationary. Now they lie, forlorn and majestic, collecting memories, and waiting to be found again.
It is to find these keepers of memories that we travelled to Chettinad. Our trip may have taken shape in a matter of a few weeks, but the prospect was nonetheless invigorating. We had a few other interesting ideas of what could be done in the region, but these lost mansions appealed to us more than anything else on the horizon. And so we set off, excited at the prospect of placing a foot at Chidambara Vilas, our first stop on the journey.
After a hefty lunch of local cuisine, we spent some time on a profile of the owner of Chidambara Vilas, shooting portraits of him in the ideal light. As expected when travelling with photographers, our journey was full of unexpected quirks, like climbing up rickety old government buildings, those which look like they would crumble under the stare of a stern cat, to get just the right angle and the perfect light for the image. One such instance was when Anthony happened upon a particularly exquisite façade and he wanted to capture it in just the perfect light. As a result, we were up before dawn perched in front of this mansion, poised to have on film the first rays of light falling upon the façade. And our effort was repaid tenfold when we saw what was born of this ordeal.