Many homes, one family: here’s how some families make use of apartment spaces to live close to each other. Aruna V. Iyer reports

In a city of skyscrapers and skyrocketing realty prices, the individual house and the accompanying idea of a large, joint family is perhaps a thing of the past. However, holding on tight, a few families in the city have survived the test of time, by being a hybrid between the joint family and the nuclear family.

Here’s how they have made use of the apartment building to segregate definite spaces, essentially a nuclear family concept, and at, the same time, forge stronger ties, reminiscent of the joint family.

Coffee and a bite

“When I go to collect the keys to my house from the opposite apartment, I don’t get just the keys. I get coffee or even a bite to eat, because it is my uncle’s house,” says Karthik Narayanan, one of the grandchildren of the legendary Kothamangalam Subbu.

Way back in the 1950s, Kothamangalam Subbu, of Thillana Mohanambal fame, bought for his large joint family of over 40 people a bungalow on Lloyds Road. Spread over four and a half grounds, the house stood rooted, while the number of people living in it dwindled with time. By 1999, only the younger brother of Kothamangalam Subbu was living in the house, which was by then over 80 years old. The family decided then to bring the old structure down and construct in its place an apartment complex, with two blocks.

The demolition took place in 1999; and the new apartment complex, named Kothamangalam Subbu Illam, was ready by 2003. Each of the 14 apartments is about 1000 square feet, and five are occupied by family. The rest are rented out.

A marriage is an occasion which brings together most relatives, and with a granddaughter all set to be married next month, everyone is pitching in to organise the big family festival.

Located in the quiet neighbourhood of Chinmaya Nagar (in Saligramam) are four duplex row houses within a single compound. Owned by three brothers and a sister, the houses are an average 1050 square feet each. “We bought the plot, which is a little more than one ground, in 1994 and decided to build four houses on it,” says Kala Raghuraman. Concerns about the health of their aging parents led to the four siblings opting to become neighbours. “Also, my sons’ school was very close by. I used to work, and my parents took care of my children,” adds Kala.

Today, Kala’s elder son and his family occupy the first house; she and her brother live in the second and third houses, while the fourth one is rented out. “Now, my husband and I spend a lot of time with my grandson and do for him what my parents did for our sons,” she smiles.

Talking about selling any of the houses, she says that it’s impossible unless all four siblings agree. She says that consensus extends to even mundane things like maintenance of the building. “But then, getting everyone to agree is a lot easier, when its family” she adds.

Ancestral property

Another ancestral property, with a bungalow and the accompanying large joint family, existed for 38 years till 2001. It was broken down to make space for the growing numbers. Today, on the same plot, stands an apartment complex, where each floor is occupied by one family. “My mother-in-law was behind this metamorphosis. It was a tough decision for her and for the entire family, which had lived together always. But, today we appreciate her foresight; she has given the women of the family, the means to run their own households, while always being around to guide us,” says Kamini Raheja.

Some family traditions have had to change, but new traditions have been formed like festivals at her mother-in-law’s apartment, Sunday lunches at her’s and Saturday dinners almost always outside, she adds.

Each apartment is around 2400 square feet with interiors reflecting the preferences of the family occupying it. “While my mother-in-law’s is done up in traditional decor, mine is full of wood and my sister-in-law’s is dominated by whites,” says Kamini.

The best perk about living in a joint family, she says, is that while outside, she doesn’t have to worry about her children. “There is someone on some floor to lay claim over them,” she says. “Always.”

According to her, it is a child-friendly environment, where they are surrounded by children their age, as well as elders to intervene during the occasional scuffle. “They have become friends, as much as they are related to each other,” she says.