The holiday-home-turned sanctuary is situated in the Goan village of Assagao
The mango tree is quite a permanent fixture of many childhood memories—reclining under its shade in sweltering summers; messy mouths eating the lush, succulent fruit, both in raw, tangy green or a pulpy, ripe yellow, jubilant like the tropical sun. “The memory isn’t mine alone but belongs to the Indian subcontinent’s collective consciousness,” says homeowner and leading portrait photographer Rohit Chawla.
In 2003, long before Assagao gentrified to become Goa’s version of Beverly Hills, Chawla bought this plot of land, carved into a hill, with a mango tree right in the center. “When I saw the land, I was somehow reminded of summer holidays spent under a tree somewhere in Lucknow as a teenager,” says Chawla. He invited architect Sidharth Naik to guide him, and ensure that the spectacular tree melded into the house, or the other way around—neither interrupting the other. “Over the years, this house has brought to me a bunch of different pleasures. One can have air conditioning, but also the shade of a mango tree. Our living room is elevated at the mid-tree level, which really gives you a sense of closeness to the tree outside,” says Chawla.
The two-storey cantilevered home gently sits on a sloping hill, hidden away from public view by high walls and plenty of shrub foliage. One navigates a flight of wooden stairs to arrive at the foyer. Adjacent to the doorway is an alfresco dining area with a six-seater table and a rustic earthen oven where Chawla and his wife Saloni Puri hand-fire pizzas with heavenly crusts. The couple enjoys entertaining. “The plunge pool, which can be accessed from the dining area, has become a favorite spot among our friends. During mango season, the fruit can be plucked directly from the branches!”
The focal point, however, is when one gets comfy on the living room couch. Right across is a looming horizontal glass window that runs the entire length of the room. “In 2003, when I started building the house, large glass windows were not common in Goa. Both my contractor and architect tried to dissuade me with reasons of safety and practicality. But I’m a photographer, I care about light,” says Chawla. This window frames the tree outside beautifully, and the crown of the tree that gets cut from view has recently been painted as a mural on the inside wall by Goa-based artist Marina Izvarina. The visual narrative of the outside continues inside, with a langur climbing a branch, along with a parrot and squirrel perched elsewhere. “We spot woodpeckers on the tree every morning. I photographed a Malabar hornbill tapping on the windowpane on several occasions,” says Puri.