Mumbai is famed for its live-and-let-live attitude that lets its citizens ignore or defy society’s mores. But even the wildest or most defiant often bow down to the other society, that which rules their residential buildings — and lives.
This society has become one of the city’s most powerful entities, that makes its own rules and forces people to live by them.
Everyone has their favourite society story or nightmare as the case may be. “The most lethal combination is to be a bachelor from North India, working in the film industry. You’ll probably never get a house in Mumbai,” says Satchit Puranik, theatre and film actor who is half-Garhwali and half-Gujarati. Puranik, who lives in Kandivli (W), recalls, “Fortunately, I was only asked my surname. Because it’s Gujarati, they assumed I didn’t party, smoke or drink.”
For journalist Tushar Abhichandani (24), it was just the opposite. At the Pooja cooperative housing society in Vashi, he says, “We were initially refused a place in this Jain-dominated society because they assumed that, being Sindhis, we ate meat. Only when my father explained to them that we were vegetarians, did they let us in. The society apparently had a bye-law which stated that if they even suspected that a resident was eating meat, the family would be evicted without any explanation.”
All-vegetarian and Jain-dominated societies are now getting increasingly common. One builder who did not wish to be named insists that selling flats only to Jains is an economic decision because he can charge a premium for the flats. Sukhraj Nahar, Chairman of the Nahar Group of builders, denies any discrimination in the sales of their apartments. But defends the largely vegetarian composition of Nahar’s Sarvodaya Nagar at Mulund, which has approximately 1,800 families in 40 buildings. “We need to have Jains to take care of the gods in the Jain temple in the complex,” he says.
Partying bachelors are the other big bugbear with many societies. One 32-year-old Santacruz resident who works in the entertainment industry, recounts, “After a party I had for about 40 friends which went on till 3 am, a man from the society said someone had seen people having sex in our balcony. He also claimed a car filled with prostitutes was parked in the compound.” The next day, after a grilling by seven members, he decided to leave. “It was humiliating,” he says. Single women face their own problems, as Ghazala Ansari (33), who lived in Om Nagar in Andheri (E), relates. Working in an e-learning company, she often came home late after work. “If I returned later than 9.30 pm, I had to report to the society office the next day. The secretary told me there was a rule regarding single girls coming late,” she says. One day, her mother came visiting and they returned late. “My mother had a showdown with the secretary and then the trouble stopped,” she says. She decided to move out anyway.
In particularly rigid societies, even an everyday facility like the lift can become a conflict point. Shiladitya Chakraborty (24), co-creator of the Batti Bandh campaign in 2007, was once a resident of Dango House in Chapel Road, Bandra. “It is a five-storey building and my room-mates and I were not allowed to use the elevator because we were tenants. During the Batti Bandh days, we had many visitors, some of whom used the elevator. The society complained to the police and we were slapped with a notice to evacuate the house in one week,” he recalls.
Pets are high on the problem list, too. But 25-year old HR professional Raunak Parekh (name changed on request) refused to cave in at the Shri Manikanda Housing Society in Vasai. “I was told my dog’s barking could disturb others and he might hurt children, so we could not take him for a walk in the compound, even on a leash,” she relates. A defiant Parekh responded by getting two more dogs. “We did not let them bully us. The compound is a public space for all residents according to the law,” she says. Like quite a few quoted here, she did not wish to disclose her name for fear of being victimised. Others were reluctant to even give the name of the society.
Lata Misra (name changed on request) is one of those. Two years ago, during a water shortage, she says, “Committee members came into our houses and removed the pipe that connects the tap to the flush. No prior notice or explanation was given. And they kept the pipes locked in the committee office.” Three months later, when the committee changed, the pipes returned. “Even today, if there is a minor water shortage, they stop the water supply to the flush,” she says.
Marketing professional Apoorva Mehta (name changed on request), tells of the water woes at K.T. Ceremony in Vasai: “The family on the ground floor had a small garden patch. One day they were asked to remove all their plants to stop water wastage and told the area would become a parking place,” he recounts. And in the universal protest voiced by long-suffering Mumbaiites, Mehta remarks, “Even after paying such a hefty amount for a house, people do not get the freedom to live the way they want in Mumbai.”