In Conversation With Atul Khanna, Founder Of Kathika, Delhi
In the heart of old Delhi, where nostalgia lingers in hidden Havelis and Parantha shops, Kathika Cultural Centre (KCC) stands as a memento of the bygone Mughal era. However, as a cultural centre, it does not intend to remain frozen in time. Atul Khanna, founder and curator, envisions KCC as a public space where storytelling can be revived again. With his colleague, Ashna Khanna, the Director of Kathika Cultural Centre, Khanna not only sought to revive storytelling traditions but also the two crumbling Havelis that risked extinction under the ever-expanding infrastructural ambition of the metropolitan.
Khanna, who chanced upon this project by accident, derived inspiration from his travel to culturally rich countries like Morocco to build Kathika. His debut project is the heritage hotel Vivaana, a restored Shekhawati Haveli in Rajasthan.
Can you tell us the origin story of Kathika?
The name “Kathika” is derived from the kathwachan and the dastaan storytelling traditions, which depicted the old city’s Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.
The story of Kathika began in 2015 when I came across a newspaper article about two dilapidated late 19th-century havelis that were crumbling. Since my family originally hails from Katra Neel, Purani Dilli, I felt that it might be a good fit for a passion project, and began the restoration work. The Havelis that date back to the late Mughal era (1800 to 1860), now restored, are open to all as the Kathika Cultural Centre.
What types of artefacts are on display at the museum?
The Haveli has a tasteful collection of old artefacts, including rare antiques like an old typewriter, phonograph, gramophone, a vintage clock period furniture pieces, Raja Ravi Varma Prints, ice cream machines, paintings and a collection of rare photos of Delhi sourced from the Mahatta Archives. Various artefacts have found their place in this treasure trove of his ancestral heritage, having been passed down through generations within the family.
How does Kathika function as a cultural space?
We organize many cultural events to bridge the gap between the past and present. It is similar to how Purani Dilli has become a mixture of old and modern elements. For instance, the inauguration of Kathika included the launch of Swapna Liddle’s book, “Shahjahanabad: Mapping a Mughal City” (Roli Books), followed by an art workshop by Amrai Dua. The workshop paid homage to the late Mexican artist Frida Kahlo on her birth anniversary. Kathika recently held a storytelling session featuring Sohail Hashmi, a historian and heritage keeper. The session, Aam-e-Khaas, focused on the Mango fruit, hailed as the king of fruits and a universal favourite.
Kathika, a haveli-turned-museum, keeps architecture as a central pillar of the exhibition. What can you tell us about the same?
Built during the late Mughal era, the Kathika haveli displays solid architectural features of the period. It has an intricately carved outer façade made of buff sandstone and semi-circular arched entrances, typical of the period. The Haveli has a central courtyard and is adorned with intricate glazed majolica tiles that were specially imported from Japan. This Haveli is also home to furniture pieces, exquisite sculptures and charming chandeliers. Overall, architecture serves as a precious link to the past, where the grandeur of Mughal architecture converges with the echoes of British architectural sensibilities.
How does Kathika stand apart from other museums in Delhi? Were you inspired by any existing museum model around the world?
Kathika is a unique museum-like haveli that houses within its walls a space to celebrate, promote and revive forgotten cultural traditions by giving a platform for the performing arts, baithaks, book discussions and other interactive sessions, and culinary experiences. Through all this, I hope to bring back the nostalgic traditions of Delhi. In terms of inspiration, the Modern Art Gallery, Craft Museum and Museo Camera remain my favourite haunts.