The Forbidding City

Perhaps the architects can bear me out on this – and there are four of them in the family I am destined to tolerate for at least my lifetime! A balcony certainly makes a house or an apartment look inviting and welcoming – maybe it’s the open space character of this particular feature of accommodation that makes it so. Not to be parochial, but it’s inconceivable for an architect based in north India to design a house or a dwelling unit without a balcony – you see, north Indians are big on ‘sunning’ themselves in the severe winters that usually descend between November-end to February.

May be it’s the very same reason why Mumbai-kars aren’t too keen on ‘sun-bathing’, albeit fully dressed. There’s too much sun in any case in this island city that people would probably do all that they can to avoid it within their homes. Which also explains why this city is bereft of any balconies – or at least, the number of balconies in this city could probably be counted on your finger-tips.

Any open space extension for a verandah or a balcony, left after the room ends, is promptly covered up and made an extension of the room itself – with forbidding iron grills and dark, tinted windows forming the fourth ‘wall’. Looking at any residential apartment complex from the outside, you will be greeted by rows and rows of black coloured grills that kind of scream: Stay Out! There is also a boring sameness with these black grills, and the fact that they make the building exteriors look hideous and ugly is also not lost on the viewer.

The reason for coveting the space is greed coupled with pragmatism. Why ‘waste’ when you can cover. Of course, there is a practical aspect to it too. Most apartment complexes are inches away from the cacophony of the street traffic and so the requirement for sound proof glass becomes paramount, which in turn need to be protected against prospective missiles in the form of misguided cricket balls or the slithering intentions of rogue Spidermen who may just want to covet some material possessions in your house without a by-your-leave.

Not that there aren’t apartments without balconies – several new constructions coming up across the city, as also the old buildings in places like South Mumbai, especially along the famed Marine Drive in Nariman Point, have given vent to this architectural feature. Those apartments and houses certainly look inviting and exude a warmth, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Still, hope floats.

Meanwhile, let me just figure out where the heck do I dry out my laundry, in the absence of a balcony!

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