Bachi Karkaria's Tales from TJ Road: How housing complexes are the cities within our cities
Through this fortnightly column, Tales From TJ Road, Bachi Karkaria tells the story of Mumbai's metromorphosis
Read more columns in this series here.
Hyperlocal is same-to-same as hyped-up national
‘No man is an island entire of itself’. True. But John Donne’s much-quoted observation doesn’t apply to gated communities. Since they are in newly developed parts of the city, they can spread out as comfortably as a lazy Sunday snooze. Space is the lure which makes people leave perfumed localities and move to addresses that haven’t quite shed their old, depressed-area odours. So, these huge housing estates become micro-cities if not whole countries. Yes, islands entire unto themselves. They will become more so again, now that the COVID surge will increasingly keep our Laxmans and Rekhas within the cordon sanitaire.
The most obvious proof of their stand-alone splendour is self-sufficiency. Some in the outer reaches of Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru have ‘attached’ schools, hospitals, even whole golf courses, as if these luxuries were in situ bathrooms; the towers of Gurugram’s Gotham even have private power supply. The gentrified mill-hub is in the centre of Mumbai, so such extravagances aren’t possible, but it’s certainly not Bleak Street. Everything from bazars to basketball is within the gilded gates. To say nothing of a moveable feast of delivered meals, doughnuts and dosa batters.
It’s not just the aloo-and-abs physical amenities. More importantly, these pampered sprawls have the fundamental markers of a city, or even a nation. Here, in microcosm, are the economic, social, cultural and political realities of the larger universe.
True, the huge economic disparities are absent, but housing complexes are certainly not a one-slab-fits-all economic entity. Residents are at different rungs of the upper management ladder; there are professionals, businessmen, traders even astute shopkeepers. This economic diversity is reflected in the way they act and interact socially and culturally. And, as in cities and the nation as a whole, here lie most of the fault-lines.
More often than not the tectonic plate is ‘tradition’. Take four regular, Richter-measurable tremors. One, the more convention-steeped insist on leaving footwear outside the door; the more westernised roll their eyes and go along, till sandals and slippers begin sauntering across the entire landing. Two, different festivals demand food being left outdoors for birds, and the housing estate’s rambling podiums and gardens provide a generous table; the conflict starts when crows and pigeons spurn the offering, and rats scurry in to make merry, or the food begins to rot. Three, just as in the outside world, there’s the clash over whose festival should be ‘publicly’ celebrated, and at what decibel level. The ritual slaughter demanded at Bakr-i-Eid has led to an unwritten blackballing code, but it’s naïve to presume that there isn’t major bickering over how rumbustious the Ganeshotsav; how frenzied the dhaki at Durga Puja. Four, plucking flowers is a more every-morning irritant; ‘Bhagwan ke liye’ is the sanctimonious, brook-no-argument justification before which the protestors must retreat in fear of divine retribution.
Not every divider has ‘Religion!’ scrawled across it. Let me ignore the chucking of chapatis, and worse, out of windows, sullying the public areas of private housing. Secular Culprit No 1 is the hammering, drilling, electric sawing of marble slabs for Taj Mahal-grade renovations at uncivilized hours. All colonies have designated ‘No Noise’ hours, but of course there will be those asserting the supremacy of private indulgence over public inconvenience. What makes you think housing societies are vaccinated against the endemic virus of ‘We are like that only!’?
Apart from reflecting India’s socio-economic collisions, the granite-lobbied estates metamorphosing the likes of Mumbai’s TJ Road also flash the national ID card of politicking. Not quite the depths of the current Bengal electioneering, but noteworthy enough. Society management politics are the most obvious, multiplied pro rata when different wings each has its own MC; there’s the same kind of khullam-khulla jockeying, cronyism and power grab. However, the veiled manifestations of CHS politics are more interesting. Read between the lines of the in-house WhatsApp groups; hear the covert cattiness at the kitty parties; catch the scent of petty rivalries as it mingles with that of the determinedly non-partisan champa.
Finally, let me point to that quintessential urban marker, upward mobility. Surprisingly, everyone moving out of TJ Road’s older gated communities seems to be moving to the newer, higher towerscapes of Sewri itself. Looks like it has become home despite all the cribbing about its chaos. It’s the same as our relationship with our city, or even country, no?
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