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All aboard in ‘housing societies’

The common corridor is your play area, the next-door neighbours your ‘immediate’ family and those above and below, your ‘extended’ family.

Growing up in middle-class Mumbai in the 1970s and 1980s meant that ‘housing societies’ were the only residential option available to you. Privacy was a luxury that only the super-rich could afford inside the confines of their independent homes. The mass majority lived in housing societies, which was a broad term used to denote a collection of flats whose residents managed affairs of their own and others.

Middle-class ones like mine offered hardly any modicum of privacy. Three or four flats shared a common corridor, which was your play area. Your next-door neighbours were your immediate family and those who lived above and below you were your “extended” family. So much was the concept of “Love thy neighbour” instilled in me that even today when I scout for a house, I first enquire about who lives next door much to the chagrin of my family which cannot understand my “neighbourly” fixation.

Almost all homes tended to have children of all age groups who invariably attended the same neighbourhood school, shopped in the same shops and generally did everything together. It meant that your world was your “housing society”. And what a world it was!

There were no intercom nor lifts. So any message had to be relayed in person and on foot. Climbing up and down the stairs was not a problem for us. And shouting across gave us an opportunity to test our vocal cords.

Every aspect of our life was a team effort, be it going to the market or studies or even watching television. Today, we attend workshops on “team spirit”, but our housing society childhood taught us early that any activity done together was always more fun and productive.

We had no summer camps during the holidays. We devised ingenious means to pass the time. We played “house-house” together. The leader would always be the mother issuing orders to others, the naughtiest one would be the father who would be dispatched to “office” with instructions to stay away and the smaller ones would be the children whose only job was to follow the mother.

And when we played cricket, the smaller ones would be dispatched to a far-off area where the ball would not reach by any chance. Yet they stood there diligently waiting for the ball that would never come.

We kept names for everyone, many of which stand even today, so much so that even their original names are forgotten. We laughed together at someone’s joy, we cried together when sorrow befell a family. And the bonds we formed within the community stand strong even today.

Happy times do not last for ever. We all grew up and moved to different parts of the world. Our beloved housing society went under the developer’s axe. A new multi-storey building complex is set to come up there. Newer residents will move in and yet I wonder if anyone can replace the multitude of human experiences that we left behind.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 11:20:57 PM |

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