The AC wala kamra presents the middle classes with a difficult summertime option between comfort and privacy. The AC wala kamra is a seasonal fixture in most middle-class homes. Accelerating inflation and electricity price hikes make running numerous air conditioners simultaneously impossible.
The family moves from their individual rooms to the AC wala kamra each summer. AC wala kamra is where many families eat, watch TV, study, and entertain guests.
This room’s multipurpose design is unusual in modern homes, which are function-specific. Its multi-functionality and tendency to become the household hub match it with the South Asian aangan.
Three or more generations of the extended family traditionally resided under the same roof, and the aangan was their hub. The aangan was where life happened, from breakfast to evening tea to entertaining guests to summer resting.
As families became nuclear, so did the home design. Multifunctional space wasn’t needed or constantly available. The modern family chose function-specific rooms. This new household attitude and design didn’t mean the communal living room was out of style – not yet.
Younger generations watch Netflix on their phones and laptops, not TV. Increased availability of personal electronics has led to the erosion of the “shared living space”
Until summer, when everyone huddles in front of the AC. I avoid romanticizing this room as a utopia.
Changes in house materiality affect societal perceptions about family, self, personhood, and privacy. Even the original aangan isn’t regulated by the same traditions and values as before, let alone its reboots.
The AC wala kamra functions similarly to a shared living area, but its ever-changing dynamics make it a source of friction and negotiation between old and young. Privacy issues highlight these tensions.
Concerns about privacy affect teens and young adults phone use in these rooms. Their reasons include bothering others, getting disturbed, and being snooped on. They leave the AC-wala kamra for secluded, warm rooms without AC. Parents acknowledge and criticize these negotiations.
Sumaira, a 53-year-old mother of two, thinks someone who “sneaks away” at night is up to no good. Sumaira believes evil thrives at night, making it a time for sinners and immoral people.
Myra, Sumaira’s daughter, protested against her mother’s perception. Myra says the night is the only time her pals can have a group call without interruptions, thus she needs privacy. Sumaira’s skeptical.
This mother-daughter exchange demonstrates the intergenerational mismatch around the concept of privacy.
Most parents support their children’s privacy, with some exceptions. Many parents disapproved of locked doors, asking what can’t be done with the door ajar. The AC wala kamra neutralises the fear of the closed door by bringing everyone into a communal space. It also uses the door to signal the family’s movements. AC wala kamra strengthens family unity. Parents and children expressed that they had more family time in the summers — being actively involved in each other’s life, being able to chat to each other, and learning habits, affairs, and concerns. They watched movies and played board games together. Intimacy is unavailable in their ‘regular’ living situation.