Space in Mumbai (or lack thereof) – The Great Leveler


The one commodity in scarce supply in Mumbai is space – personal space, public space, personal space in private spaces, personal space in public spaces – really space in general. The only space you will find in abundance in Mumbai is the space key on millions of keyboards across the city. And that’s not really a space, it’s a bar. And while it enjoys the largest luxurious condominium on the keyboard’s real-estate scene, it’s surroundings are quite cramped by a series of uninspired architectural duds full of letters like A-building, G-building, etc. In fact the designer of the QWERTY keyboard would surely have drawn inspiration not only from the ergonomic spacing of human fingers, but also the cramped configuration of matchbox style apartments and shanties across Mumbai. In Mumbai, like on the keyboard, if you are lucky to be on the right side of the universe’s arbitrary distribution of fortunes, or cheat your way to the elite part of the curve (sorry folks, honesty doesn’t keep up with inflation!), then you might enjoy a spacious abode quite like the spacebar, but you will be resigned to the inherent cramping of the combination of chaotic madness and organized duds all around you. No sooner than you step out of your door, you would also have stepped out of your cocoon of conceited aristocracy.

Talking about conceited aristocracy – the rich of the city wishes desperately for space in the city – so absolutely badly that they see it fit to spend about $2 billion on a state-of-the-art luxury skyscraper bang in the center of prime real estate. Despite the fact that it stands tall on Altamount Road, one of the few places in Mumbai where tall buildings don’t commingle with shanties of all shapes and sizes, solely by virtue of its tallness, it will no doubt be able to view shanties on the horizon. Not to mention, this particular tall building is a particularly abominable example of architecture gone horribly wrong [1] – and believe me, Mumbai has plenty of them to choose from. This last group’s need for space is seemingly insatiable (and so is their narcissism), so much so that the absolute poverty of millions of their fellow city-dwellers is hardly a prick to their conscience. So much so that it can all be summed up in five words with a neat acronym “FWPITW” – First World Problems in Third World.

The best witness to how badly the city yearns for any space really, are two groups of people – the poorest of the city living in miserable conditions, who are so hopelessly wretched that they can’t really be a meaningful witness to the lack of space, since they are tragically preoccupied being very meaningful witnesses to the lack of food & water, and undoubtedly to the arbitrary cruelty of the universe. But while they have yet to cross off food and water, let alone shelter, from Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, their absolute lack of space is perfectly evident to anyone slightly higher up in the same Maslow ladder. Absolute Zero can be an internationally accepted unit not only for the temperature of thermodynamic stasis, but also to indicate the incredibly absolute shoonya of space in the lives of these poor souls.

The other group are of course couples in love. Having learnt about the birds and the bees through awkward experiences with puberty (these days trained thoroughly at the ripe age of 14 through state-sanctioned sex-ed by uncomfortable school teachers speaking with cringe-worthy awkwardness, who have thankfully not seen the online audio-video-graphic material based on which the tharki 14 year old boys typically ask explicitly pointless questions with a tharki smirk on their tharki faces), and dancing around trees via endless cheesy bollywood movies (these days upgraded to item-numbers full of breast-heaving fits and pelvic-thrusting exercises that can pass off for an ab-crunch infomercial played to lyrics written by someone who must be pleasuring himself while writing them [2]), they have a pulsating desperation to engage in the amorous acts hinted by these flimsy euphemistic garbs and depicted by the explicit audio-visual cues.

This group’s tormented yearning for space for a bit of good old necking is almost Shakespearean in its tragedy. These souls yearn for 40 square-foot of personal space to whisper sweet nothings into each others ears while engaging in furtive fondling foreplay, which is all these languorous lovers permit themselves to do, lest they transgress the pavitra lakshman-rekha of repressive Indian taboos on sexuality and adult conduct. And since nobody has a home to themselves and have to share it with some pesky members of a large family (one reason why Indians are good at math is that they have had to figure out the probability of a member of their large family walking into the room while they are engaged in *cough* activities and/or the best probabilistic time-window for such an act), sex at home is all but ruled out. Hence these virile young men and nubile young women, with their virility-nubility peaks matched optimally in a bipartite graph, take refuge behind an umbrella in obscure corners of public spaces like beaches and promenades and sea-faces. And there too, despite braving the city’s epic humidity-heat combination and the perverse stares of both prudish and tharki onlookers for a few minutes of light fondling hither-thither, they are still made to feel unnatural and perverse/deviant by the society for engaging in the said act of light fondling hither-thither. And the kanoon ke lambe haath (long hand of the law) reaches them and fondles them some more, financially, emotionally, not to mention, sometimes even physically – with incredible impunity, securely backed by a sanctimoniously uptight society.

Also, come to think of it, couples in a tiff would also be desperately wishing for space to scream hoarse unpleasant everythings into each others faces, besmirching each others families, kakas and chachis. Thus, washing dirty linen in public is quite common on the streets and in the corridors of Mumbai’s buildings. A family squabble on the 2nd floor is sure to resonate up until the 4th floor, for when an Indian family has a feud, it does it SPARTA! style (combine that with small apartments in cramped apartment blocks and sound doesn’t have to travel far or wide). It is not without a reason that Ekta Kapoor’s over-the-top melodrama involving conniving characters feuding with a sobbing display of emotion are so popular. A culture’s melodrama, and for that matter it’s comedy or tragedy, finds its roots in the reality of the cultural ethos.

Both groups – couples in love, couples in arguments (omitting the poor, since their need for space is so obvious that it should be guaranteed by any comprehensive Charter on Human Rights [3], and the rich – well, they can go to hell) – need personal space in large measure, and do not get it in any measure. But an even more perplexing conundrum emerges – despite the low-frequency of any sexual activity due to space-constraints, there is seemingly an abundance of biological productivity. Perhaps this is because of all the pent up frustration – emotional, psychological, certainly sexual, which nature then manifests itself as peak fertility during short bursts and gasps (double entendre) when sexual conduct is miraculously permitted by the society, but nonetheless furtively conducted. And of course the excess biological productivity then only exacerbates the space-cramping problem, a mobius strip serving as a vicious cycle of sorts – devolving the city’s space, health and sex-life into an abyss.

If Shakespeare were alive and well in Mumbai today, perhaps he would want to reconsider. Before Death levels you once and for all, Space will serve as the great leveller for your life in Mumbai.

Footnotes/References:

[1] Visual of Antilla – just for you to see an eyesore

[2] Audio-Visual Sample Item-Song (a relatively tame number suited for 12 year olds)

[3] The United Nations Charter on Human Rights is apparently not a comprehensive Charter

[Note: Originally Written as a Note on FB in June 2013, but which I thought might serve as a good beginner post for this blog. *EDIT-JULY2016*: Now mirrored on my Medium Page]

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2 thoughts on “Space in Mumbai (or lack thereof) – The Great Leveler

    1. Thanks man. Good to have you stop by here! 🙂
      I think anyone with a “human” vision, perception and aesthetic sense would find it ridiculously ugly 😛
      But aah well, who am I to judge how a 2 billion $ home is to look? To me spending that much money on a home is in itself a ridiculously vulgar proposition, so I don’t care much for the final product anyways 😛

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