Sunday, May 4, 2008

Living in a chawl ...

Yesterday one of our neighbours - Pragnabhabhi, Kamleshbhai, Tejas and Chintan left their place in our neighbourhood in Malad and shifted to a new place in Bhayander. If we were staying in a building then it would not have made much difference but we live in a chawl in a colony called Bhadran Nagar. Hence it was a big incident for my family and many other families in our neighbourhood.
There are 16 rooms in my chawl and exactly opposite is another chawl with another set of 16 rooms. The doors of our homes face the doors of the homes in the chawl opposite to ours. Pragnabhabhi used to stay in the home 2 rooms after my home. Just beside her stays Lalitabhabhi and Rameshbhai's family who is a Marwadi family. Exactly opposite to her stay Kokilabhabhi and Ketanbhai. These three families are very close to each other. We also have good relations with all the three.
Now, Pragnabhabhi and Lalitabhabhi together purchased new flats and Pragnabhabhi already moved to her new home yesterday. So on this occasion there was hustle bustle since morning yesterday. Kokilabhabhi came to our home and started talking in an emotional tone about how she felt on this occasion. She had tears in her eyes. She was not feeling well since last few days anyway and moreover this now. Her one of the closest neighbours and friend was moving away from her. She said what she would do when Lalitabhabhi also moves away after a few days. She would be all alone.
This is the essence of staying in a chawl or a community habitat. You are close to your neighbours. Even at the midnight you are in need of help and they are there. There are numerous other advantages. You not only share new recipes you make for lunch/dinner but also your grief and happiness. They - your neighbours are a part of your life. Kokilabhabhi had become emotional as she was feeling a part of herself was moving far from her. Her tears made me, my sisters and my mother also feel a bit sad.
In a chawl system, the neighbours are very much a part of your home. Me and my dad are most of the times out of our home for work but my sisters and my mother are kind of attached to our neighbours Rekhabhabhi, Ramilabhabhi, Manisha, Kokilabhabhi, Lalitabhabhi and Pragnabhabhi. Ramilabhabhi are at my home most of the times. At night/evening also when I return home after a tiring day, my mother is sitting and chitchatting with either Ramilabhabhi or some other neighbour. And at times I don't like that. I feel as if my privacy is at stake. But then I don't complain and perhaps I also feel I don't mind it because in the same manner I like the company of my colleagues at office, my mother and sisters like the company of my neighbours. They share their work, gossip and do the daily chores in each others company and watch saas-bahu programs also together!
There are fights also at times between families staying in the same chawl but then that’s part of life. Good and bad are sides of the same coin.
Your doors always remain open, your children grow up easily and there are lot many other advantages like the safety of your home in your absence etc. of living in a chawl/community.
Tomorrow even if I move out of my current residence to live in a bigger place, I will never be able to forget my this home where I was not only born but also grew into whatever I am today.


  1. I guess you are really lucky to stay in a chawl, Vikas. My neighbours shifted a long time back, and ever since then I have never experienced what it feels to have neighbours. But reading your article reminded me of the good o'l days when my neighbour were in India. Ohh, the immense fun we would have then! I'll tell you some of the incidents, they're funny! nice article, it brings back memories.

  2. Hi Vikas,

    Thanks a lot for a nice write-up...I feel like packing my bags and rushing back home!!!!

    Keep it up!!!


  3. hello!

    d article is gr8 since it is related to me, i understand it really better!!
    bdw... thnks for puttin an article on d inmportance of our stayin in a chawl n d caring n sharin dat v experience in d chawls... probably.. i n my family will not find d same neigbors n experiences dat v've had stayin in d chawl

    gud work!!
    keep it up!!

    Aarti :)

  4. Here's a write-up on Mumbai Chawls that describes origin of these structures which housed nearly 60% of Mumbai population in the 50s and 60s.

    Many of my school friends lived in Chawls. I was always amazed at how so many people lived in such a small place. Its only later I realized how superb social skills are developed in an environment like this.

  5. From: Sunilkumar Maurya

    Vikasbhai !!!!! its an amazing article and you have written and expressed what we feel.
    I have stayed in a chawl right form my birth. (still staying there , Mahakali,Andheri-E).
    When i was in school, i had some friends who used to be staying in Building(flats), at that time i used to think , ppl staying in big buildngs flat must be very happy. SInce i had never seen a flat from inside. We had an impression that ppl staying in flats are very-very rich(thats TRUE) and happy(may not be).
    But i am still happy and staisfied with my chawl life. My chal is a rowhouse, where there is no Chawl exactly in from of ours, so we have a GARDEN in form of us. After leaving a row , then we have another row of chawls, so u can say quite a safe distance and do not feel congested. We have Mango tree, now a Coconout tree to provide us shade and fresh air.
    There is no problem of climbing the satir-case, no issue of parking the vehicle(i can park my bike right in from of my door with ample space).
    I never feel like leaving this place and shift at other place.

    Its my birth place and i have lived here for years, so i am emotionally attached with it.

    Even if u ask me to take a 2 BHK flat in Borivali , i would prefer to stay in my small CHAWL :)

    Some people have misconcept of chawl as being randomly created house, but ours is a rowhouse chawl, with each house adjacent to each other.

    There are people from all caste,religion staying together without any racial discrimination.

    However there are some anti-social elements that keep peeping their head from time to time to disrupt the peaceful environment.

    As an good citizen and open minded person i had never discriminated to anyone and i wish everyone to do so, to make our Mumbai peaceful and wonderful, let others envy us.

    Sunilkumar Maurya