Summer months have just begun in Tripura but it already feels like it has reached its peak. The sun is blindingly bright and the ground we walk on feels like it is covered in embers. It will be weeks or months before the first rains of the season wash over the land and bring a new lease of life to the rivers and forests that have started drying. Once the rain hits, people will flock to the forest to look for freshly sprouted bambooshoots that grow overnight or to discover edible mushrooms reaching out from the soil.
Whereas all humans struggle with the onslaught of summer, some homes seem to offer better respite. One such home belongs to the Reang community of Tripura who have mastered the art of building weather-proof houses.
A traditional Reang home is a large hut built on stilts that is at least 2 feet higher than the ground. It has two doors, one on each side of the house that allows for good ventilation. During summers the doors are kept open throughout the day that allow for a gentle breeze to circulate around thereby keeping the house cool. When it is time for monsoon, water never floods the house due to the elevation. This also greatly reduces the risk of finding unwelcome guests such as insects and frogs.
A Reang house is big enough for a large family to live in and serves as the drawing room and bedroom. The entire house is made of wooden/bamboo pillars, wooden/bamboo flooring, and a straw roof. These days, however, the straw roof has been replaced by tin which lasts 10-20 years. Inside the house, the family covers the floor with mats made of bamboo to make it comfortable to walk on. As modernity makes inroads into villages, many such houses now have television, fan, and a refrigerator. Building homes on stilts creates space at two levels. The top space which is the living space is occupied by humans, and the ground level is used to rear animals such as ducks and goats. The ground is regularly washed and cleaned to keep it hygienic. Some homes also routinely apply a layer of cowdung on the ground.
Dinesh Reang and Sulakshana Jamatia are a family who reside in an ancestral Reang home in Birchandra Manu, South Tripura. They share the home with their parents and child. Their house is mostly made of wood. It is supported by strong wooden pillars and the flooring is entirely made of wooden boards. There are small gaps between the boards but the floor is covered with bamboo mats for easy movement. According to Sulakshana, the house was remodelled in 2011 when a concrete staircase was added to the house. The former straw roof was also replaced with tin. “This ancestral house is very comfortable. We have mostly constructed it out of wood. During summers the cool winds blow in and give respite from the heat,” she said.
The home has a small balcony on the backside which the family uses as a washing area for kitchen utensils. An interesting thing about such houses is that when people spill water inside, it automatically seeps through the gaps in the floor and disappears, so there is no need to mop it up.
Birchandra Manu is dotted with such homes that have been remodelled to suit contemporary tastes. There are homes on stilts that have an adjoining room made with concrete where children can live and study. There are also homes where part of the house has been built using concrete slabs for strength. According to the homeowners, it is a tradition that they will continue to carry forward. “Our ancestors have been building homes on stilts for as far back as we know. It is something that we also intend to continue,” said Sulakshana.