Juzar and Nishreen Khorakiwala’s sprawling country house on the banks of the picturesque Pawana Lake in the shadows of the Western Ghats brings an altogether new meaning to the term living in the lap of nature. From almost every window, a placid lake framed splendidly by smoky blue mountains greets the eye.
This city-bred couple leaves the comfort of their Mumbai apartment every weekend to unwind and commune with nature on their farm. They share the 20 acres with four cows, three calves, a horse, three ducks and an assortment of ornamental fish that live in a tranquil pond that runs through the house.
Juzar Khorakiwala is the chairman and managing director of Biostadt India Ltd, which is in the business of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. His significant other, Nishreen, grew up in Belgaum in a large joint family and has spent the last several years in Mumbai, where she used to run a kitchen supplying meals prepared by destitute women to corporates. The couple love nature and when they decided to build their weekend home on the backwaters of the Pawana dam, they had very specific ideas for their architect, Sen Kapadia. “We wanted a home where we could shed the trappings of city life and just be ourselves. And we wanted the house to be built in such a way that every part would blend with the landscape and also allow us to enjoy gardening and working on the farm,” says Nishreen.
The stone floors in the bedrooms lend a rustic feel.
The house at Paud village is a little over two-and-a-half-hours drive from Mumbai, up a little mountain, with its twists and turns, past villagers taking their cattle out to graze and village women carrying pots of water. The best way to spot the house, set well away from the road in the midst of greenery, is the fire engine red telephone booth that stands sentry at the gate. The booth was picked up by Nishreen from Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar and lovingly restored.
The first sight of the house itself is startling—a low-slung structure, the colour of sand, with walls textured to give the impression of tiny swimming fish. The walls almost seem like they are made of mud, ensuring that the structure blends in perfectly with the landscape. All the rooms have roofs of different shapes; so, from the lake, the impression is of a cluster of country homes rather than just one house.
Architect Kapadia easily found inspiration in the stunning vistas of the sparkling blue waters of the lake and the mountains beyond. “I decided to use a series of pavilions, each of which would give its residents views of the lake and the mountains from a different angle. With that view, there was nothing really to work on but ensuring that they get to enjoy the moods of nature every second that they spend there,” says Kapadia, who is known for his simple yet dramatic use of spaces.
Four short steps up the main entrance, a veranda skirts the house from end to end, offering up amazing views, and a surprise. Beneath the length of the veranda, a water body houses a collection of beautiful, ornamental fish. The overflow goes into a largish pond outside the house that is home to three rather plump ducks that, Nishreen warns, are possessive about their space and inclined to bite anybody who infringes on their privacy.
The rambling country home has rough hewn stone flooring, unpolished antique wooden doors, wide open windows that let in the breeze, and rooms that flow effortlessly into each other.
All around the house are traces of the couple’s travels around the world. Juzar says the charm of the house lies in the variety of knick-knacks Nishreen has collected on their trips, and the vast expanse of their 6,000 sq. ft home gives her plenty of space to display the items. In the living room, a beautiful old love seat from Kashmir lives in harmony with a collection of old chairs from Chor Bazaar and a chunky sofa that belonged to her mother. At the other end of the room, a silver inlaid cupboard holds family memorabilia. A tiny coal-fired iron sits on a ledge in a bedroom. The kitchen has a large kerosene-fired cooking range that is remarkably similar to a modern range. A large kahwa pot from Kashmir occupies pride of place on the burner. The kitchen table is actually a large glass rectangle placed on the sawn-off trunk of a tree which the couple found abandoned near their house. The drawing room has beautiful antique wooden ceiling fans from Chor Bazaar that add old world charm to the place. Of course, with the cooling breeze meandering in from the lake, there’s no real need for any fans.
The bedrooms show traces of a Moroccan look, with mattresses perched on stone platforms, distressed walls, and old brass lanterns. Each bathroom in the house is open to the sky and has its own tiny tropical garden. “I wanted it to look less like a hotel room with its standardized bathrooms and more like a home that people are comfortable in,” says Kapadia.
The Khorakiwalas love their expansive farmland and have deliberately kept away from a well-manicured look for their garden. Instead, they grow pomegranates, mangoes, and sugar cane on their farm, and have scattered palms and other plants across the garden so that the whole effect is of being in a natural space. The couple’s growing family of pets includes Gauri, the cow, and Rani, the horse, who are inseparable. One corner of the garden has a juice hut where the family can get fresh sugar cane juice crushed whenever they feel in the mood.
The couple says they have spent some of the happiest moments of their life the last three years at the house. Earlier this year, 600 guests arrived at the house for a lakeside wedding of one of their daughters and stayed for a night, accompanied by a qawwali group performing under the stars. Almost every week, the entire family—two daughters, a son, sons-in-law and grandchildren— arrives at the house, takes the speed boat out to the centre of the lake and spends hours in the water, swimming and catching up.
“The house has added another dimension to our lives, and while I used to go trekking to be with nature, now I feel like just coming here and settling down,” says Nishreen. “Who knows, one of these days, I am going to do just that—spend a couple of months on the farm, grow tomatoes and help the villagers make and sell sauce.”