Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Property Paeans, Property Pains

It is a well-established truth that when residents of Bombay, particularly those of a certain vintage, get together for a meal or a drink, the conversation will inevitably veer to the topic of real estate – who has property, who doesn’t; who owns what, and how much of it, and where; who’s planning to buy what, and at what price; and did you hear about that new development the Lodhas/ Rahejas/ Lokhandwallas are planning?

I’ve been observing this for months now – well-spoken adults with diverse interests and engaging personalities, circling round conversational topics before settling down to talk about the one thing everyone is really interested in – property.

While I understand that real estate is one of those few things that promises a preposterous bang for one’s (big) bucks, I am beginning to think of this fixation as some sort of malaise. Sure, we all want to get a footing on that slippery property ladder, and buy ourselves our little pieces of sky (or smog, or leaky roof) – but is it something we need to talk about quite so often?

I suppose this an unfortunate by-product of our city’s lack of space. To live in Bombay is to live in a constant state of ‘crunch’ – not enough room for cars on the street, not enough room for commuters in trains and buses, not enough room for restaurant tables to be placed more than 6 inches away from each another, not enough room to walk without elbowing someone at 6.30 in the morning on Marine Drive.

Property paucity (and the accompanying absence of planning) is the perennial Bombay bugbear. It’s a problem that has long been out of control and is now beyond redemption. So what do we do when confronted with this urban morass? We buy space, or we dream about buying it. And the more the city closes in on us, the more we begin to feel an urgent need to claim tracts and islands and oases of breathing room for ourselves.

Of course investing in real estate is about making money. It’s also about successfully providing for one’s family, fostering a sense of pride and stability, establishing a tradition of home-ownership, proving that one has achieved success, planting a flag in this city and making it one’s own. But I suspect that once a certain level of material comfort has been achieved, it’s mostly about fantasy, a longing for room in which to stretch one’s legs and reclaim one's soul.

Either which way – I don’t want to hear about it. All guilty parties (and they know who they are), must consider the line drawn, the gauntlet thrown. 

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