Since this blog is now official on life support, I am routing some professional work here. Work that has failed to find a publisher. This story was originally written for Caravan magazine, but they realised that had published something similar about Noida a few issues ago. Here it is.
Home is an inappropriate name
Pune’s booming real estate market is Dr Frankenstein’s workshop for names
Pune is dense with real estate activity. Steel skeletons rise kilometres before that wholesome town aproaches. The aspirations of these projects scream: Amanora, a world of WOW; Westernhills, 40 acres of old new way of community living; Signature Life, Life Republic, Belleza, Bella Casa, Athena, Valencia. All painting serene images of the Mediterranean, rolling meadows or at least swaying flora.
There are pastoral images in Elysian, the abode of Greek gods where humans are allowed after death. Slowly, the billboards acquire a tone of desperation. Projects get a compulsive Latin/Italian lilt. You could live in Oystera, invest in Royal Entrada, rent at Linera, be one of the Excluzee, live it up at Liviano, be serene in Senero… Ambition mounts higher — why not be one of those who lives at 24k Gliterrati whispers a voice in your ear.
Above this din, rises a tower of adjectives —Nargis Fakhri invites you to join her at Castel Royale Excellente.
This affliction is not Pune’s alone. My mediocre hometown of Navi Mumbai has an Olive and Shallots housing society. None of these premium ingredients went into the making of the building. Hopefully. But in Pune’s it’s an epidemic. Why is a city, mapped with lyrical and historical names like Prabhat Road, Junglee Maharaj Road, Budhwar Peth and Aundh, perpetuating this ludicrouness?
Advertising and media professional Sopan Sharma tells me its investor apathy. “Most of these properties will be bought by investors in Mumbai or Bangalore. It’s not going to be their permanent address, so they don’t care if the name is ridiculous. It’s just a place to park their money. They will refer to it as XX’s (insert builder’s name here) project in Baner or Hinjewadi,” he says.
Budget homes aimed as residential for the middle class are still named traditionally, using Sanskrit or Marathi names. Then you have a Vaastu Shodhan (finding Vaastu) and Aapla Ghar (our home).
As a consultant, he tries to steer developers towards meaningful names that encapsulate the salient points of the property, but in the end, client is king. “There are developers with rational sensibilities, but they mostly come with a pre-decided name,” he says. Mont Vert’s Vesta, for instance, takes its name from the Roman goddess of house and hearth. “It could even be the result of rivalry,” continues Sharma. “If another developer’s Italian-sounding project as done well, they name their similarly. Sometimes, there’s also astrological compulsion to start the project with a certain letter or include a number in it. Then we absolutely can’t do anything.”
That would explain 43 Privet Drive. 4 Privet Drive, visitors to author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe will place, is the Dursleys’s ordinary, unimaginative muggle residence. It’s an anti-thesis to Harry’s magical world. Privet Drive is a place where he is miserable and trapped. Some words are forced together in an Indian marriage, like Aman (peace) and Aura to form Amanora. The internet cannot explain to me the etymology of Bravuria.
A driving force is that the new inhabitants of developing Pune are IT professionals rising up the corporate ladder. Those who want to leave behind the Madhubans and Sadafoolis (forever in bloom) of their childhood and live in antiseptic Florentinas and Florenzas. Keyur Godse, another advertising professional, says Greeko-Roman names are associated with luxury. “No matter if there is not a tree in sight on the property of Florentina. Small-scale developers [who are often the ones with misdirected names] are not interested in making a brand,” he adds. These clients come with a prepared name, with little or no research. And though these names exude luxury, they are most often not plush properties. “Luxury housing would imply a premium location or facilities,” says Godse. “Mostly these projects are located on the developing outskirts of Pune.” That would explain why the Westernhills Townhouse project, for instance, is located in the dusty plains of Baner.
The territory of traditional names is guarded by Puneri developers such as the Paranjpes and the Kolte-Patils. These developers specialise in housing complexes in already established tony areas. However, they too understand the shift and will build a Madhukosh on Sinhagad Road, Yuthika in Baner, Pratham at Sadashiv Peth, Punarvasu at Prabhat Road, but a Xion at Hinjewadi, an IT suburb.
Sameer Desai, director of Seagull advertising, which handles about four real estate developers a year and their multiple projects, says “Earlier developers wanted to be aspirational, international. At that time the names preferred were anglicised. In recent times, developers have become more consumer-oriented. Projects cater to consumer needs — both at a rational and emotional level. These names are either Indian or anglicised.”
A canny developer understands these two different markets — the traditional Punekar and the aspirational outsider — and names the projects accordingly.
“Developers also come in two categories — the Marwari and Gujarati groups from Mumbai and the Punekars,” says Desai. “The former is most likely a partner of local the land-owners, enlisted to develop, build and market the project and deliver a pre-decided sum to the landowner. These prefer the anglicised or Mediterranean names.”
According to him, when a project is designed to meet a consumer’s emotional needs, the developer turns to the native language. “A blue-collar township in the industrial suburb of Chakan is called Aapla Ghar. The tagline is Sarve Sukh-Suvidha Sapan (every need for peace and utility is met),” he says. “Another township near Lonavla, which is famous for an Ayurveda centre, is called Naad Brahma (the first sound of creation). A project of weekend homes is simply called, the Weekenders. The name should reflect the properties of the project.” But he also admits to seeing the blueprint for Vistas without plans for a single tree. Nobody can explain Beaver Grandeur to me.
Pune is metamorphosing as towns must, but when I pass Privé Rio, I wonder how the residents feel about being “deprived of Rio”. Or is it just a concern of the over-thinking Arts graduates?