Whose house is it anyway?

Whose house is it anyway?
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First Published: Fri, Dec 07 2007. 11 58 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Dec 07 2007. 11 58 PM IST
I live in a building that has 32 floors—each with two wings of four flats each. That makes it a total of 256 flats, all of which are occupied. Assuming a normal distribution, let’s say 256 families live here.
This group of people with myriad differences, careers and heterogeneous backgrounds are represented by what is known in Mumbai parlance as a “Residents’ Cooperative Society” (also known as Cooperative Society, Residents’ Society, Society and, according to my neighbour, a word that cannot be printed in any media publication. Hint: rhymes with fast birds).
It is a great way to ensure that the interests of the residents are protected and it’s wonderful that there is a body which takes responsibility with accountability. We find this highly laud-able—this is what you would be saying if you were not from Mumbai and had no idea how these “societies” worked. If you did, you would be thinking more along the lines of: Lock them all up in a room with poisonous vipers which have been left starving for weeks. Also fill the room with carbon dioxide. And then nuke it with ICBMs. Launch the remains into space.
This is because, in Mumbai, Residents’ Cooperative Societies (henceforth called Societies) hold the power of god in their hands, signatures and, I shudder to think, circulars.
Let’s start from the top. The tyranny begins when you go house-hunting. A little known Mumbai fact is that people, recently transferred to the city, who manage to find a house in Mumbai and move in within a month, are automatically nominated for at least a Padma Bhushan (Padma Vibhushan for any location south of Worli).
This is because Societies take immense pleasure in turning down the most eligible prospective residents for vacant flats in their buildings. I have learnt from three years of experience that the profile of the perfect tenant in most Mumbai buildings is broadly as follows:
MBA or engineer with at least two years of work experience. At least one of which should be with ICICI Bank. Should be married, but only just. No premarital hanky-panky with fiancé, girlfriend, co-worker, “distant relative in town on work” is allowed. Children are not appreciated. Must have no interest whatsoever in any form of Western music. Alcohol allowed in moderate amounts as component of deodorants. Vegetarianism preferred. Do not stay out too late. And, in some cases: Vegetarianism is compulsory.
Therefore, it is common for people to go from building to building, suburb to suburb, month after month, till they finally find a building that is okay with them moving in. But, even then, you can take nothing for granted. An acquaintance was asked to move out approximately 15 seconds after finally managing to get that three-seater sofa into a Mumbai-sized living room (200 sq. ft inclusive of the ceiling). Apparently, the Society had to withdraw his application because of the spontaneous dislike of the applicant’s face. The gentleman begged them to reconsider. He immediately promised to marry within the month and talk to that HR manager in ICICI immediately. The Society people convened behind the closed doors of the Society office, laughed loudly, high-fiving and slapping each other on the back for the great job done, before emerging and asking him to go away.
You would be forgiven for thinking, as you lie down for your first night in your new flat, that you’ve seen the last of the people from the Society. You have a contract; they can’t make life difficult for you any more, can they?
I laugh with my head thrown back. Two minutes after switching on the air conditioner, you will get a notice from the Society. “Water is dripping on the flat downstairs. If you do not switch it off immediately, you will be evicted.” You decide to install a high-tech ceiling fan to make up for the lack of cooling. Within two minutes of the drill hitting the ceiling, you will receive a notice: “Construction work in flats is not allowed before 4pm or after 6pm; authorization from the Society required for all building modification”. Of course, I am exaggerating a bit here. Sometimes, the notices take 15-20 minutes to arrive.
But in my building, things are a little different. The Society of our building, like many others you will find in Mumbai, is a hotbed of political rivalry. The action you see during our Society meetings makes the ongoing political imbroglio in Karnataka look like a slow game of Monopoly. During a single week in July, we had three different societies in as many days with three different general secretaries, treasurers and suchlike. You couldn’t take a step around the building without running into an officebearer or someone who was shortly going to become one. Or was one (sort of like an AICC meeting after a bad election in one of the states).
Now, this in itself did not bother me. It really didn’t matter to me who the people in the Society were as long as I was left alone. But, alas, democracy always has a way of poking its nose into your business. Every 15 minutes, there would be a knock on the door, accompanied by a circular listing evil things done by one or the other of the political Society-ship seekers. By evening, it would reduce to petty name-calling. Titles of circulars include “Mr Mehta is spreading lies!”, “Do not trust that Sukumar from 7011C”, “Mehta is a dog”, “No, you are a dog!”, “I called you a dog first!” et cetera.
Finally, after two months of intrigue, back-stabbing and meetings, we finally had a Society that had the most widespread public support. They immediately set down to do their job and do it well. They have managed to truly make the life of all the residents easier and convenient.
It is proof of their dedication to the job that, as we speak, I have in front of me a notice to switch off the AC in the bedroom. Or I will be evicted.
And yes, I have embraced the Society. Mr. Mehta is a dog.
(Write to lounge@livemint.com)
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First Published: Fri, Dec 07 2007. 11 58 PM IST
More Topics: Housing society | Mumbai | Lounge |