- No. 16 Model House Road
Latha's fingers tug at a loose strand of wicker on the arm of the loveseat. She is sitting next to Muthu on the well-worn, pale green cushions. The developer woman sits across from them, on the matching single sofa. Her toenails are painted a shade of light blue that remind Latha of the soap she uses when she does the laundry. The woman is wearing linen pants and a red cotton shirt, appropriately high-necked and pleasantly loose, with a stylish outward flare at the waist. One of her legs is crossed over the other, and the boldness of this shocks Latha. Not because she thinks women should not cross their legs. She believes that women can do anything. Her own daughter works, and she sees women working on the TV serials she watches. Latha is shocked because, for the first time, she is observing a woman at work—with the style, posture, and demeanor of a professional—right in front of her, in her home.
Mornings in Bangalore are typically crisp and cool, but this morning there is a bit of warm sun and it streams through the grilled window, casting a shadow of bars that stretch underneath Latha and Muthu's round, glass-topped coffee table. The woman has her papers spread out over the glass, one page right on top of the plate of butter biscuits that Latha set out: sketches, floor plans, and photographs detailing what things could be like. They could have three bedrooms or four, she says. Right now, they only have two.
She directs her words towards Muthu, though it is Latha who actually owns No. 16 Model House Road. Binny left it to her when she died, not to him.
"The living area will increase by 50 percent with most options," the woman says, her English clean and crisp. "Remarkable what we can do."
The developer's proposal is simple: to demolish Latha's beloved No. 16 and, in its place, erect a thoughtfully constructed, modern, low-rise apartment building. Four stories. Four flats. All costs covered by the company. During the year it would take to construct the new building, the company would cover the cost of Latha and Muthu's housing with a generous lump sum. At the end of it all, the bottom flat would go to Latha and Muthu, and the other three would go to the developer and be sold at a big profit.
It was a scheme happening all over Bangalore in various forms, as the city's tech industry grew at an explosive rate. Property values were higher than they had ever been, and housing was almost impossible to find. A few years ago, another developer had offered to buy their plot. Theirs was just a one-and-aquarter–ground plot but that developer had been willing to pay them three crores for it. They declined. [End Page 142]
Today, the woman has four layouts for Latha and Muthu to choose from. Latha is partial to the smallest of the floorplans because it offers the most garden space. But she knows Muthu has disregarded it.
While Muthu studies the plans, Latha continues to study the woman. Her hair is long, loose, and straight, cut unevenly in the front so that pieces of it touch her cheeks and chin. The unevenness appears to be intentional. She is in her early thirties, Latha thinks, based on her still-firm skin and the presence of a single visible gray hair that runs down from her side part. She is not wearing a thaali around her neck, or a ring, but that means nothing in Bangalore these days. Even Latha's daughter, newly married, only wears her thaali when attending a wedding or some other family function.
"From the beginning, I have liked this one," Muthu says. He points to a layout that appears to have an extra room jutting out the back.
From the beginning.
Muthu had wanted to take the deal the first time the company made a proposal, nearly ten months ago. The woman is the fourth person from the company to come to their...