A house is a house is a house. I had never lived in an apartment till recently… and now I ask myself if it was a wise move. My husband has always made major decisions, which I have accepted, respecting his practicality and worldly wise nature. Much as it broke my heart, I too fell into the trap of building apartments, though the concept was yet to catch up in Chennai then. Our beautiful dream home was broken, with a promise from my better half that I could have our abode to my taste and design, and that I could make it look like a house, not a boxed-in apartment.
The dream came true after endless arguments with the builder on why I couldn’t just be like others and submit to his design, why did I have to call in our own trusted architect, why did I have to delay the completion of the building. What arose from the ashes of our house, was an unaesthetic, typical apartment building, and I had no say in the matter.
What mattered really is that we chose to settle for a penthouse, with our own garden space and two small balconies to house our potted plants. We chose openness to let in air and light, and though on the top floor, our apartment has always been cool and the view from every window so beautifully nature-scaped with greenery, riddled with a burst of the red of the gulmohur and other colourful tree flowers.
I dreamt of having monthly get-togethers, having fun with the neighbours, being a family… to be there for each other and jointly solving problems which arose.
Alas, after the first few years, problems were legion, with dissension at every turn, total non cooperation till the monthly meetings became battlefields. After 10 years of handling the association which was not even registered, I forced my husband to hand over the show to someone younger, and presumably more capable!
If you live a frog-in-the well existence, where you shut your door and live your own life, and enjoy your home, you will have peace, but if you’re the kind with a conscience and understand that a building cannot be maintained without quarterly or monthly maintenance charges, a corpus fund or payment whenever an emergency arose, like civil works, repairs or painting, you will initiate action.
In the absence of my dear husband, I am the conscience-keeper of the building, and try to assist those who are trying to make ends meet and manage the accounts. I appeal for payment and in the process am unpopular, which is immaterial in the larger context.
If I owned an apartment it is fair that I pay for its upkeep and cooperate with people who are trying to run its administration. I know I have a right to question any excessive spending, and we do have a transparency policy: every owner can demand to see the accounts statements, that are circulated regularly. It seems so unfair to the people who cooperate and pay up when there are expenses.
Do we delay paying electricity bills? If we do, the power will be cut. Do we delay paying property taxes or water bills? There is a penalty involved if we do. Why, then, this resistance to paying dues that will help maintain your property? My submission is that if you don’t care about your property and feel you’re not getting what you pay for, sell it and move to a community you have more faith in.
There are apartment complexes where the administrators cut off electricity and water if dues are not paid but we are a passive lot and have never resorted to this kind of penalising. Every step is hard, every bit of extraction of dues is like drawing blood.
When push comes to shove I might even shift to a gated community where I will be anonymous, where I will pay the dues, attend meetings and demand my right for information and be ready to be penalised if I don’t cooperate. That would give me infinite peace.
So the next time you go the apartment way, ask yourself if it is a folly. As I said, a house is a house is a house, where you do just what you like, and pay the price if you don’t maintain your building!