Try not to stay with your in-laws,” my dad always told me even before I got married. “But try to buy or rent the apartment next door.” Last month we bought an apartment just 2 minutes down the road from the husband’s parents. It’s not our dream house, but its biggest advantage is certainly that we don’t need a car to drop in to each other’s homes.
Kamalika Nandi has lived not more than two buildings away from her parents in Mumbai for the past eight years, shortly after her first child was born. Eight months ago, she did one better. She now stays just above them with her husband and her children (a four-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter). “Now I don’t even need to change out of my night clothes when I go over,” she says.
Living with family is a classic approach-avoidance conflict. You need your space and want to be the master of your own kitchen. But you want the support and companionship too. Increasingly though, it seems we’ve devised a way to get the friendship without the furniture. We just live next to each other.
My neighbour moved back from the US into the same apartment complex where she grew up—and just across the courtyard from her mother. My dentist lives in the same building as her mother. Twifriend Subha Chandrasekaran and her husband both have hectic corporate jobs. Since Chandrasekaran’s father retired in 2008, they have moved cities together and lived next to each other. “With our own homes we get the space to do what we want yet our lives are fully integrated. Typically most meals are at my folks’ place. Mom cooks and I help her with everything else. My kids love Nana and Nani and both homes are their home. I wouldn’t have continued working if not for this arrangement,” she says.
You can carry over several benefits of the traditional structure, even in this new joint family arrangement. For instance, we share a driver with my in-laws (he’s happy because he gets paid more). Our cook makes the most divine biryani and meat, theirs does killer vegetarian food, so we have a good tiffin exchange programme going. We look after each other’s apartments and staff when one of us is out of town. They babysit. We provide medical emergency support. Mostly they support us, I must confess.
Last month, one Bangalore developer even launched an apartment that caters to this New Joint Family. DivyaSree describes its Doublement apartment as “attached, yet independent”. The two joint apartments, one of which is larger than the other (they offer various permutations), share a common foyer and doorbell (though two doorbells are provided on request). The two living rooms have a common wall that can be dismantled. A large, common balcony can be accessed from both apartments. The company provides only one sale deed, and how the family divides up the payment is up to them.
The company sold 44 of the 179 apartments in three weeks, says Asipac founder chairman Amit Bagaria. The development management company conceptualized and is marketing Doublement for DivyaSree. Bagaria says the idea is especially popular with people who have returned to India from the US. They are now planning three more such projects.
The idea came about four years ago when his team was brainstorming about the ideal apartment but it was never implemented. A year ago, DivyaSree agreed to give the idea a shot after some quick research showed its popularity. “Dual-key” apartments are also gaining popularity in Singapore.
Children and support in the case of medical emergencies are the most common practical reasons two generations cite for adjacent living. “My father-in-law has faced a few health issues in the recent past and it is much easier for us to provide support while staying close by, without really taking a break from work,” says Bangalore-based microfinance professional Arun Kumar B., who recently bought an apartment opposite his in-laws. “My wife is also an only child and naturally close to her parents.”
For us, seeing Babyjaan build a relationship with her grandparents is the best part of living near each other. Nandi too says she loves watching her children interact with their grandparents. Of course, some of the age-old challenges persist. “There is an intense lack of privacy. They are involved in every single decision,” she adds. “And I can never run away to my mum’s place and put my feet up. I’m incredibly jealous of people with parents in other cities.” Luckily for me, the folks live in Mumbai.