Sunday, August 1, 2010


Growing up a middle-class kid in Bombay, a city with one of the highest population densities in the world, I knew that when I grew up, I would most probably end up living in a 1-bedroom or 2 bedroom or maybe even a 3-bedroom flat. The thought of living in an independent house (or single-family home as we call it in the US) never occurred to me. Only movie stars or extremely rich people could afford such houses in Bombay. Like everyone else in Bombay, my idea of a dwelling was limited to an apartment. That is all that would be needed to make me happy. I just did not picture myself living in anything else. An apartment seemed the most natural thing to live in.

After living in the US for the last decade or so, my idea of a dwelling for myself has changed. Very few people live in apartments (or condos as we call them here). Most people favour single-family homes compared to flats. Most of my friends who have bought a home here have bought an independent house and not a flat. And if I ever buy a home here, strangely I picture myself buying a single-family home as well and not a flat, which just years ago seemed like the most natural thing to do. It is not like I have bought a bunch of elephants and I need space to keep them. The size and volume of my possessions have not changed drastically, but a single-family home is what I thought would be a dwelling to make me happy.

After I got laid-off from my job in November 2009, I spent a few months in Tanzania. Most of the time during those 3-4 months were spent camping out in the jungles in a tent which was barely big enough for my wife and I to sleep in. But I was content. I was happy. The tent was as much of a home as a flat in Bombay, a big house in the US or anywhere in the world.

So how big a place did I or anyone need to call a home and be happy? All of us have heard of the 'When in Rome..' saying. That rings especially true in this context. We may not realise it but is the idea of 'our perfect home' a case of keeping up with our neighbours in a broader sense? Some might argue that our needs are directly related to the choices we have and can afford. I completely agree with that, but in the end, we are the ones who make the choice - to end up with a crippling mortgage payment for a large home for a substantial portion of our life or make a less expensive choice and spend the same money on other life experiences that we can now afford?

I may be wrong but I think whether you buy a large mansion or a studio apartment, like most of your other possessions, you are only super-excited about it for some time and then it becomes a a routine taken-for-granted thing. It just becomes home. So why not make a more rational choice? Because in the end, when we reflect back on our life, we are more likely to reminisce fondly about our family, our friends, the vacations and other life-experiences that we could afford than remember the size of our homes.