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.


About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

10 Responses to Househunting in Mumbai: Its a nightmare

  1. Amit says:

    lol melody! on a different node, these days, couples hardly need a reason to break up!


  2. Melody says:

    Know a couple who’re on the brink of a break up just because of their house hunting woes – seriously, a bad situation.


  3. Be a Good Daughter says:

    Thanks the message is delightful.
    I like your site..
    thank you again


  4. Amit says:

    @dodo – I agree. When the curtain falls, you need to count the change. Claps dont suffice.

    @Rohini – Many of my friends are doing that. Keeping the soul on mortgage. They call it the sub-prime crisis for different reasons! 🙂

    @Govar – I intend to do what you have already done! 🙂 Drive a nice car, have a nice flat, and a have fresh air to breathe. But I still like the people here who are better than the hooligans in Delhi! 🙂

    @Neeti – Thanks for clarifying. Every city has its own problems. But I am talking about basic survival, which is almost twice as expensive in Mumbai. Thats it! We can have a debate on the other counts separately!


  5. Neeti says:

    Just a technical detail: slum=zhopadpatti i.e. thatched roof/asbestos sheets with or without brick walls homes e.g. Dharavi, slums you see when you take off/land at Mumbai airport. Chawls= buildings with small homes (read usually one room and kitchen) and a connecting gangway, earlier ones would have a common toilet for n flats while each room would have its own bathroom/sink. Now in the era gone by co operative societies/apartment complexes were rare and most people lived in chawls/rented homes.
    Now in 2007, prime real estate areas which have chawls, a builder buys the land, breaks chawl, makes high rise and gives monetary/area wise compensation to the original owners, sells the rest.
    Now SRS is for people who have lived on public (?) property, made it into a slum dwelling (there is some cut off year, I think before 1990), they move to transit camps, slums are razed, high rise is made, one wing goes to slum dwellers (they can’t sell it off for some period of time hence they rent it out I guess) and the rest is sold again. The builder does get some FSI benefits etc for redeveloping a slum are. ( I don’t know the legal/technical details of SRS)

    Do remember, living surrounded by prior chawl dwellers is far different from prior slum dwellers.

    I do agree house hunting, more so for single people and on a temp basis is difficult, but so is the case in any mega city. In fact places like Delhi aren’t safe for single girls, other metros too have their problems w.r.t providing the basic amenity of shelter.


  6. Govar says:

    Pretty much what I experienced in Mumbai:

    I think most of your post was very honest, except the last bit where I think you are trying to cool some tempers. For a person who is not into partying, boozing and dancing, Mumbai sucks. Period.

    Just what does it have to offer? Extremely priced ‘houses’ in crap locations? A fucked up train commute system which packs people worse than how cattle are packed into lorries in Kerala, a stinking existence (coz the city stinks). What do I get in return? More salary? Hello, no, unless you are in finance field. And why would you want a leveler? I mean, I study hard and work hard and all I get to do is travel in stinking train with people who don’t remember when they bathed last? No, thanks.

    I shifted out of Mumbai and am driving around a nice car all over and having a nice acco in a comfy place for almost half the money I spent in that big metro. Mumbai, no thanks.


  7. Rohini says:

    Been there, done that, sucked big time. Finally decided to opt out of the whole silly thing and bought out own flat. Now the bank owns our souls…


  8. Pingback: Househunting in Mumbai | DesiPundit

  9. Be a Good Daughter says:

    Hello this comment is amazing.
    I like your diary..


  10. dodo says:

    “But, to make life easy for the wonderful dwellers, the city needs to start thinking”….
    sad part is that the city fathers are have got this joystick called “Spirit of Mumbai”..whatever happens they shout the phrase out loud and mumbaikars in their exuberance forget to ask their due


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