Families are increasingly opting out of the bustle of the city to live in style

Venkataramana felt mentally cramped, sharing a frowsty 600 sq. ft Housing Board apartment with his family of five. Today, the car park at his independent house alone accounts for 400 sq. ft of the built area.

 Narayanan would seek opportunities to play tennis, visiting clubs with his friends. Today, he only has to climb down a short flight of stairs for a game of tennis.

 Interior designer Girish would travel every day to his showroom, godown and back office that were separated by disturbing distances. Today, he has fit the three business spaces into a two-storey building, just a short canter away from his spacious three-bedroom apartment.

These are not typical success stories, the sort of stuff that makes self-help books rocket to the best-seller list. They are about smart adjustments made by people jostling for a space that would accommodate their personal tastes. To put it exactly, they left the old parts of the city for the new ones to have better living conditions and a lifestyle, making sacrifices and taking in their stride new challenges in the process. Ironically, they travel every day to the region they abandoned, for work.

A dentist at a corporate-backed Public Health Centre in West Mambalam, 70-year-old C.G. Narayanan travels daily from Kazhipattur on Old Mahabalipuram Road, where he has settled down with his wife Pramila, 65, in a gated community. In 2012, the elderly couple moved out of their apartment on 10th Avenue in Ashok Nagar, their home since 1995.

 “On 10th Avenue, everything you wanted to buy was found just across the street. On the flip side, your life seemed to be on public display. Your neighbour’s windows opened into your living room,” Narayanan explains the decision to buy an airy apartment at a project with huge walking spaces and a raft of facilities, including those for sports, fitness activity and entertainment.

 Commuting long distances does not tire R. Venkataramana, but living in a suffocating 600 sq. ft flat in Thiruvanmiyur does — the reason he moved his family to an expansive three-ground house at Kanathur on East Coast Road, where he has installed a 12ft by 15ft home theatre room in the middle of a garden, set up a bio-gas plant that re-cycles waste and a solar unit that meets part of his house’s power needs.

 An engineer with a power plant company, Venkataramana commutes to his office at Alwarpet and his doctor wife to Thiruvanmiyur, where she has a practice.

 Says Venkataramana, “Living in a space that is designed for your personality is worth the trouble of a long commute. With land prices being exorbitant, a lifestyle of this sort is not possible for us within the city.”

 A viewpoint shared by Suresh Kumar, who is with a garment export company in Guduvanchery. Three months ago, his family moved into their elaborately-designed house with a built area of 4,500 sq.ft in Neelankarai, vacating their 1,200 sq.ft. apartment on Kilpauk Garden Road, where they lived since 1991.

 “In Kilpauk Garden Road, we would keep our windows shut due to pollution. Here, we have huge windows that are always kept open,” says Hema Malini, Suresh’s wife. “When we lived in Kilpauk, we could not invite friends and relatives to stay over for want of space. Now, we can. I could not have built such a house in Kilpauk or any of the other central part of the city,” says Suresh.

 Their daughter Sowjanya, a student of architecture at Anna University, goes to Kilpauk Garden Road thrice a week to train as a dancer with Urmila Satyanarayana, and their son Ram Smaran, in Class X, goes to M.CT.M International School in Mylapore. However, both the children love their newly-built house on ECR too much to mind the daily travel.

 The decision by all of these families to shift to relatively new or emerging neighbourhoods may have been partly shaped by forces such as intense development in the extended areas of the Chennai Corporation and huge, self-contained, lifestyle-enhancing housing projects in the areas lying on the fringes of the city. But their decisions were largely personal. And bold too.  

 Most of them have had their eyes open to the disadvantages of moving into these relatively new localities, many of which have sparse populations.

 “While housing projects abound on the emerging corridors, a good number of the new apartments are vacant.  Just go down OMR in the evening. In many parts of this stretch, for every apartment that is occupied, there will be one that is unlit,” says Girish Mylandla, who uprooted his business and home from the heart of the city to a relatively new neighbourhood in the outer section of the city.

Pramila was resistant to the idea of moving to Kazhipattur for this reason and the lack of social infrastructure. “For one year, between 2011 and 2012, we would stay at this apartment during the weekend. I was hoping that she would like the locality,” recalls Narayanan. “And she did. Now, she is at home in Kazhipattur. Whenever she wants to visit relatives, she travels with me.”

 Again, the changing dynamics of relating to people is influencing the choice of location. With technology helping people overcome the barriers of space in staying connected to others, physically living away from family and friends is palatable. Everyone knows that a loved one is always just a WhatsApp message, an email or a call from a hand-phone away.

 “When we came to Injambakkam in 2010, my wife Sudha had misgivings about the move. She was worried we would end up cut off, living in a deserted area. She also worried about how to get the provisions. I felt sorry for her, but I had to move to the outer part of the city. Within the city, I could not afford to have all my business facilities at one place. At one time, I had my showroom at T.T.K. Road, my godown on Ponnamalle High Road, my back office in Indira Nagar and I lived on New Beach Road. To manage my business, I had to travel to these facilities, which was wearing me down and also leaving me with little time for creative work. I decided to shift out of the city and establish all my facilities at one place. I chose Injambakkam, where I could take a big building on lease at a lower commercial rate. I also took an apartment on rent in the same area. The decision has done wonders for me, professionally and personally,” says Girish.

 “The best part is Sudha also loves this place. She knows now that a bit of planning is all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of our situation. Provisions are just a call away. Delivery may not be as quick as in the central parts of the city, but such things are a small price to pay for the advantages of living away from the heart of the city — a peaceful, noise-free, less polluted existence.”