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Since 1st March, 1999
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Space crunch

Payal Agarwal loves her recently-acquired three-bedroom flat in Ballygunge. But the infringement on her space — both physical and psychological — is enough to make her miss the freedom of the Southern Avenue bungalow she used to live in.

Being restricted to a small, box-like area is perhaps, one of the easier things to adjust to. What really hurts is having to deal with other people invading your mental space. It is almost as if the joint family system has been replaced by an extended family full of strangers.

What of etiquette? What of respect? What of a little give and take? You aren’t likely to find much of it in Calcutta’s high and low-rise housing. “Not only does the man in the adjacent flat walk around in the corridor clothed in just a vest and shorts, he also has the disgusting habit of belching and spitting,” cringes Behala resident Kaustabh Majumdar.

The worst of all injustices is however…

The nosey neighbour

In the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, the naive eccentric socialite played to perfection by Audrey Hepburn, finds her life taking a new direction when a handsome stranger moves into her building. You aren’t likely to find a caring, man like Paul Varjak in a building near you — one through whose window you would happily climb.

Every flat-owner knows that genuinely considerate and friendly neighbours are outnumbered by nosey parkers and peeping toms. “The occupants of the flat opposite ours keep an eye on everything that goes on in our house — from what is being cooked for dinner to my college grades. They peep through windows and even the eyehole,” says college student Vrinda Sinha (name changed on request).

“Whenever I ask my male friends home, my neighbour makes it a point to land up on some pretext or the other. What she hears and observes is fodder for the evening gossip sessions,” laughs call centre employee Smita Sarkar.

Living in a housing society also means smiling at neighbours you don’t know (or don’t want to know) and making polite conversation with them, even at the cost of getting late for wherever you are off to when they accost you in the hallway. “Whenever I come face to face with my elderly neighbour, he asks the same questions. It’s been two years since I left college but he insists on asking me which class I am studying in and when my results are due,” says Nalini Chatterjee, 25.

Community functions are even the best diplomat’s worst nightmare. “I avoid interacting with my neighbours throughout the year, but don’t have a choice when it comes to Durga Puja. Not only do I have to smile and make polite conversation, I have to face sarcastic jibes about not being the ‘good’ neighbour,” complains banker Arindam Sen.

Get-togethers become too regular for comfort when a building has one over-zealous neighbour (as many do) always ready to take up responsibilities. “From organising every resident’s birthday bash to initiating community outings, my neighbour is at the forefront. The problem is that he forces everyone else to participate,” grumbles software professional Aniket Singh.

Party pooper

You’ve thrown a party at your place after a really long time. There’s good food, drink and company, though the music is a tad louder than usual. Just as you begin to enjoy yourself, your neighbour bangs on the door, demanding the music be turned down.

Living in a housing complex can be the biggest party pooper. “I have cut down on bashes at home after my neighbours made their displeasure evident. Even listening to music a bit loudly brings them to the doorstep,” laments Srijan Chatterjee, a Delhi-based advertising professional.

Homemaker Pooja Kumar recalls the time when her neighbours came calling at her birthday party, uninvited. “They demanded that the party be stopped because their children couldn’t study. We were forced to call the party off when things got ugly. We left the housing complex a few months later,” says an irate Pooja.

In some cases, you have no option but to resort to the rulebook. “My neighbour, a bachelor, would throw late-night parties that involved loud music, breaking of bottles and even regular fights. Eventually the housing committee members stepped in and forced him to to stop,” says college student Vikas Rastogi.

No entry for pets

Living in a flat also means having to rein in your pets. If the man next door doesn’t happen to be a pet lover, then be prepared for the worst. “My former neighbour was petrified of dogs and our spaniel had the habit of running into his flat whenever the door was open. We were forced to keep our dog chained when he was around,” says homemaker Pranali Guhathakurta. In some housing societies, residents are bound by a set of stringent dos and don’ts when it comes to pets. “It is obligatory for pet owners in our complex to submit papers pertaining to the vaccination and regular medical status of their pets to the housing committee,” says Tollygunge resident Samik Sengupta.

Parking woes

Most flat associations don’t allow visitors to park their cars on the complex premises. “My daughter and son-in-law visit us thrice a week and every time their car has to be parked on the road. No request has worked with the association,” says retired government employee Shyamal Dastidar.

While this is still understandable, the inability of residents to park in designated spots is a daily time-consuming hassle. “Although there is adequate space, my neighbour has the tendency to park his car just in front of mine, making it difficult for me to take out the car every morning. It often gets me late for work,” complains company executive Prateek Bhardwaj.

Security perils

The presence of security is one of the reasons people choose a flat over a house, but sometimes the security guard can take his job a little too seriously. “They always stop my friends at the gate,” says college student Varun Mehta. Reema Mukherjee recalls the time when a security guard denied her access to her own complex! “Office work took me out of station for a week. When I came back, a newly-appointed security guard would not allow me in. I was livid,” says the communications consultant.

And if you have a habit of staying out late — for work or pleasure — you will have experienced the worst. You’ll have waited and waited as your guard snores away, often within plain view. But short of shouting your lungs out and honking so much you wake up the whole neighbourhood, you have little choice but to stare helplessly. If you are lucky, you can take matters into your own hands. “On a number of occasions, my husband has jumped over the gate to wake up the guard, who would then open the gate to let the car in,” says Mita Acharya, a resident of Salt Lake.

Erratic hours as a BPO employee means that Suchismita Bhattacharya has to keep the security guards informed of her timings. “A couple of attempted burglaries a few months ago has resulted in more strict rules,” rues Suchismita. For Bangalore-based public relations executive Tanu Anand, matters took an unexpected turn recently. “My husband and I come back home pretty late after work. The housing association called us recently saying that our late nights were making the security guard lose sleep!”

Being single

A few years ago, beauty pageant runner-up Lakshmi Pandit was forced to surrender her crown when it was learnt that she had pretended to be married in order to take up a rented accommodation in a Mumbai flat. In most cities, including Calcutta, stringent rules — unwritten, of course — make it difficult for singles to rent flats. And for the ones who are fortunate enough to do so, a host of other problems arise.

“Most people are still not comfortable with the idea of a single woman living alone in a flat. Not only do my neighbours keep an ‘extra eye’ on me, the flat committee often monitors my movements,” says advertising professional Shalini Jaiswal (name changed on request).

For all the trouble they put you through, the building is often no better than a boarding school with a witch-like warden. But only if you let it. Just remember, you are not alone. And there is almost nothing that a tenner passed to your security guard can’t fix.

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