CHENNAI: When a bachelor comes to Chennai for work or higher education, the hunt for accommodation invariably takes him to what is known as mansions. When Anand Nair, a city-based banking professional came to Chennai for his job, he was taken to one of the many mansions in the busy lanes of Triplicane and he was taken by surprise with the complete contrast he saw. “By a mansion, I had quite a different picture in my mind. What I saw was a building with many rooms, which was more or less like a lodge. It was quite a jolt,” he says, looking back amused at his first tryst with mansions.
For those who come to the city for the first time, mansions provide easy and affordable accommodation. The story of Seyed Javidh is not much different. After completing his engineering at Anna University, he decided to prepare for the UPSC Exams. But before that, he had to move out of the college hostel. He chose one of the mansions near the Kotturpuram library, which made things quite easy for him. “I spend the entire day at the library and return to my room at night to rest. An arrangement like this works for me as I pay just 1,500 per month for a twin-sharing room. It comes with basic furniture and there is a common washroom for every four rooms,” says Javidh.
But that does not take away its problems. Many of the mansions have worn out over time and the occupants often live in cramped rooms. The mansions have also come in for criticism for lack of cleanliness and ventilation. “I was fine with it for a few months but I moved out as soon as I got a shared apartment. Mansions seem fine when your finances are limited and when you are figuring out options in a new city. But after a point, you want your own space,” says Anand.
For long, the problem of bachelors’ accommodation in the city has been a point of discussion. While cities like Bangalore and Pune got used to a steady inflow of population due to the boom in the IT and education sector, Chennai took time to warm up to the idea. “Despite being very conservative, Chennai is slowly moving away from the notion of renting out spaces to families alone. The high demand for bachelors to live on their own is forcing landlords to give away their space for rent. However, single tenants do come under the scanner and have to live within the norms stipulated by the owner. If this wasn’t enough the bachelors also have to shell out a huge amount as deposits when renting out a flat,” says Ganesh Vasudevan, CEO, IndiaProperty.com, who feels that mansions are also considered to be the ultimate place for those who want rooms for a few months. “But today, many of these mansions have come under the scanner for violating safety issues,” he says.
The story of mansions is more than 100 years old, though no one is really sure about how the term got associated with accommodation for immigrants in the city. Dr S Suresh, Tamil Nadu Convener, Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage, feels that the term could possibly have come up considering the capacity of these buildings. “The mansions were huge buildings that had room for over 70-80 occupants at a given point of time. That could be a reason for this term to stick on, even though in reality they are extremely small and dingy spaces.
Besides, when the British started operating from Fort St George, Triplicane got an advantage due to its proximity to the place. Also, this place was close to the Chepauk Palace. Chennai (then Madras) was at the threshold of expansion and a new immigrant population was swarming the city. They were easily accommodated in the mansions that rose in and around Triplicane,” he says. With the rise of mansions sprung related business, which catered to the requirements of the occupants here, such as restaurants, mess and catering services. Some occupants have been living here for decades together now and visit their families regularly in their hometowns.
A closer look at the mansions suggests a pattern. “The mansions in Saidapet cater to students in various colleges in and around Guindy and Saidapet. The mansions on Mount Road and Choolaimedu have a floating population of people arriving in the city for medical assistance in the famous hospitals,in the nearby areas. Mansions in Chepauk and Central see an inflow of migrants who come for a very short visit.
Surprisingly, Triplicane has many politicians among its occupants,” says R Rajkumar, Secretary, Chennai Hotels Association. “Many famous politicians have stayed in the mansions in Triplicane during their early years. Later, they got attached to it and have come to see the rooms as their lucky charm. They continue paying the rent for these rooms, which is anyway a paltry sum,” he says.
In 1998, the Mansion Owners Association fought a case, as a result of which mansions are today treated at par with lodges. Rajkumar feels that in spite of criticisms of mansions not being maintained properly, they sustain a huge population, who would not have found shelter at affordable rates otherwise. “Many mansions have upgraded themselves over time. But sadly, the mansion business is not very profitable today and hence there are also issues with redevelopment of these buildings. Many are being run only because the owners feel comfortable with the status quo. Where else can you get a room for as cheap as 70 per day? For those who cannot afford an apartment or a hotel, a mansion is an alternative,” he says.
However the old very much co-exists with the new. Sanjay Chugh, Head – Residential Services (Chennai), JLL India, says that the traditional concept of bachelors seeking accommodation in standalone homes is still very much prevalent, whereas the emerging trend in the suburban locations is of numerous apartments being leased by service providers from apartment owners and then sub-leasing them to bachelors on a shared basis. “Over the years, Chennai has witnessed a quantum expansion of demand for single / bachelor tenants looking for accommodation due to job creation in sectors like IT in the southern suburbs of the city,” he says.