Friday, March 21, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

Powai, we’re told, is “an up-market residential area.” We think fondly of leafy Cheshire, or manicured Mayfair. As it turns out, Powai’s a building site. There’s at least one dog per square yard of pavement, that’s if there is a pavement – most of them have been deconstructed, because the builders forgot to put in the phone/electricity/gas/water, so there are piles of do-it-yourself pavements lining every route. Pedestrians can teeter along a ledge skinnier than a spice-rack, or take their chances with the manic tuk-tuks on the open road. One peremptory beep, and they consider you warned. Anything that happens is your own fault.
Returning to India, I have a broader perspective on local real estate. I can distinguish the city pied-à-terre of Bollywood actors from no-lakh under-flyover housing, for example, with hardly any hesitation at all. Now I better understand the Mumbai property spectrum, I see that Powai’s quite like Hampstead, after all. There’s even a park, at the foot of our building, though when I go to investigate it, one afternoon, it’s closed. It opens again at eight in the evening, when Powai’s out and about for a pre-prandial constitutional. At the swings, I count eighteen mothers, accompanying children swarming across rope-bridges or hurtling down slides. The fathers huddle for political warmth, the other side of the fence. It’s late, for the two-year-olds, but no self-respecting toddler toddles anywhere here, in the heat of the day.

This is our building, Verona. Its twin sister’s called Avalon. Only ten years ago, this area was still jungle, with real tigers. Then Mr Hiranandani had a great idea and a serious bunch of rupees to spare, and, abracadabra, Hiranandani Gardens were born. We live at the top of Verona. Only the lift housing is above us, and some very brave pigeons. I try to go up onto the roof, out of goaded hardihood, but it’s locked. I’m not that sorry.
There’s allocated parking, within the gates, for residents. It takes four men, to paint yellow lines on the brick sets, marking the individual bays. Two squat, one holding the paint-brush, the other, the pot of yellow paint. The supervisor and the foreman stand over them, inspecting. Good job, though, no wobbles on the cobbles.
The entrance hall’s very flash, with its huge columns and marble plaques. The elegance takes a knock every evening at about seven, when the foyer turns into a playground. All the resident under-tens congregate for a screech and a punch-up, with the usual child paraphernalia of bikes and cricket bats and doll’s prams and mothers.
There are three lifts, but it’s not up to you, which one to use. The lift decides. It’s a Miconoic 10, so you can believe it probably knows better. You tap in your floor number, on the huge key pad, and it has a think, then tells you where to go and stand. Try not to get Lift C, though, I have my doubts about that one. “Walk into your assignated elevator, and enjoy the ride.” Every wall’s mirrored, which is a bit disconcerting, when you stroll in, unthinking, with your street face on. The air-conditioning’s just a fierce fan in the middle of the ceiling, so wherever you stand, you end up looking like Janis Joplin on a bad hair day. The lift pings when it gets to your floor, and ushers you out. I invariably turn in the wrong direction, so have to pretend I’m just counting the flip-flops outside next-door’s, before going home.
And this is home. We’ve done our pasty-faced best to make it cosy (not easy without the shag-pile and the dralon, believe me). When you come, you don’t have to be nice about the sofas(inherited) but watch what you say about the cushions and the hangings (lovingly chosen by me and chauffeured home by Monu). And don’t set too much store by the Bombay Mix on the table, either. It’ll probably be gone, by the time you get here.