My sister’s house in Mumbai, where I have been spending my lockdown time, has a luxury that most flats in the city can’t afford – a large spacious balcony. In most homes in Mumbai, the balcony space is the extension between the window and a grille, large enough to only squeeze your head in. It also doubles up as a rack for hanging wet clothes, making it a place of utility more than luxury.
On the contrary, hers is an opulence of real estate for city standards, extending across two rooms. It is completely netted to prevent pigeons from being a menace and opens up to the view of a few large apartment complexes with around hundred houses, each with an equally large netted balcony.
On usual days with my entitlement as her brother, I have always quibbled about the pigeon nets compromising the view and hardly used the space. Its purpose had been mostly restricted to using it as a drying rack, not very different from the window extension balconies.
In the last couple of weeks though, stepping into the netted balcony has served as a brief escape from the tedium of quarantine. The amusement of seeing an empty road with deafening silence, only filled with sounds of chirping birds. The occasional sighting of another human in his porch, resulting in a shared unspoken acknowledgement of our collective predicament, helping me feel better. A voyeuristic pleasure in getting an unintentional glimpse into your neighbours’ lives, someone you didn’t know existed until the lockdown was imposed. The view of the golden sunset illuminating the facade of the opposite buildings, splendid even when viewed through the pigeon nets.
In an unrelated incident, my mother, who is also living with us now, was taken by surprise one recent morning, when she received a cat video on WhatsApp from my father, who is alone in our home in Chennai.
She loves cats and this simple gesture, something that he has never done before made her happy. She exclaimed that only now is he understanding her value. By stripping us down to our bare necessities, the lockdown has helped us cherish things that we have taken for granted.
The value of the netted balcony has gone up multi-fold.
Shrikkanth Govindarajan is a writer and photographer from Mumbai. You can follow his work here.