Festivities. The lights are bright and cheerful all around. Down there in the park, the revelries of the Diwali party organized in our apartment complex are still on. Card parties are yet to be attended, more drinks are to be had, more food consumed.
There is a lot to be said for community, even the gated sort that gets frowned upon so much by my fraternity of architects and urban planners. This evening, out there in the decked up lawns, I saw quite a diversity of people having some serious fun!
Two young people were in wheelchairs. The girl, who I have known, has cerebral palsy. She was all dressed up and flush with excitement. Because we have lived here together for so long, many of us stopped to speak with her. Two young girls, clearly hired help, were entertaining the other young man in a wheelchair. They were all three having a good time too, feeding him, wheeling him around the stalls and sights, laughing with him.
Our own house help and my mum’s, two young girls from tribal Jharkhand, were having a superb time eating from the stalls and watching the teenagers on the dance floor. My grandmum, Amamma, who is 82 and rather deaf also thoroughly enjoyed the evening. She has always loved outings and her low energies the past few years have kept her away from the bustle, she is simply too tired to attempt too much. Today, because she had to simply walk across a few steps, she attended the party, taking keen interest in all that was being sold, in what the kids were doing, relishing the aloo tikki and papdi chaat and finally, even making friends with another old lady who could speak Tamil!
Children of all ages and sizes, of course, were a blas to watch. The younger ones had a choice of bobbing up and down in an inflated ‘bouncy’, playing a whole bunch of games, riding in a horse cart or on a camel. The teenage bunch were so entertaining. Some were dressed at their ethnic best, others made up in slick western wear, still others playing it really casual in denims. But most of them chattering, dancing away to the popular tracks the DJ was belting out.
I love the festive spirit that Diwali brings out. A lot of people in our complex have been donating clothes into baskets that have been placed by some good enterprising folks in front of the towers. This morning, I saw a sweeper stare longingly at some really cozy looking woolens that were inside the collection basket. He didn’t dare take any away and he started mutely. I could not help think about the irony of giving away clothes to an NGO with all good intentions when we are not able to help the people who work to keep our own complex in top shape. It was a small reminder that it is important to look after everyone around me in the spirit of generosity and festive cheer. After all, involving myself in the lives of the people who come to make my life easier, my cook, my cleaning lady, my driver, my gardener, my nanny, and truly wishing then well and giving them what they need and cannot afford, is the best sort of gesture for this season and a decent way of giving back to the community that nurtures me.
Imagine for a moment that a migrant entering a city could apply to one of several private housing rental companies, choose as per availability and simply move with minimum baggage into a serviced, privately managed property that fits her budget. Imagine too, that these private rental developments are scattered across every city, serving major commercial districts and built along mass transit corridors. I’d go one step further and imagine that private managers of rental property see advantage in offering these to low-income and middle-income families, so that the economies of scale make these profitable.
While working on the Jalti Jhopdi project these past ten days, we were discussing the problem of migrant housing during a site visit. The discussion was with a colleague who is not an architect or urban planner, but has worked extensively with communities in Gurgaon. In her opinion, the only solution was for the government to facilitate the setting up of managed rental housing to be made available to migrants for a year (they pay Rs 800-900 for terrible, little hovels at this point!). During this year, it could be possible through a network of NGOs and employer organizations, to equip families with identity papers, a basic understanding of how things work, livelihood for the adults, schooling for the children vocational training, etc so that they can carry on with life with some dignity. Her thought stayed in my head even as I wondered at the complete lack of government response to the unique problems migrants (at all income levels) face, especially in emerging urban centers like Gurgaon.
Yesterday, I read about Ikea starting a private, all-rental housing project for 6000 homes in Portland, Oregon and I felt the dots starting to connect. Five-floor high apartment blocks, car-free neighborhood, new urbanist aesthetic, but all in Ikea’s modular non-fussy style is what they seem to have in mind. The project targets middle class families and is pretty much a no-frills offering.
The Indian property market is certainly missing organized rentals as a logical step to home ownership, mostly because of low returns. Of course, there are barriers and risks to private companies attempting large-scale rentals. But it’s worth thinking about, especially in urban areas with high inflow and outflow of people, in new industrial towns and for low-income populations all over! We return to the need for policy initiatives to encourage this sector. Housing across income groups is a serious issue across India. Innovations to encourage quality rentals would take a lot of stress of a young, mobile working population and do wonders to the character of our urban settlements! Such a provision would make employers really happy and perhaps a partnership between large employers and developers is one way to start these off….