Living in concrete

A couple of decades ago, the word 'family' conjured up images of a big, raucous group consisting of Mum, Dad, kids, uncles, aunts grandparents, babies, and Fido, all posing for a thoroughly harassed photographer. Hence, 'home' meant a single house, with a front lawn where the kids would be playing, a large living room where the family gathered for fun, games and conversation (cable TV and the Internet were unheard of, remember?).

Fast forward to the present day, and the word 'family' now stands for Mum, Dad, and Junior, and if the camera of your imagination pans out, you'll find them living in a small apartment.

As the patterns of work and relationships change, our lifestyles change with it. The last two decades saw a huge influx of women into the workplace, and the tradition of groupthink began to give into the greater demand for individual rights, and thus we saw the extended family break down to smaller units of nuclear families. Along with this change came the need for smaller, more cost-effective housing, and viola! Apartment buildings began to spring up everywhere.

So let's say you've decided to make the big transition from house to apartment. First of all, obviously, comes the hunt for the perfect apartment. And if you really want it to be the perfect apartment, you have to be meticulous in your search. So before you hop on your chariot and go charging on a quest to find your dream apartment, you want to narrow down your choices a little.

The first thing to decide is the location of your new home. You want your new home to be in a safe locality, near your workplace, and preferably near a school where your kid(s) can attend. However, you also don't want to be too near a school, because that means navigating through a traffic jam every morning, and having to deal with noisy class parties at least twice a year. In fact, what you want is a nice quiet apartment that's reasonably far from any commercial enterprise.

The next thing to consider is your space requirement. How many people will be living in that apartment? How many cars do you have? Do you have permanent servants who will be sharing living space with you? This will help you determine the amount of floor space you'll need, as well as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Finally, you have to look at your budget. How much can you afford to dish out for your apartment? Keep in mind both the short-term costs of moving in and installing stuff, and the continuing costs like rent and utility bills.

Now that you have reasonably narrowed down your choices, the next step is to start searching for the apartment that meets your requirements. Finding the right apartment can be as tricky as shopping for unadulterated food in Dhaka city. Just as you have to sniff the fish to see whether it's been soaked in formaldehyde, or check the fruit to make sure it hasn't been injected with dye or enzymes, you don't want to pay an arm and a leg for an apartment that's hiding some unpleasant surprises. Don't forget to make a personal visit and see for yourself what your future living space will look like. You have to learn to read between the lines of the advertisements. 'Pleasant in the winter' usually translates to 'You'll get roasted in the summer', while 'a spacious veranda' might turn out to be this tiny grille-fringed shelf where two people can somehow squeeze in.

Check to see whether the place has a proper ventilation system that makes for sufficient air circulation. Pay particular attention to the kitchen and bathrooms. Will cooking smells carry over to the rest of the apartment? Is there enough space for my fridge and freezer? Is the sink too close to the stove? Do I have storage space for towels and laundry hampers? Do I need to install medicine cabinets? Does that bathtub look like an accident waiting to happen? Ask yourself these questions and the answers will tell you whether this apartment is right for you. Also, if you have permanent domestic workers living with you, make sure you check out what their living quarters look like. Many modern apartments seem to add servants' quarters as an afterthought, and they are usually cramped and poorly ventilated.

If you've found the ideal apartment, congratulations. It's time to move in and make it all your own. You don't have to bother with security issues or lose sleep about how to dispose of the trash these are just some of the boons of apartment living, along with elevators (for most modern apartments). But as the Maroon 5 song goes “It's not always rainbows and butterflies; it's compromise, it moves us along.” In other words, life in apartments has its share of problems.

For one, you're sharing living space with a lot more people than before. You have to put up with their little quirks, they way they have to put up with yours. Neighbours cooking shutki again? You have to learn to live with it. Bua from the flat-next-door stealing your clothespins and pyjama strings (yes, this happens a LOT)? Get used to it, or hang your laundry in the veranda. Psychotic teenagers in the adjacent flats playing death metal in the middle of the night? No use whining and complaining; invest in earplugs instead. And once you close the main entrance door, it gets a bit lonely, because you're cut off from everyone. Unless your neighbours are the sociable and friendly sort, you don't see much of them, and for children born and brought up in apartments, this is sometimes a bad thing, because they don't learn much about community spirit and making friends. There's none of that playful para bonding in apartments.

In fact, children are the worst victims of apartment living. They miss out on so much, being cooped up like farmed chickens that they never get to experience the good clean (okay, maybe not so clean) fun of games in the garden or cricket in the alley. Thus, they spend their childhood filling up these gaps with video games and television.

Whatever the pros and cons may be, the way things are going, apartments will probably win out in the end, so like it or not, they are here to stay, and we might as well get used to it.

By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photo Credit: Journeyman
Photo: Hasan Saifuddin Chandan
3d Images: Riddhi Architects

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