In a leafy Mumbai suburb, on the very turn of a U bend, stood the handsome structure of Paradise Towers, a residential building, built in the late sixties, as the last word in modern convenience. By ‘modern’ the builders meant that it had an elevator with a designated liftman, and a garden that most bungalows would be envious of, with its designated gardener.
Over the years, other, more modern and loftier structures came up in the area, dwarfing Paradise Towers. However, none could compete with its clean lines, meticulous planning – which kept it from flooding during the rains – or its residents.
The building stood a few metres from the beach, and depending on the time of day, it enjoyed either a balmy breeze or the stench of drying fish. The road it stood on was more a by lane that rarely saw any traffic besides the random vegetable vendor and fisher women, who with baskets on their heads, crossed over to their fishing village via the building twice a day.
The facade of the building was vanilla white and got a new coat of paint every five years. On it was painted in bold, brick-red letters: Paradise Towers, vertically, with the ‘s’ in ‘Towers’ dangling just above a balcony on the first floor. That was another one of its unique features, whereas the buildings around Paradise Towers were painted steel grey, their windows tinted black, Paradise Towers boasted a substantial balcony for every road-facing flat. It was a building law that the occupants were not allowed to hang their drying on the balcony, so as the years went on, it retained its aesthetic appeal while the places around it got cluttered and messy.
The entrance was a wrought iron gate with arrowhead bars secured by a sickle lock mechanism. A smaller pedestrian gate was attached to it, and was most often used by visitors and residents alike.
A metal-sheeted guards’ cabin stood outside the gate, though its inhabitant preferred to it outside it, on a folding chair, his register and desk fan jostling for space on a rickety stool in front of him.
A wide concrete driveway led to the ground floor where, in a maze of pillars that defined parking spots, stood the elevator. A staircase, right by the lift, wound its way up the building, every even numbered set of stairs being followed by a landing.
The elevator was placed so that it divided every floor in two, with a flat on each side and a small lobby in front of it. The staircase also allowed access to each floor and the substantial terrace, accessible to all and used for the drying of clothes, housing of water tanks and the electrical room, and where all the staff gathered to moan about salaries and to gossip.
Rarely, in the spring, the building children would go up there to fly kites, but as the years wore on, and more modern modes of play were invented, the children lost interest.
The flats were spacious and airy, with large windows that let in the sunlight. They each had a small kitchen, staff quarter adjacent to it, and two bathrooms.
The garden downstairs was lush and lined with bougainvillea creepers on the boundary wall, which spilled onto the road, shedding petals and carpeting the street pink. Well-tended flowerbeds with seasonal flowers ran all over the circumference of the garden, breaking only at its entrance, and a mud path ran alongside for those who wanted to walk. Palm trees flanked the driveway on one side and there were talks of installing a water fountain, which was then scrapped in favour of leaving the driveway with a roundabout used for potted plants and a seating spot for the maids to keep an eye on their wards, who often played in the garden.
The residents of Paradise Towers were an amenable bunch. They all interacted with each other, and their children were constantly in and out of one another’s flats. The women had a committee, which organized Diwali and Christmas parties yearly, and once even a seventieth birthday party. There were fast friends and sworn enemies, but seldom any grave unpleasantness.
Nothing dramatic ever happened at Paradise Towers …or so you might think. Of course, appearances can be very deceptive.
About the author
Shweta Bachchan-Nanda is a columnist for DNA and Vogue. A well-known personality, she is the daughter of actors Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan. Shweta is married to Nikhil Nanda and is the mother of two children. She has her own clothing label, MxS, which launched in 2018. She lives in New Delhi. This is her first novel.
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