Saturday, October 8, 2011

Measuring Childhood per square feet

There are hoarding all over Mumbai and one assumes print campaigns in Times on India that asks "what is the carpet area of childhood?". The images are fantastic, neo modern painting with children playing, reading and having fun. While the other builders spoke of the gyms, airconditioned lobbies and spectacular highrises, Rustomjee Builders speaks of childhood, targetting the soft underbelly of parents who have children who are young and need that space to run around. Interesting!

Now what was the carpet area of my childhood? The first few years were spent in a village called Wagholi, around 25 kms outside Pune city in a hospital campus where my mom was deputed as part of her rural training program. The campus was sprawling, with stone buildings that had wooden slatted windows. My playmates were the children of the hospital staff and dad on weekly basis took me to the panchayat office ( am not sure what he was doing there) to watch Doordarshan Mumbai's news bulletin. The news reader was Pradip - i forget his surname, reading the current news at 7 30 from a inland letter. There used to be a huge tract of land just behind the hospital and that was our play ground. A group of 10-12 children and two dogs used to chase dragon flies, play cricket and turn into a dark shade of brick brown in the hot summer sun.

Then it was the Dr Ambedkar Colony at Deccan College in the cantonment areas of Pune. A semi private bungalow with a garden that had a huge jamun tree in its midst and two dozen odd guava and mango trees. I built my first tree house here, my first outdoor tent and had a zoo according to my mother. A koel, a mynah, a rabbit, a dog and a cat were my pets. After school one could vanish up the branches of the guava trees and read as many comics as one wanted.  Star Trek started on Doordarshan around the time and most of us would spend all our evenings pretending to search for aliens. It was a childhood of climbing trees, falling down, eating jamuns till the mouth turned purple and sour, making mango chutney and getting all the boys and girls together to cook a meal over open fire in the evening.

Dad was asked to move closer to his place of work, when TELCO Pimpri had labour problems from 1982 onwards. That was when we shifted to a "flat", 1200 sq ft of nothingness, stacked one on top of another, all 4 floors of them and all 350 buildings. We had moved upwards into a 'complex' with shops, markets and access to transport, school in the complex etc etc. But no playground!

My daughter who is 5 now thinks that the little amount of space we have around our building in Andheri West, when not covered by cars of the residents is her playground. There are trees but she does not want to climb them. She has been told by her friends that their moms have told them that if they climb trees, they would fall down and break their bones. Cannot argue with that.

So then, how do you measure the carpet area of childhood. Most likely answer is Rs 16500 per square feet at the Rustomjee property in Malad, or Rs 22000 per square feet at the JVPD one. Not a childhood 90% of parents can give their children. Not at that cost.

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