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Moon House and a mindset

The story of the building is not about isolated indifference; it is about you and I staring probable danger every day in the face and dismissively saying ‘So what?’
Moon House, (right, in pink) the seven-storey building at 21 Ganesh Chandra Avenue, where the fire had broken out on Friday night

Mudar Patherya   |   Calcutta   |   Published 18.10.20, 02:02 AM

Moon House on 21 GC Avenue was next to the building in which I lived — as in sharing the same wall and joined at the hip so to speak.

It is a building I knew best after my own by the virtue of all my adda friends living there — Ram on the sixth floor, Tushar on the fifth, Dipen on the fourth and Raju on the second.

It is a building where we started our company Trisys in 1995, occupying the mezzanine floor and probably only a few metres from the machine room that started the fire.

The Moon House terrace was where we would hold the annual dandia, covered by The Telegraph with a picture on the front page in October 1982.

Moon House was in a state of perpetual civic ruin; the corridor that led from the gate to the lift would be a parking lot for bikes at night (‘Yahaan nahi rakkhega to kahaan rakkhega?’ could well have been the indignant response).

A paanwalla blocked 40 per cent of the gate during the day with no one questioning his right. The collapsible lift door would extend only 70 per cent after which the lift acquired a sensory intelligence to jerk into vertical motion. The lights on the landing gave the impact of a 20W bulb, presumably to save electricity. The bottom corners of each landing were more red than grey mosaic.

Over the years, the corridors and landings narrowed; there were apartments built into the terrace with residents possibly looking the other way. The water ‘wars’ were legendary as that precious liquid would be pumped only two hours each morning.

The liftman would be perpetually drunk, barefoot and unwashed. There was never security to man its main gate (the durwan would generally be absconding) so anyone could walk in and tour the building from ground floor to top without being asked ‘Aap kaun hai?’

So why did residents not demand better conditions?

One, because the moment they did, the makaan-maalik would say ‘Bhaara badhaiyye’ (raise the rent), the instinctive trigger for residents to dissolve (I would be surprised if the total monthly residential rentals for a seven-storeyed building as large as Moon House could have been higher than Rs 50,000).

Two, the residents reconciled and made their peace with the civic collapse (‘Ab aur kitna kharaab hoga?’), little realising one day residents might have to lose their lives because of their indifference.

Three, Moon House was a happy community; the paanwalla was ‘part’ of the landscape and could not be ejected; the liftman had to be retained in larger humanitarian interests; the durwan may have been slack, arrogant, over-aged and under-trained but so what.

Four, there was no concept of a residents’ association; every discussion came down to the singular point (rent versus rights). I can almost imagine residents saying ‘With what face do we ask for better conditions?’

Five, in most such Waqf buildings, the only money or real income the caretaker landlord generated was when tenancy was transferred from one to another (happened rarely).

Six, there was a progressive dilution in the building’s character — residential owners moving out and commercial offices (with no emotional stake in the building) moving in.

Seven, someone in the government did certify Moon House as safely livable year after year; so, who the hell were residents to complain?

The story of Moon House then is not about isolated indifference. It is about a mindset.

It is about you and I staring probable danger every day in the face and dismissively saying ‘So what?’

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