I write from Mumbai, where I have been for close to a week, on previous visits I had never taken the time to hang around, I merely used it as a spring board to move on elsewhere. I had never taken the time to see and understand this city.
On this occasion I had the good fortune of being in the hands of a couple of close friends who are Mumbaikars, who separately gave me the resident’s tour, showing me what makes this city tick.
One of them originally hailed from Gujarat and has now settled in Mumbai, along with his family of children and parents, they live in a two bedroom flat in Mumbai.
The other is a born and bred native Mumbaikar, who is in the film Industry; Gulfam Khan is her name, she has starred in many soap operas and has also played roles in successful movies such as Talaash.
During our tour of the city, many passers by recognised her and asked for pictures to be taken with her. In India if you are a movie star or a cricketer you have the status of a Demi God. There is even the possibility they will construct a temple of yours and you will be worshipped. This has already happened for some movie stars and cricketers, such as Sachin Tendulkar.
Through these two personalities I was lucky to get a glimpse of the property market in Mumbai from the local perspective. Reading media reports gives you a limited and often biased angle.
Whilst driving around town one of them told me that up north in Goregaon’s Gokuldham area, on the Western Express Highway, are three tall buildings; they had been empty for 14 years. During the build phase around seven labourers involved in the construction had met with their death. Rumours started that the buildings were plagued by poltergeist activity. The rumours started as small ones and then gathered momentum.
One brave soul even bought a flat and moved in, however after a short time he soon abandoned the flat and fled.
Initially I was surprised to hear so many labourers had died during this construction, this was shocking to me coming from the UK. However later I discovered this level of casualties is the industry standard. Apparently during the construction of a single block one or two deaths are to be expected. Therefore whilst constructing three blocks, six to seven deaths is an acceptable ratio.
Generally whilst looking at the scaffolding constructed around buildings here in Mumbai (made of bamboo and tied together with rope) it seems no surprise, given what they had to climb upon. You would need to be a semi circus performer to be able to navigate this framework. Deaths are so common on building sites, my friend has actually even seen one labourer falling off a building just outside of her window.
Going back to our three buildings, rumours of all the properties being haunted had started during the construction phase of these buildings, and this was compounded by a resident post completion, who had stayed there and subsequently fled from the apartment. His story was then followed up strongly with newspaper articles. In a nation of believers where the existence of spirits is accepted as a fact, this rumour led to all of the blocks being empty for 14 years, no one would purchase the liveable flats due to each of them being under the grip of malignant spirits who would harass any would be resident brave enough to move in.
The builder even died during the period the buildings were empty so he never got to see any of the units sold.
This is just one example of the kind of currents which move in the Mumbai property market, possibly uniquely to India.
More recently over the last year these buildings have been purchased by another developer, refurbished and all the units have been sold with only the penthouses remaining.
Apparently the incoming builder Rustomjee who has a good reputation in the market had even sent an exorcist into the buildings, but the fellow had reported no signs of paranormal activity.
This was rather honest of him, as many in his line of work are prone to either exaggerate the issue or to invent something. After all who else can double check? And it’s bad for business to say there’s nothing there at all. However this was his diagnoses, that the buildings were fine.
This then begs the question as to why the buildings were empty for 14 years. One version was a rival developer had started the rumour in order to destroy the business of his competitor. Rumours can spread quicker than fires in a city like Mumbai and they soon solidify in the fertile minds of humans and they then become reality.
This story is by no means an isolated case, all over Mumbai there are tales of spooky activity, for instance in D’Souza Chawl, near Canossa School, there is a well with no boundary walls. A woman once fell into the well while filling water and died. Ever since, locals say, her ghost comes there every night, strolls around, and disappears by dawn.
There is another story about one of the flats at Grand Paradi Towers, Kemps Corner, all three generations of the family committed suicide, with the last case in 2004. The flat is unsold because it is believed to be possessed by spirits.
Given property prices in Kemps Corner can reach Rs. 1 lakh per sq. ft., this must be pretty serious as there is certainly no lack of demand in this location.
Spooky activity is not the only thing which puts a break on real estate projects. Litigation is a big blockage too. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in this country, you may even have to come back in your next life to attend a hearing and another life to hear the judgement.
Whilst walking around in Colaba I enquired as to why properties here only a short distance away from the Gateway of India were in such poor condition, given the value of real estate in this location. They had mould growing on the outside of them, poorly kept.
I was informed many of these property were under serious litigation and therefore no money was being spent on the maintenance of these blocks. This could be evidenced by the notices placed outside the buildings, which made a claim of ownership by one of the parties involved in the litigation.
Often what happened was the property had been bought with a number of different individuals some time ago. The previous generation did everything with a shake of hands, trust was the basis of business transactions, and things have now changed. They have died and gone, the next generation now lay claim to their parents’ properties.
Litigation blocks the property and stops it from being maintained, it of course cannot be sold. Therefore it is rented for below the proper market value. The sheer strength of the location is the only driving factor of why such properties are occupied as many seemed barely habitable.
Given such scenarios there is no wonder why the thirst for owning London property is so strong amongst Indians in India. The transparency and ease of transaction is refreshing in comparison. One year 25% of all transactions done in Mayfair were by Indians from India. A quick but perceptive glimpse into the Mumbai property market has shown me first hand as to why the appeal for London property is so strong overseas.
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!Tips of the Week
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