The Building of Quila House 1934-1937

In the year 1934 the destructive earthquake of Bihar left the old bungalow with tremendous damage, forcing the family to shift at once to temporary accommodations in the nearby locality. A new residential house was commissioned and the architects involved in this very modern dream house of R. K. Jalan’s were Blady, Thomson & Mathew.

Quila House as it stands today, clad in charming monsoon-stained pink. The outside of the house has not been altered since 1937

The new house was designed in art deco style, incorporating elements of English and Dutch architecture; the Dutch influence is particularly visible in the main staircase. The elegant colonnade echoes the pre-1934 bungalow, but the new design was softened with the addition of round towers in opposite corners.

After the traumatic experience of 1934, the architects were under strict instructions to make the house earthquake-proof. It was one of the first buildings in Patna to use reinforced concrete and concealed wiring.

The master carpenter for the new house was hired from China, and paid the highest wages at the time. He must have been worth every paisa, as the house has known no problems in its woodwork in its 70 years.

Construction of the new Quila House. R. K. Jalan is standing next to the skylight atop the new ground-floor rooms
Visitors admire the statue of King George V in the garden fountain

The front garden and orchards were laid out, with a magnificent open vista to the Ganga and beyond. At the time Ganga came right up to the retaining walls of the garden and the ramparts of Sher Shah Suri’s old fort; a sheltered platform was built for the ladies of the house to come and bathe in the river. The platform is no longer in use, except for Ganga puja, but the front lawn is still pretty much in its original state, and to this day tended by a small army of malis who cut the grass with hand scythes.

The marble pedestal in the front garden once supported a statue of King George V. The statue and pedestal were a gift from Government House, after they were considered too small to be sited there. Nowadays a larger-sized version of the pedestal, in front of Raj Bhavan, is topped by a statue of Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India.

The statue of King George V in Quila House, alas, fell casualty to one of R. K. Jalan’s great-granddaughters. (If pressed for details about this terrible deed, we are only at liberty to say that it involved Urmila Bai’s daughter. Urmila Bai is the middle daughter of Hira Lal Jalan, R. K. Jalan’s son.)

The entrance hall, terminating in the main staircase, was designed to stage musical performances and for evening entertainment. Since R. K. Jalan was a strict orthodox, his architects made sure that the ladies of the house (who were kept in purdah) were not denied the benefit of enjoying the English Ball dances, which were constantly held, despite not taking part in them. A verandah with alcoves and French windows was added, to allow the ladies to move between different parts of the house and observe functions without being seen and without interacting directly with visitors.

The entrance hall and main staircase of Quila House
Snapshots from a viceregal visit: Above, R. K. Jalan highlights the porcelain collection. Below, R. K. Jalan and his son Hira Lal Jalan welcome the Vicereine

Indeed Bimla Bai, Hira Lal Jalan’s eldest daughter, still remembers these dances. A particularly memorable ball was held for the official inauguration of the new Quila House, during which a golden key to the house was presented. And in family accounts, it is said that one of the dances was attended by the Vicereine.

There were actually several viceregal visits to Quila House, and special arrangements were made in the residential portion of the house for visiting Vicereines to be able to greet the lady (or ladies) of the house without them necessarily even seeing one another. During her courtesy call, the Vicereine would sit in an anteroom, separated by curtains both from the ladies’ quarters and from the main dining room.