Homes and gardens

Balconies are the happening spaces in cities during lockdown

Residents of Maneesh Jyoti’s apartments in Gurugram get together in the evening to play tambola and antakshari or listen to songs

Residents of Maneesh Jyoti’s apartments in Gurugram get together in the evening to play tambola and antakshari or listen to songs   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As the world downs shutters in its fight against COVID-19, people are taking to their balconies to sing, dance, play games and keep their spirits up

 

For radiation oncologist Priya Balakrishnan of Thiruvananthapuram, balconies hold a special place in her heart. She associates a nostalgic value to the sight of cut mangoes being kept out to dry for pickling in the balcony at her home in Delhi where she grew up; her apartment in Thiruvananthapuram also has a sunny balcony that is filled with flowering plants and ferns. “The dhoop wali (sunlit) balcony is a much coveted place in Delhi during winters. I learnt knitting and embroidery there,” she says.

Originally considered an Egyptian or Persian concept, the balcony has suddenly become the most happening space in cities around the globe as a result of the lockdown. From Mumbai to Milan, that little space connecting the indoors and the outdoors has become more than just a place for miniature gardens and clotheslines, or even placing a washing machine! With social distancing the norm and another week left to run of the nationwide lockdown, residents have resorted to repurposing their balconies and turning them into makeshift gyms, classrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and, of course, a room with a view.

Balconies are the happening spaces in cities during lockdown

There were viral videos of Italians serenading each other from their balconies, while Parisians took to hosting quizzes and German artists turned theirs into mini art galleries. In the Netherlands, people took to dancing in their balconies. Says Kochi-based psychiatrist Janaki Sankaran, “When people are isolated and confined indoors, such creative interactions are good for individuals and society. It gives them a sense of community and belongingness that is essential. A dose of positivity is good for the immune system as well.”

Bring out the DJ

In India, including celebrities like Soha Ali Khan, who put up a picture of her daughter looking out, and Tiger Shroff, who was seen flexing muscles in a snap he shared, people have been putting the space to different uses; like a residential society in Gurugram which is using balconies to play antakshari and tambola among other things. “It all started with the members’ WhatsApp group. Initially, people sent in requests of their favourite numbers, and one of the residents began playing the songs from his balcony. Then it evolved into playing tambola and other games. We used to do it every evening by about 6.30 pm. These sessions have brought us all together,” says Maneesh Jyoti, a resident.

In Bengaluru, Sana Agrawal plays the piano on Sunday evenings to entertain residents in the apartment complex she stays in

In Bengaluru, Sana Agrawal plays the piano on Sunday evenings to entertain residents in the apartment complex she stays in   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

On Easter, inhabitants of an apartment dwelling in Mumbai’s Santa Cruz neighbourhood stepped out on their balconies to sing ‘Heaven came down and glory filled my soul’ and other devotional hymns. A video of this was uploaded to Facebook and shared on WhatsApp. In Anju Verghese’s apartment in Bengaluru, music on Sundays has become a regular feature. In fact, all that the residents look forward to finding out about the weekend music fest is the time it starts. “It is played from one apartment on loudspeakers. Requests are sent on our WhatsApp group. First, there is live music when all the children learning music play the drums, keyboards and guitars. They come out on their individual balconies and perform. Then DJ music starts. The residents who know their music take turns to be the DJ. It usually starts with peppy numbers and towards the end it goes back to old Bollywood music. Everyone participates and peps up each other,” she says.

A drongo sits guard over her eggs on a Pungai tree (Indian beech tree) outside environmentalist Vena Kapoor’s flat in Bengaluru

A drongo sits guard over her eggs on a Pungai tree (Indian beech tree) outside environmentalist Vena Kapoor’s flat in Bengaluru   | Photo Credit: Vena Kapoor

 

This is also the time of year when balconies get filled with mangoes, lime and gooseberry, all ... all to ready to be sun-dried and pickled. “Come summer, all over Gujarat you can see salt and turmeric-marinated mango slices left to dry in the sunshine,” says designer Medha Bhatt, who is currently busy helping her mother dry mangoes on their balcony. The lockdown is also helping bird watchers document Nature from their balconies. While Medha remembers spotting a pair of hornbills perched on a gulmohar outside her balcony a few years ago from her time living in Pune, Vena Kapoor, an environmentalist based in Bengaluru, says she is recording the life of a drongo that is nesting on a tree just outside her balcony, and of a potter wasp that has built a nest in her living room.

Space Jam Notes from Italy
  • Architect Benny Kuriakose explains that the balcony tries to replicate the utility of Indian verandahs in traditional houses. However, in many cases, building rules end up making the balcony a strip of space that does not really permit interaction among family members. “I make it a point to go for wider and spacious balconies. Instead of three minuscule balconies for three bedrooms, it would be best to have one big balcony that can serve as a family space during the lockdown and after. The purpose of a balcony should be to bring a feel of the outdoors to the indoors, and act as an intermediate space between the two,” he says.
  • Italian Virginia Masciello says in a message that her sister Claudia Masciello in Naples also plays music on her balcony to uplift the spirits of her neighbours. “She put the stereo on her balcony and pumped up the volume. Soon residents from neighbouring apartments joined in and they were all clapping and singing including my sister, her husband and their six-year-old daughter," says Virginia who has been confined to her house in Cantu from March-end onwards.
  • She adds, "They did it to create a sense of unity and closeness in this difficult phase when we are all so cut off from our neighbours. The idea is that if we feel close to other, our suffering is lessened when we share it. My sister got the response she wanted. The neighbours came out to their balconies to sing and dance. They shared a beautiful moment and felt less alone and less isolated.”

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 4:45:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/balconies-are-the-happening-spaces-in-cities-during-lockdown/article31432430.ece

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