Chawl bonding in appwardly mobile towers

Written By kom nampultig on Minggu, 05 April 2015 | 22.23

Four years ago, the Contractors moved from their old family home in a four storey on Hughes Road to Ashok Towers, a high-rise apartment complex in Parel. Deepa Contractor, a mother, was nervous about the move and spent much of her first year in Parel driving to south Mumbai to see her friends. But those visits dwindled and she's now part of a WhatsApp group of her closest neighbours called "Friends Forever". Two of them even helped her roll out theplas for her brother-in law's funeral. "This is where I truly experienced community living," says Deepa.

Conventional wisdom has it that life in high rises is lonely and socially isolating. In Mumbai, the first city in India to embrace apartment living, it is the vanishing chawl that is idealized for its rich community life, made possible by closely packed tenements and shared verandahs. Yet, perhaps because they are largely cut off from the neighbourhood, residents of the city's new apartment towers are finding that social interaction in these massive gated communities is as high as in their older, smaller housing societies —and sometimes higher.

To be sure, much of the interaction is virtual—technology is key to the high rise community life. Apart from the central nervous system of official email chains and Google groups, there are veins of smaller online groups—s chool groups, Zumba, carpooling, potluck, Poker and even senior citizens' Housie groups. "The notice board exists but it is now redundant," says Robin Banerjee of Sewri's Ashok Gardens, which has a vibrant Google group where most of its 540 flats get email notifications about everything from festivals to jewellery exhibitions.

Such Google groups exist in most high rises and thrive on the mass circulation of favours and grouses. Maids, drivers, salaries, building rules, Navratri collections—everything is discussed and dissected. Residents dispatch warnings about snakes in the garden and dispel rumours about suicides, a common fear in high-rises. Deepa Contractor is even known as Miss Google for bombarding her group with all sorts of information.

Tech-savvy mothers and kids have adopted virtual interaction more easily. Deepa's 16- year-old son Jevin is part of a WhatsApp group of teens in the building called Ashokanites where they exchange jokes and schedule football matches.

Recently, one boy sent a message to the group at 2am, asking for help—his printer had conked off and he needed to print some documents for an interview the next day. Jevin printed them out right away. "I wish I had grown up here (all my life)," Jevin says.

Senior citizens aren't doing badly either. Many go for walks in the complex and form laughter clubs. Some are learning to use new technology. N K Gupta, the retired managing director of an integrated power company, who lives in Palm Beach Residency in Navi Mumbai, uses the building Google group to discuss ways to conserve electricity. Sharad Gadodia, who also lives in Ashok Towers, bought his father a smartphone just to check emails from the Google group. Gadodia himself is on three WhatsApp groups in his building—a group that walks to Siddhivinayak temple every month, a Striders group for half marathon enthusiasts and a "very serious badminton group". Gadodia used to live in a Malabar Hill complex that was far less interactive. "I didn't play any sport, didn't speak Marathi," he says about feeling out of place in his old housing society.

Many of the new high rises are more cosmopolitan than older housing societies that were often formed around ethnic communities. But they are more homogenous in class, another Ashok Towers resident points out—you have to be fairly well off or a corporate high flyer to afford a flat in most of the new buildings. Communication is often superficial, says the resident of her neighbours. "It's all about the holidays they take and the cars they buy." Not all high rises boast vibrant Google groups. And virtual interaction doesn't always translate into deep relationships, says Oswin D'souza, who grew up in a chawl in Mahim and lived in a middle-class housing society in Andheri before moving to a gated community on Jogeshwari Vikroli Link Road. He's part of two WhatsApp groups—one goes out for breakfast on Sunday mornings and another "pragmatic" group discusses building related issues. But he still misses the intensity of his chawl friendships. Some of his chawl friends would have been willing to get into fights to defend him. "Here the bonding is mostly superficial," he says. In fact, it's only when fights occur that he is reminded of chawl life.

The technology might be new but some social practices are old—like kitty parties and community shaming. In one posh high rise that discourages clotheslines, someone clicked a picture of a yellow sari drying outside a window and sent it to the building WhatsApp group. Within minutes, the sari came off—and a fierce debate on privacy began unspooling on the network.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/followceleb.cms?alias=socially isolating,Mobile towers,High rises,chawl

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