The couple had a beautiful two-storeyed house in a posh South Delhi colony, built in the 1960s. There, they raised two boys, only to lose them to opportunities abroad. They retired just as the economy really took off, as new cars lined the narrow streets around them and construction crew arrived daily to raze the houses all around.
A developer kept calling. So persistent he was, so big the house seemed without the children, so great became the need for money to keep up, that they eventually caved in—and so did the walls on the independent life they once knew. Replacing it came three dwellings, the gardens ripped up to maximize space for balconies and stairwells. The old couple made out well, receiving cash and a new ground-floor flat. The builder did, too, making crores.
The newcomers initially seemed nice enough, business families. But then came debates over parking. Over the need for a security guard. Over common services such as the water tank, common chores such as dusting the banisters and replacing lightbulbs.
The family requested anonymity because Mint’s growing circulation and popularity means the folks upstairs might read this and the bad blood will only thicken.
Besides, that’s only their version.
Perhaps their annoying neighbours are people like me. My family and I rent the top floor of a home converted in a very similar manner. After eight months, it is clear we three families have not exactly figured out how this dance should work.
The quibbles are trivial. The first and second floor split the electricity for the lift, even though the ground floor has servants who use it all the time. Recently, a row over a parking spot ended with the landlord telling me that there were no rules, just a certain understanding of who got what spots because “we have lived here since 1969, you see.”
I thought of all sorts of comebacks, from asking him if he still milched his cow in the morning to telling him his house back then was worth less than one month’s current rent. But I bit my tongue; after all, I depend on him to manually crank the lift when I get stuck during a power outage. They keep an eye on things when we are away. My daughter likes to go play with their dog; her first phrase in Hindi was kala kutta.
And I see the family struggling to come to terms with what they have done. My sympathies cease when I remember they profited mightily—and continue to do so every month.
Good fences make good neighbours, the old adage goes. But you can’t erect fences between floors, although metaphorical ones redefine what it means to be neighbourly in Delhi’s transitional real estate market. Single workers and young families arriving in the capital find landlords teetering between genuine concern and outright nosiness. They ask questions and lock gates at 10pm.
More populated metros such as Mumbai have already gone through these growing pains. In some ways, they are at the place where Delhi is heading, where residents cocoon and keep to themselves (but, if someone gets stuck in the lift, I am certain the infamous “spirit of the city” surely inspires action.)
From lessons learned in his Mumbai colony of 1,100 families, aptly named Dosti Acres, Mohan Kura, 66, cautions Delhi against constructing towers of indifference. Somewhere, somehow, he says, there must be a balance.
“The problem is, in a city like Mumbai, you don’t meet people,” he says. For older residents like him, who felt isolated after retirement and alone with kids working late or outside the city, he started a senior citizens club last year, partly to redefine the idea of community in the world’s most densely populated city. “Now, if somebody needs help, we are there.”
But you can’t pick your neighbours. In fact, in recent weeks, as my husband and I have tortured ourselves by browsing New Delhi real estate, we are struck by how little owners ask about us—who we are, whether we come in late, have two cars or one, if we play music, have visitors or parties. Mostly, they inquire how much money we can spend and the all-important, “How much cheque and how much cash?”
So we move on, convinced that who lives in and around the building matters as much as the construction, possibly more. Sanjay Sharma, who runs a real estate company and the portal Gurgaon Scoop, says some new societies are trying to cater to people like me and clump like-minded people together. He mentioned DLF Group plans the concept with the ”Magnolias” development along the golf course.
“Magnolias?” I asked. “That sounds familiar.”
Immediately, I searched my account and found an email I received in June. “…exclusive… ultra luxury … sold purely by invitation. … Rs9,000 per sq. ft.”
Sounds like the like-minded need to be money-minded. And those are neighbours I just can’t keep up with.
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