Condo communities offer an antidote to loneliness | Mumbai News – Times of India

Last year, retired investment banker Nitin Shah seamlessly went from scrutinising spreadsheets to creating doggy videos about his retriever Obi-Kenobi. He was curating a dog fashion show for his condo community which was attended by 700 residents and their guests, and he raised Rs 15 lakh for animal charities. He now organises monthly talks by inspiring residents of his tony twin towers in Tardeo.
“We have annual sports days and train for months,” says Shah (name changed on request). “There are categories for senior citizens, adults, juniors and children. We play cricket, volleyball, basketball, football, and women’s throwball and we get professional referees. Everything is videotaped so that even those living abroad can watch,” adds Shah, 55.
While the WHO recently flagged loneliness as one of the most pressing health concerns, especially among older adults – but equally painful for empty-nesters – an unusual antidote has come in the form of the proliferating residential gated condos. Often berated for being bubbles of elitism, these complexes have recreated the idea of a posh village in which you may or may not have close friends, but you definitely have a community.
While across the world, urban loneliness seems to be on the rise, especially in the highrise, within the condo communities, a tennis or poker partner is always at hand, and the elderly can always find someone their age to stroll at their pace when they go down for their post-dinner constitutional. Nitin Shah (name changed) is unabashedly enthusiastic about the activities inside his tony residential complex in Tardeo, which sounds a bit like a hermetically sealed full-service campus with cafeterias, pools and gyms.
Around 2,339 gated condominium projects have been launched in Mumbai Metropolitan Region in the past five years, according to Anuj Puri of Anarock Property Consul tants. Of these, 1,773 projects are in Mumbai, 354 in Navi Mumbai and nearly 212 projects in Thane. “Townships and gated communities have been becoming increasingly popular, particularly after Covid-19, because they provide privileged, quiet, peaceful, and community living together with smart-living solutions,” says Puri.
“It’s really like living in a kibbutz,” says Richa Banerjee, who lives in a gated residential complex in Sewri, and adds her children have been great beneficiaries of the community. “Although there is a bit of a mono-culture within the complex, this kind of place comes with the advantage of readymade babysitting. Of the 10 friends my daughter has, at least one will be available at any given point in time.” She adds that the children have been there from pram to prom, so there is longevity in the associations. A gated condo tower in the Mahalaxmi area has created mini football and cricket leagues with monogrammed jerseys.
Senior citizens, especially widows and widowers, find enormous comfort and security in the companionship. “Many elderly women feel their voices are not heard, but here they have found a group where their thoughts and opinions count,” says Yamini Damini, the resident of a posh gated complex in Prabhadevi, speaking about her 82-year-old grandmother-inlaw. “Health issues and general depression can be quite common at that age. If one of the women doesn’t come down in the evening, someone will call her and gently motivate her to come.”
Empty-nesters, single professionals from other towns, women who are discouraged from stepping out of home—all can fold into the readymade group activities. The condo sub-communities range from friendship groups to food groups to meditation groups, enabled by the What sApp group’s winning combo of immediacy and distance. Some groups just call themselves ‘Building name 24×7’ and are not about meeting or friending, but keep pinging useful information like “My driver is available to freelance” or “I need to borrow a walker for a visiting parent” or “did anyone find a Superman bottle in the garden”. As a resident of a Kandivli complex says, “Need three peacock feathers for a school project at 7am? Trust me, someone is sure to have that”.
Mumbai’s first community living experiments began with the chawl and the cooperative housing society, which was initially created along ethnic lines and then gradu ally morphed into more diverse communities with people buying and selling their flats. Today, the lines are drawn more along affordability. The higher-end complexes even offer concierge services and rooftop dining and the maintenance charges can be higher than a 1BHK rental.
What is the difference between the earlier cooperative housing society and the condo? Barring the shared road or elevator, the CHS was never imagined as an ecosystem. The unifying factor here is the facilities as well as the common socio-economic backgrounds of the residents. But many urban planners suggest that life is not the Truman Show and that these artificial pockets are disconnecting people from real life on the street —the intangible elements that form the pulse of a city—like the neighbourhood bhel-puri vendor or the little girl selling flowers. “The ties within the group are stronger, but the ties with the rest of the city are much weaker,” says columnist and social observer Santosh Desai. “So, the idea of doing something for the larger collective good doesn’t come up as much.” But in a city that is fast gobbling up healthy public spaces, there can be comfort even in delusional seclusion, especially if it allows you to destress. As Desai says, “It’s a deal you make with the city.”

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