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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Missing out on the sunlight, and hugging the shadows?

I just finished reading the much acclaimed "Last Man in Tower" by Arvind Adiga.
The book is about an old man, who refuses to sell  his flat in a "co-operative Housing Society" in Bombay, to a builder, while all the others in the building want to sell and cash out. The builder is giving each owner 250 percent of the market value of the flat, and because of the stubborn old man, the others are in danger of missing out on the bonanza. Relations deteriorate, and the residents start making life hell for the old man, to pressurise him to sell out. He is betrayed and shunned by everybody, including his own son.
Like William Golding's "Lord of the flies", the book is a study of human nature can be corrupted by power, and money.
It is grim, gloomy book, and as a morality lesson, it's a great read.
However, luckily, real life is not as bad as the book makes out, in a co-operative housing society.
I have been going to visit my grandmother in one such typical Housing Society in Mulund in Bombay since 1977. I have stayed there for months at a time as a schoolboy, during my holidays, and at one time, every single one of the 16 owners in the building was known to me.
The children who were there in 1977 grew up, got married, and moved out. Many of the boys married girls from neighbouring buildings, after romancing them for years. Over the years, retirement and death, have taken their toll: very few of the original members of the society are left, and those who purchased the flats have sold it to the next buyer, who in turn has sold it to the next buyer...
Basically, except for a golden period of around 20 years, from 1977 to 1997, the building, as such did not have a feeling of a "community".  For  twenty years there was this feeling, people cared about each other's children, rejoiced at each other's happiness, attended the marriages in each other's families, and ofcourse, gossiped. Each flat knew the familiar milestones of prosperity of the other flat: when the TV came, when the phone came, when the refrigerator was purchased...
There used be a diwali party, a christmas party, and a new year party, all based on contributions, with bhelpuri, sandwiches, and lemonade.
It was an incredibly satisfying feeling of community, and that is precisely not what is captured in Arvind Adiga's book.
He is concentrating on what can happen if there is a trigger which leads to the breakdown of community relations, and the residents gang up against one of themselves due to greed.
In other words, in his eagerness to narrate an allegory, he forgets the main story: the institution called the Co-perative Housing Society, and how it improved the sociological milieu of middle-class Bombay, and how many of us still feel nostalgic and long for the "mohalla" feel of the Society.
Poor Adiga, he has missed out on the sunlight, and is feeding off the shadows...

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