In French anything that has a little something about them (and I mean THINGS not people) is described as having a “cachet” (pronounced cashay) which translates as “a stamp mark” describing said things their uniqueness or personality trait. Flats in old buildings or neighbourhood steeped with history are said to have a cachet. My studio apartment in Geneva was one of these, it was located in one of these century old row townhouse that have generally tiny apartments located atop a shop arcade on a main road or in a commercial district. Mine was on the top floor of one of these houses (the ground floor was a beauty parlour) and what made it special was that it was in the attic of that house, complete with it’s slanting ceiling to give a charm and all the problem that goes with it: water seepage due to a roof in need of restoration, cold winters due to poor insulation, stifling hot summers due to the fact clay tiles retain heat…but it was pretty and cosy. The flat could be described in English as having a soul. Not because that place had a particular history, there are hundreds of these houses still left in Geneva, but because the house at a time were human dimensions still mattered, where having a life somehow still mattered and people didn’t want to feel boxed despite living in an apartment.
Now with all the moves we made across India, DH and I have visited a lot of flats, and whenever we can we actually prefer the less glossy-glitzy-posh ones over ones that may not look designer perfect but gave us a feeling of being at home rather than parked there at the end of a busy day working. Inevitably the ones we like have enough windows to let natural light in, and good ventilation, rooms that suggest we are still human beings who enjoy their leg space rather than bunnies in a hatch or chicken in a cage. Who wouldn’t?
The problem nowadays in cities and especially in Mumbai is that space has become a luxury, and not only that, it has also become a license for developers to build ultimately crappy apartment towers which they sell at an over inflated rate, and to justify their outrageous prices they quote the name of this and that architect apparently famous, blind you with ground floor lobbies all done up in imported shiny marbles, mirror works and chandeliers, state of the art elevators that let you admire your rear through the 3 sides mirror, rigid garden landscaping, most of the time with a club house boasting the latest fitness equipment and swimming pool to make you forget that your personal living quarter will only account for about 1000sq ft of the 1700 you paid for and are finished in cheap cement, basic electrical fittings and vitrified white marble, to really woo you they will if they are kind enough throw in a semi modular kitchen (cabinets below the counter but not above) and a “Kholer” wash basin and tap in your bathroom (Look for the 2 crores you pay we got you a 3-4k imported tap in your bathroom…FREE!!!!).
We rented flats in these type of buildings, twice, the first time was in Navi Mumbai, and you all know it left is rather unimpressed as as designer the tiles were in the bathrooms and Kitchen, and how modern the tap fixture looked, the pipes inside the wall were substandard and could not hold the water pressure, resulting in me calling the plumber every week to fix a leak, and which in the long run turns into water seepage in the walls and growth of black mold (which is a health hazard). The second time was in the flat we just left last December, it was fortunately better built and the bathrooms were nicely planned, but the layout of that flat was the same as the layout of the flat in Navi Mumbai, and the same we saw in many of the flats we saw before settling for the one we are now living in: The main door opens directly on a big empty space that will be your living room (meaning anybody coming to do a delivery has a nice view of your living area) right after the living room you get a tiny kitchen, then a long narrow hallway usually take you to the rooms with the master bedroom inevitably being at the end of the hallway. Hallway that is in every case a ridiculous loss of square feet that you can’t furnish with anything bar a few pictures on the wall which you’ll never get to appreciate as it is also badly lit.
We’ve seen that layout over and over again, and in rental properties it means the landlord also left the default fixtures, so you get industrial white walls, tube lights, and this dreadful cold glossy uniform oh so trendy nowadays marble floor that will not even forbid you to step out of the shower with damp feet, a floor that looks good only freshly mopped and is ridiculously high maintenance.
They are one size fits all, and typical of a urban culture in which you are to fit the cookie cutter mould, the advantage is that when you move from one flat in one part of the city to another flat in another part of the city you don’t really have to wonder too long about which furniture goes where, you can replicate the layout.
These flats might be a symbol of the New India, the emerging economic powerhouse, but boy are they BORING, and high maintenance too.
Our old flat was great, with bay windows, and tons of natural light, but because it was basically that soulless industrial place the only thing it tolerated was soulless minimalism and pristine order to feel great. The floor looked crap after we brought back our dog from a walk, Ishita’s toys scattered around made the place look suffocating, the bedroom while bigger than the one we have now looked stuffy if we put anything more than the bed and the wardrobes in it (right now we have the bookshelves in a small room and it still look bigger than the old one did). And too many pots and pans out in the kitchen made the place look tacky (arrrgh these people actually use the kitchen to cook!!!!!!!!).
Our new place in many ways make us feel like we are in a bigger version of our good old Bangalore flat. It was built 10 years ago, in an area that was back then barely developed, people still valued life outside the office and it therefore has far more human proportions. It has 3 bedrooms each with big but old fashioned windows. the main door opens on a narrow hallway in which a shoe rack still fits, meaning that the random stranger delivering parcel will not be able to get a glimpse of your life and put a price tag on it. It also means that there is a space where you can drop your shoes and bags before entering the rest of the home. Each bedroom is big enough to accommodate a king size bed and let you walk around it (newer fancier building don’t all let you have that luxury trust me). The living room is smaller than what it is in the latest designer complex, but still fits my dinning table and sofa without looking crammed, and a big balcony extend from the living room living us a nice pleasant out door sitting area through some French doors. Space we plan to furnish with bean bags and lots of plants and is the closest to a terrace we’ll ever come to in Mumbai. We left the master bedroom to Ishita preferring the other one for ourselves, It is smaller than even our big bedroom in the flat we just left, but the bookshelves do not dwarf it the way it would have done in the old place.
The kitchen is narrower but longer and definitely darker than in the old place, but for some reason looks more functional (even though I could not put my big fridge in it), and I even told DH that if the flat were ours instead of being rented by us it would still be easy to upgrade the kitchen and make it cheerful than it would be in a newer building.
This older flat from a simpler time that was not too long ago has that “cachet” or soul I was talking about. It has that homey feeling, it is forgiving to a little mess, it doesn’t make you feel like you committed the ultimate crime of cooking in your kitchen instead of ordering take out and let you live a life outside our workplace. It also has a much nicer view than my old one, it opens on a small, a bit wild, not too manicured garden, but I’ll let you judge in picture.
This was the view from my old place:
Granted I have bars on my balcony and they are repainting the outer walls at the moment, but you see what I mean about the place being a bit more human now. The view from my bedroom has lots of trees too but do not give on the same side, and above all it is PEACEFUL, I don’t hear any traffic or construction work up there…bliss!
I’ll give you a photographic tour of my new place in one of the coming entries.