Seventy years is not a long time for a structure to crumble, but for people it is just a matter of generations. The house would have its own story to tell. Lives, marriages, childbirths and deaths.
There was a flood which did it in 1967. But you can sense all those moments lived and left behind.
Ample greenery and signs of life — a toddler playing, a bright green shrub sprouting next to a wall, a cat on the prowl on the second floor, a pot of aloe vera hanging on another wall, which has layers of plaster and is still protruding or caving in.
On a damp afternoon, I see a tiny pair of chappals neatly placed at one of the doorsteps at a wada in Kasba Peth. These slippers are waiting to be worn by the kid who was then, probably, in school.
The ramshackle structure is braving another monsoon and the monsoon does not evoke that romantic notion in its residents, as it does to rest of us. They pray differently when it is monsoon.
That rains and thunder and strong winds should keep away from them, their house, their children and old men. Young mothers in this neighbourhood are worried about the safety of their kids, about bricks falling in the alleys adjacent to the house. An old blind neighbour is afraid the three-storey structure collapses over theirs.
‘Waiting’ is written all over this place and on the faces of the people here. Waiting for something decisive about the 70-year-old structure. Waiting for someone — tenants, owner of property, builders/developers and the PMC — to act first.
People who live in this dilapidated building are waiting for a place to move in, before it collapses. PMC keeps sending eviction notices to them. Builders have their own angle of finding a business opportunity to such an eventuality.
There are no clear answers of rehabilitation, the ifs and when of it and whether it is going to happen before the building is brought down by the forces of nature or by a bulldozer.
When it comes down it is not about the building as such. It could have been restored. It could have been a beautiful building, it still looks breezy and ventilated, though some of the windows have been covered by plaster.
It is more about the financial viability of the present agreement (the tenants pay a pittance of Rs 25 per month for staying there). The landlady says they are going to give about 600-square-feet space for the four families of some 20-odd people and open a school there.
The breadwinners of the families that live there have small-time jobs and they have been living here for generations now. They would either add to the slums around the same area or move out to the fringes of the city where they can still find a foothold to survive.
It will change everything for them. But they think something good will happen before that. Salim Baba, a young man, who lives on the top floor, exudes confidence.
He is clearly not willing to leave, nor is he afraid like the old blind man in the neighbourhood. The landlady’s men are measuring the place now, he says. He is a supporter of the BJP corporator representing his ward.
Something would be done, some deal is in process — he keeps telling me.
Pune started from Kasba Peth. It was a village then. Now, many old wadas are going to pave the way for the reconstruction of the city. The city is redrawing its spaces over such wadas.
And when you look around from this house, No:1097/A, all you get to see is a haphazard growth of concrete, which is ugly to look at, betrays lack of planning and forethought, and the city appears to have been shortchanged.
It neither respects its legacy nor paves any aesthetic way for future. People who live here have too few choices except to squeeze into tinier holes, but that is not the pressing question for them.
The question is when we resurrect the old Pune with newer constructions, why can’t they be as good, well-planned and aesthetic as the village it started as, or as the mohalla it became after Pune became a city?
Does it have to become the typical compromised hybrid of chaos, where the only defining thing is to measure the last foot and FSI and not the living space? Clearly, the new urban India can’t write its growth story in a coherent way.
Uprooting is always comprehensive. But rehabilitation is tentative and occurs in parts. And nothing is ever final about it. I just wonder if they change the TV channel when weather reports and incidents of building collapses are aired.