Gurgaon, a relatively new and largely privately developed city just south of Delhi, is littered with bathtubs. They appear abandoned on sidewalks, under lone trees, beside shacks, found in piles of rubble, left at intersections. Some bear the plastic marks of their previously protective covers. Others move location over time. Some are adopted by street vendors as storehouses for coconuts or firewood. In Gurgaon, the bathtub, a seemingly private object, takes on a particularly public dimension.
As a resident, and a keen observer of how the city has developed and expanded over the last few decades, I’ve always found a quiet humor in the bathtubs, like an inside joke that Gurgaon and I share about a first desired then discarded life of refreshing luxury; and while the creative repurposing of these bathtubs are easily rendered into the trope of the found object or jugaad they sustain the laughter in bearable and beautiful ways. The bathtub is a motif in Gurgaon’s landscape that probes questions about our culture of cleanliness, practices of real estate development, the adequacies of natural resources and public goods, and the dialogue between lifestyles and livelihoods. Before exploring why these bathtubs ended up on the road, we should ask how so many of them ended up in Gurgaon in the first place.
Gurgaon is a uniquely “investor-driven” city. According to Yogeendra Desai, an architect with Unitech, one of Gurgaon’s leading developers, approximately 70% of the city’s residential real estate are investments, to be rented out or sold for a profit. It isn’t uncommon for an investor to buy 40 housing units at a time. The bathtub or Jacuzzi, found in most middle and high income housing in Gurgaon, increases their rental or resale value. To find out more about bathrooms in Gurgaon, I spoke with Jeyanthi Nadesalingam, an architect of high-end luxury housing. In her opinion, bathtubs are an epitome of luxury, but in her experience very few of her clients who design and build their own homes in Gurgaon want one. A real estate agent I spoke with suggested that many developers originally installed bathtubs because of the growing expatriate population moving to the city for work. He added immediately after “लेकिन अब बाथटब का रिवाज़ नहीं रहा” / “But we no longer have a tradition of bathtubs.”
Over the years, a surplus of housing coupled with poor public services and infrastructure has led to a fall in returns on investments. A greater number of people buying homes in Gurgaon are choosing to live in them, so they are ensuring they fit their lifestyles and needs. According to Yogeendra, approximately 25% of end-users replace the tiles, kitchen walls, or toilets provided by the developer, with new ones. As evident on Gurgaon’s streets, many also discard bathtubs. Jeyanthi herself discarded two when she moved into her home. She gave them to a friend who ran a pre-school and thought they might come in handy. Vibhuti Sachdeva, another architect I spoke with, also discarded the Jacuzzi that came pre-fitted in her house. She gave it to her ironing man, who might, she presumes, have sold it forward. Bathtub installations are not sunk, but fitted on top, making them rather easy to remove, typically only once the construction and installation is already completed by the developer.
Last week, outside a villa just down the road from where I live in one of Gurgaon’s gated communities, a bathtub appeared. It is a twin bathtub meant for two people to sit facing each other as they soak. It has several water inlets and a motor at the bottom. It has yellowed, presumably from age, but is perfectly intact. Over the next few days or weeks, I will walk past it everyday, reveling in its presence and curiously imagining its future, until one day it takes on a life very different from that intended.