Househunting in Mumbai: Its a nightmare

What follows here is a tale of great anguish and reflects totally and completely my experiences in Mumbai. Mumbaikars, with their flats intact since 1920s – please don’t hate me!

Searching for a nice place to live in Mumbai is worse than searching for a needle in a haystack. In the case of latter, at least you know that its there. In Mumbai, there isn’t anything called a nice house to live. People pay obscene amounts to live in ocean facing stinking and rusted flats (really posh), or posh-locality kholis (not so posh), or simply put, in an n and a half bedroom house for a prohibitively huge amount (where n<3). You wonder if its rent people are asking for, or ransom. Agar keemat nahi chukai to is shehar mein tumhara rehna mushkil kar doonga.

It goes back to 2003. I was lucky then. Not lucky as in Lucky-no time for love. But lucky as in fortunate. Few of my close friends who were working with ICICI had their employer cough out the 5 lakh (half a million) required for deposits. That 5L amount brought the rent down to 20k for a 2 bedroom flat. Here, I must tell you about this novel concept of “25 ka package hai” meaning the rent can be 21k if you pay a deposit of 4L, or 25k if you are not ready to pay a deposit. Who did the maths? I have no idea!!

Now then, there were 4 of them cosying up in that 2 BHK flat. And they were definitely not with alternate preferences (despite some occasional comments like – tu mere gullu ki tarah soft nahi hai!). But I insist- I was lucky. I did not have to go witch (house) hunting. And before I realized I was off after my 3-4 month stint! For some time at least!

I came back to the city in 2007 Jan. Things had become worse. A 1 bedroom flat rentals are anywhere upwards of 25k in Bandra. And why Bandra? Because otherwise, I would have spent more than an hour just reaching the office (yeah! Bombay traffic is another long blogpost). Back to witch-hunting, better the building, better the furnishing, better the rates. Mathur took a PG for 10k, I took a kholi for 16k. And I mean a kholi – which probably is the slang for a chawl kinda house. For the uninitiated a chawl is like a slum area where lots and lots of people live in small houses cramped together (I am sure a lot of Mumbaikars would be on me for using such generalized definitions). Every kholi has a single room and has more than 5-6 inhabitants usually. At a certain point in time, the real estate revolution took its toll on the lively chawls (inspiration for many-a-movies), and many of them got converted into what are called SRS (Slum Rehabilitation Scheme) flats. Here, the builders take up the existing chawl and convert it into a dual identity modern apartment. The nicer face and the front side of such apartments is sold to the normal buyers, while the slum dwellers get a 1 room kholi each in the backside of the apartment. These are constructed in a primitive manner with basic amenities, maximum space utilization for the 1 room flats. Some enterprising dwellers decided to get the interiors done nicely and rent out the space to generate additional income which can be quite valuable in this blood-sucking city.

So, as I was saying, I took this 1 room flat in a SRS building which I found quite nice for my appetite. Just a little beyond the limit I had set for myself, fully furnished (no AC though), nicely done interiors (comfortable sleep at night). The negatives were also simple- The walk between the entrance and the flat (the minimal requirement) would be peppered with people looking at you curiously. If you say something to your landlord, most likely the whole building will know about it by the evening. And stuff like that. Now, if you are a small towner like me, it doesn’t bother you that much. But yeah, your “status” does take a hit!

Now, my relearning began earlier last month. With office all set to move from Bandra to Andheri East, there was no point me fooling around with the rent I was paying for travelling 45 minutes either way. Economically and practically, it made more sense to move to Andheri. But guess what, its not all light and shining in the dark city (Andheri=darkness). Mr. Mathur, who was ready to shell out 10k for a studio/1BHK did not get anything decent. I went in with the same budget as earlier. For 15k I have a 1BHK instead of a 1RK now. But the quality of interiors and furnishing, nowhere close. Though there is some more stuff, like an AC thrown in. But the whole process of finding a good accommodation has been a nightmare. Between me and Rajat, I think we do have the contacts of 15-20 brokers who gave up on our limitation of not being borne in a family which can just lock away a few lakhs rupees as security deposit, or that of not working in banks which are ready to park someone else’s money as security deposit.

People talk about the great quality of life in this great absorbing city. I guess when it comes to the three basic necessities – Food, Clothes and Shelter, this city sucks bigtime. My personal experience is that leaving aside Vada Pav, the food bills here run far higher than the other three original metros. Accommodation, nobody’s competing with Mumbai. Mumba Devi is in a league of her own with innovative concepts like 2.5BHK where the .5 would not be considered a B anywhere but Mumbai. But then, the city has a night life to offer. What’s the need to find a decent acco mate! You can stay out all your life and pardy.

Lest I am charged with saying that all is wrong with this city – hell, no! I do love a lot of things about this city – most importantly, its people. It’s probably the only city in this country where the concept of personal space exists. It’s one of the rare cities in India which despite having such a big organized underworld, still has its markets and restaurants open till midnight and beyond. It’s a city which is a great leveler. Every day when you board a Mumbai local, it does not matter who you are and what your upbringing is, you have to struggle for your existence. And if you don’t want luxuries, you have to make adjustments. Go to the office at 8 before anyone else, and leave after 8 (after everyone else), and such things.

But, to make life easy for the wonderful dwellers, the city needs to start thinking. It’s not just good to be a spirited sportsperson, you have to be a thinking sportsperson too if you want to win! Mumbai – you are spirited. But you aren’t thinking.

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