India has five of the happiest cities in the world to buy a home and Chennai is one of them, which my wife loves despite the heat, because of nostalgia.
She remembers visiting her great grandmother there and going to the first 70mm air-conditioned theatre, not to watch a movie, but to nap and while away the searing hot afternoons.
(Meanwhile, in another equally hot and oppressive city, Hyderabad, where I was growing up, the first 70mm cinema theatre featured a Hollywood movie titled, Kelly’s Heroes, a war movie, with Clint Eastwood, and there was no way we could have napped in air-conditioned comfort as the theatre owner usually put the speakers on full blast, leaving us with ringing ears).
When recently visiting Chennai during the heaviest rain and thunderstorms since 2015, my wife was also excited to see Higginbotham’s, which is a book shop, not some obscure disease that an Englishman gets when living in the tropics.
Visit to a government office
The Registrar’s office we visited felt like we had stepped back in time, through a wormhole, just like the characters from a sci-fi movie.
Whenever Bollywood wishes to show a scene at a government office, it invariably zeroes on to the ceiling fan, and a man behind a stack of dog-eared files.
The ceiling fan at the registrar’s office was barely moving the warm air around. The boss was sitting behind a rickety table and slowly, painstakingly reading each and every word in the sales deeds and agreements to sell, stacked before him.
The Registrar’s office was slowly becoming crowded with young couples, and one girl looked she was a teenager. A broker said this office was also a birth, deaths and a marriage bureau.
The parents of the young couples may have not given their blessings to marry, so they come and register here for a civil marriage, he said.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The other four happiest cities in India to buy a home are: Chandigarh, Jaipur, Indore and Lucknow.
According to Online Mortgage Advisor, it used an Artificial Intelligence facial recognition tool to determine how happy people are buying a home in a particular city.
It says it went through more than 300,000 geotagged pictures on Instagram to analyse the emotions displayed by people when buying a home, in India and around the world.
I cannot imagine anyone being happy buying a home in these uncertain and volatile times. Anyway, financial experts say that real estate or a property should be an asset class in your investment portfolio.
Even under normal circumstances, purchasing real estate in India is a laborious process and involves a host of people, including the broker who charges one per cent of the sales price, someone who types out your sales deed, and someone who holds your hand at the registrar’s office because only a few knowledgeable people are purview to what exactly is the process.
When my wife pointed out a mistake in the sales deed to the person who typed it, he pulled out a razor blade from his wallet, like he was going to get into a bloody street fight, went to a corner and started scraping out the delinquent words.
Asked why he didn’t use a whiteout, he said this is the original sales deed. “White-outs are for copies”.
Even as the registrar was reading the documents it suddenly started pouring sheets. Only yesterday this street was three feet under water, said the hotel driver, when bringing us to the office.
The weather channel had said there would be thunderstorms on way to Chennai from Bengaluru, and back. My wife and I are both white-knuckle fliers and on the first sign of turbulence we hold on to the passenger in the middle seat.
(My wife books a window seat and an aisle seat, hoping that nobody sits between us in these Covid times, but invariably someone with a horrible cough takes the middle seat).
Anyway, I believe that happiness is not buying a house in a happy city, but standing on solid ground, wherever you land.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi