MAM and I are in the market for housing in and around Ahmedabad. We are both looking for something a bit out of the city center in order to get peace, quiet, clean air, and open, natural space (there is also another reason that Meghna will have to share with you herself :)).
As we were discussing buying houses over the last few weeks, a humongous housing show came to town hosted by Gujarat Institute of Housing and Estate Developers (GIHED), held at the Gujarat University convention center. So the other day Madhu, Meghna, myself, and Jigo went to go check it out.
The show featured all of the prominent builders in Gujarat, each with booths set up sporting their generous site maps, modern floor plans, and attractive female agents in tight outfits hawking glossy, optimistic brochures. Each builder uniquely communicated the same messages of style, luxury, aspiration, elegance, and the latest buzzword, eco-friendliness. Apparently, every single housing development in Gujarat is eco-friendly. One builder was not only eco-friendly, but also carbon neutral. Most if not all the booths had green in their color scheme. The new Gujarat!
I got quite swept up with what I saw at the show. They were selling a dream, and I was buying with impunity. I excitedly talked to Jay (who serves as my financial advisor) back home to tell him that MAM and I were going to be visiting some housing developments outside Ahmedabad in a couple days, that these builders were for real and building some actually high-quality homes in well-planned out locales, that buying in Ahmedabad at this point in time is a can't miss from an investment standpoint. In my mind I was thinking we could go out there, fall in love with a choice 3-bedroom flat, and close the deal right then and there. Like I was shopping for a new sweater.
It was a different story when we actually went to visit the housing developments. We drove out a few kilometers from the city into Chankheda, which is at this point still a small village. Beyond the village were all the housing developments, one next to the other in a huge, flat, barren, featureless field. As we were driving toward them I got uncomfortable. The whole scene felt wrong. I had one image in my head earlier, but was seeing something else now. In my mind I had pictured a lush green tract of land with a modern housing complex nestled in the middle, with conveniences like food markets, stores, gardens, schools, even restaurants around. A proper community. But what I saw was just housing, laid out like military barracks on an open tract of land. I was expecting to see Palo Alto in Gujarat, but what I found was the Gujarati version of Palo Alto.
The homes themselves were nice enough, pretty much true to the shiny floor plans back at the housing show. But look out the window and you didn't see roads and gardens and quaint shopping centers, all amidst abundant nature. You saw just housing; complex after complex to the horizon. There was no personality to the place, it was all anonymous and standardized. It was factory manufactured living.
I realized quickly I was a sucker for falling for the eco-friendly propaganda as well. There was nothing to indicate that the builders had accounted for sustainability in their building plans. I mean, they wiped out all the trees in the area to make space for more housing units. What looked like central gardens and greenbelts in their brochures were in reality afterthought patches of grass off to the side of the complex.
My conclusion: these builders were not interested in building homes, they were interested in building housing. They wanted to squeeze every rupee out of every square foot of land, and the best way to do that is to cram in more units. There seemed to be no regard for quality of life. The sad thing is that at the moment people are buying this dream in droves; the housing market all over Gujarat is red hot. In a way it's understandable because it's the only option available if you are an upwardly mobile Gujarati looking to live the good life, unless you are one of the cream of the cream rich members of society, which I found out later is what it takes to have a home amidst actual nature.
In the end, we all pretty much decided to pass. While building up to the visit we were full of talk of the promise of living in the outskirts of the city, after seeing the reality our comments eventually started turning much more appreciative of the place we currently were living in, our apartment in Keshav Nagar. Sure it was a bit noisy and didn't have the cleanest surroundings, but at least it was a community. Felt like a home. It was a place to live, not just to exist.