In the days of the British Raj, India was dotted by many princely states whose status was demonstrated by the duration of the gun salute, from one to twenty-one. In these days of the Saffron Raj, India is dotted by many condominium states whose status is demonstrated by the autonomy of the inmates, from evolution to revolution. From the inclusive mohalla to the exclusive condominium, the Indian has certainly travelled a fair distance without clocking much mileage, one must confess.
The condominium is truthfully a princely state led by the supreme RWA, inhabited by satraps of many varieties. Leading the pack is the timeless Gayatri Devi, the bubble of self-importance compensating for Bubbles the non-existent husband. Then there is the belligerent Indra Nooyi, considering the estate office to be her designated playground for eccentricities. While Vinobha Bhave does populate the board as well, displaying parental affections for flora and fauna. Al Capone must not be left behind as there are legendary tales of corpus going haywire and reappearing as single malt ensembles. Thankfully, there is also the lovable Santa Claus, bestowing largesse through the year and not just during a narrow festival window.
Due to such rigorous strictures, the residents assume a certain regimented demeanour, especially when confronted with a crisis like the corona. In Gurgaon, the Charles Bronson archetype took over proceedings as vigilantism defined all traceable muscle movements and human rights were temporarily suspended. The fellow who sneaked out for raw chicken was summoned forthwith to the Kaizala courtrooms and sentenced with a paneer diet for 48 to 72 hours depending on the extent of crime. While the touch and feel fiends who desired a real life supermarket over the robotic Milkbasket were recorded for KGB treatment, interrogated with strenuous rigour. It was a level of censuring that surpassed even the police forces or authorities, the courts neither real nor kangaroo but a potent hybrid. Most interestingly, even the culprits genuinely believed that they were a part of a truthful community, accepting penalties with grace and sincerity. A parallel with the erstwhile princely states is not inappropriate as this was indeed the prevailing pattern, localised loyalty way above any central authority.
So how did the happy and helpful mohalla culture morph into the rather stern condominium tidings? Not that the latter is not helpful as there is enough evidence of community bonding that emerged during this testing period, ensuring that everybody was suitably satiated. But then the gates of a residential society unlike a neighbourhood bestow on it a unitary dimension, which leads to affiliation that is militaristic in many ways. I sincerely believe that every person who moves into a condominium sincerely seeks a version of the Stockholm Syndrome or is inadvertently coaxed towards it, as a function of natural human tendency. Which means also that there is a sense of definite ownership which makes the tax paying apartment resident a citizen first of the condominium much before a citizen of the town or the city. This is so unlike the mohalla culture, which by construction is open door and this extends to the state of mind as well, denied any territorial prejudice or pride.
As part of inevitable psycho-demographic movement, a large chunk of Indians will surely move to apartment blocks and this will also be buoyed by the insecurities of solo habitation post corona. I predict most sincerely that the condominium mindset will extend effortlessly to this fresh wave of citizens, actively seeking a proprietary affiliation that is neither political nor religious but instead secured in community. They will start behaving like each other, build their autonomous power structures and cultivate the values of logical exclusion more definitely than intuitive inclusion which was the neighbourhood story. As an inevitable outcome, they will become self-reliant within the community and thus improve the quality of living when compared to past existence but otherwise become distant from the mainstream of their city or town.
In sum, I must admit that the condominium culture is wonderful functionally but dangerous societally and a suitable balance must be achieved. As in the guise of compatibility and community, this may well be reaping the seeds of irreversible exclusion and that would be rather sad. So maybe, quite like any other branded chains, a RWA network must emerge like a RCI or ClubMed, which unifies condominiums under an operational and emotional banner. Imagine this to be called ‘Condotium’, a consortium of condominiums which unites within the complex but offers opportunities for physical and virtual engagements across the network. Quite like Diwali meets, New Year parties and community integration drives which are able to give the otherwise cloistered resident a sense of the world at large. This will help balance the rough edges and make the latest form of habitation as friendly as the oldest imaginable.
During the early days of the corona crisis, I ran out of crucial medication late one night and had to step out. The erstwhile chief of the RWA gave us a mammoth mouthful as in his sheltered view, the rules of the regiment mattered more than the wellness of the foot soldier. Exactly the culture one must avoid in this cultivated gatedness while sincerely trying to embrace intuitive inclusion.
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