The posh multi-storeyed complex in the heart of Chennai looked awesome at first glance. It was neatly paved on all the four sides, the basement served as a covered car park with clearly marked slots for nearly a dozen cars. The watchmen at the gate checked my bona fides and after ascertaining whom I proposed to visit, promptly intimated them, over the house telephone, and guided me to the elevator. More than pleased at the attention given and the security arrangements in the complex, I reached the fourth floor in a jiffy and found my hostess receiving me at the main entrance.
Following her, I stopped to look for a corner reserved to place my footwear but found no such thing in the drawing-cum-dining room. Seeing my plight, my hostess suggested I leave it by the main door (in fact the only door meant both for entrance and exit).
Where do you leave your “own” footwear, I asked out of curiosity. “Right under where you are sitting so comfortably,” informed by hostess. She very ably managed to camouflage the dirty footwear under the settee which was beautifully covered on all sides with smooth silk. But she could not do the same with the clothes line in the balcony facing the road with a full complement of clothes of all shapes and sizes drying on it.
As we got down to exchanging pleasantries, suddenly a foul smell permeated the air and it did not take me long to realise from where it emanated. The maid emerged from the kitchen carrying the day’s garbage in a carry bag and was on her way out through the main door. Probably to divert my attention, my hostess suggested I have a look at the apartment.
Both the bedrooms were quite spacious with attached bathrooms (though very small) but the 1/2 bedroom/study was not only tiny but pitch dark with practically no ventilation. The kitchen was elongated with platforms on all the three sides taking up most of the floor space and cupboard on the fourth side leaving just enough working area.
Where is your pooja room, I enquired. As an answer she pointed to one of the shelves in the kitchen on which some pictures of deities were placed. Since the shelf was at a high level, It meant one had to stand and offer prayers. The sink in the corner with a drain board served a double-purpose to wash one’s hands as well as the cookware!
If an apartment of 1500 sq ft is not provided with a pooja room, a utility, leave alone a store room, what can we expect out of smaller apartments, I wondered. This flat of 1,300 sq ft in another prime locality was a little different. If was a three-in-one. The drawing room led to the dining-cum-kitchen-cum-pooja room, practically a new concept in Chennai. But is it practical in the real sense?
“No, not at all,” bemoaned the housewife. “I am forced to keep the place tidy all the time, can’t afford to take it easy even for a while, and also there is no privacy at all.”
I could see her point because it was literally a “see through” from the sitting room. You could not only get a view of the people dining but also what was being prepared on the kitchen platform. Perhaps the redeeming feature, however, was the pooja room I thought, but on closer observation found it was devoid of any natural light. Privacy you had as long as you did not switch on the light.
The flat had no luxury of a sit-out because the builders thought it was not safe to have one on the ground floor. Two of the bedrooms too had no natural light because the covered car park behind them was the culprit. The other bedroom was blocked by the neighboring building which was too close to it. So much for ‘vasthu’, the focus of which is supposed to be to let in proper sunlight and air.
Are bigger apartments different? Do they boast of facilities like a foyer, utility, pooja room and a store room? Why are they not finding a place in the present building scenario?
What can we do when all that people want are apartments of convenience? As long as they are centrally located and all the bedrooms have attached bathrooms, other things don’t matter at all. People of Chennai still seem to prefer a clothes line to a roof hanger and don’t mind an improvised pooja room accommodating their Gods on either on their kitchen shelves, in the dining area or even converting a spare bedroom into a pooja room.
The question of utility or service area doesn’t seem to arise because today’s housewife or working wife, finds it more convenient to work in lesser area for she has to don different roles in these days of scarcity of good reliable help. This was the candid view of a female architect. I thought she had a point.
N.MEERA RAGHAVENDRA RAO