Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Return to India Musings: when a home becomes a golden egg

The first thing that hits one after landing back from a stint abroad is the abundance of people. This mass of humanity is visible right outside the exit gates of the swanky Bangalore international airport and carries through on the ride out on the highway where the airport traffic merges with commuters and is magnified as one approaches Hebbal flyover into the city.
After making annual trips back to my hometown from my adopted homeland in America, I recently took a conscious decision to spend an extended period of time in Bangalore. My family story is not atypical of that of scores of other NRIs – aging parents unable to manage on their own due to flailing health, yearning for their offspring’s to be around. Rather than contributing to the emerging market of “old age” homes in India by coaxing my parents to spend their sunset years in one such institution, I thought spending quality time with them was more valuable. Thus my wife, son and I find ourselves back in the bedroom in a home where I spent college years.
Welcome back to the concrete jungle that Bangalore has become, I thought to myself after landing back recently. This feeling begun to grow on me during the past few weeks in which I have enjoyed all modes of transportation starting with local autos, using my iPhone to hail Ola cabs, the extremely efficient, but overcrowded namma-metro from MG road to Majestic and even took a ride on BMTC bus before managing to maneuver my dad’s old Maruti 800 on the congested four-kilometer drive to Malleshwaram and back.
My parents live in a house my dad build on a rather nice corner plot nearly three decades ago. Located close to the popular Ramiah Hospital and college complex, my parents continued to live here as “empty nesters” after my brother and I migrated abroad. And over the years the house continued to be a sanctuary during my relocations across the globe; a place I would come back for periodic R&R.
During my annual trips, I began encountering gradual changes around the neighborhood – a new multistory flat next door, the multi-story girl’s hostel opposite and a series restaurants cafĂ© and pubs on the main road behind our house. At some point in the recent past, motorists driving from the congested New BEL road a block away to the 80-feet road behind our house realized that the side-road was a nice “bypass” from the signal light, which could speed up their commute by a few minutes. And thus the quiet road in front of the house became a noisy thoroughfare.
What about zoning regulations? I naively mused with my dad the other day and he began laughing. “Welcome back to India, the land of zone-less urban development” my dad joked. He explained that years ago when the first-multistory hostel was being built across the road, a few neighbors petitioned the local city councilor to intervene. For obvious reasons, the petition went nowhere. And soon, the neighbors got wise to the power of money: the land they were living on was appreciating, thanks to the rapid commercialization around and they began selling out to cash-in.
As far as my parents go, they have managed to cope with all the changes and developments around the best they can. At one level it feels like being the proverbial frog in a warming kettle that may soon come to a boil. With rapid commercialization and increasing buildup of traffic and haphazard parking around
the corner house, it is hard to even back out the family car from the driveway without a dozen cars, bikes and autos honking around. Behind our house on the main road there is now a “high end” liquor store that brings a steady assortment of drunks and wannabe drunks, some of whom recklessly pee on our boundary wall with gay abandon. Note to self: do an ROI of hiring a security guard to ward off drunks pissing on the walls nearby, vs just tolerating it.
Having lived in western cities for scores of years where zoning and dictates of city planners are respected, I am conflicted about our future in a zone-less neighborhood rapidly losing a livable feel. Having spent the good part of the past three decades in this neighborhood, my parents may not adapt to change that comes with moving into a soulless apartment in a gated community.
On one hand, I feel that I should let them enjoy the sunset years in the “home” with the background noise and din. On the other hand, I also feel that I need to work hard to ward off the prying eyes of commercial vultures circling around the “golden egg”. Just the other day, a cab driver who dropped me back home gave a bit of unsolicited advice: “why not tear down this old house and build a multi-story complex and earn some neat income, sir?”