The All-In-One Room

Blog entry created by: Meagan

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Picture your house (or apartment, or trailer, or box- whatever you’re currently living in).  How big is it? It has few bedrooms, a kitchen, maybe a dining room if you’re lucky?  I’m assuming you have at least one bathroom… that’s pretty standard, although most people have more.  If, for some reason, you’re having a hard time imaging your own home (or you actually do live in a box, in which case none of this really applies), all you need to know right now is that the average American home is somewhere around 2330 square feet (that’s about 3 bedrooms, 1-2 bathrooms).

Time to downsize!

Now imagine that your entire family is in one room of your house.  Not necessarily the most comfortable set-up, but doable right?  But wait!  Now the room is shrinking, and you are all left in a 7×7 foot space.  Getting cozy?  Now add a large wooden board, about 3 feet high, which takes up about half of the room.  Feeling claustrophobic yet? Now the rest of your house disappears.  And all you’re left with is this one tiny room, in which all of the members of your family eat, sleep, cook, bathe, and do anything else they deem necessary.  Welcome to a home in the slums of Kolkata.

It seems unimaginable, right?  How could so many people live in such a tiny space?  Well let me try to explain to you how they make it work.

This is the bedroom…

The first question I had when I first saw these homes for myself was “Where do you all sleep?!”  And the answer is that board I mentioned earlier.  It serves multiple uses: a table, chairs, bunk-bed, and storage area!  Half of the family sleeps on top of the board, while half of them sleep underneath it.  The people underneath get the worse half of the deal in my opinion- the floor is concrete, and under the bed/table/board also serves as a storage area, so it’s even more crammed.

And here's the kitchen/dining room

There’s no sink, no refrigerator or stove in this tiny room.  So where do they cook?  On the floor!  The mothers cook the meals, everything from the rice to meat and vegetables and chai (tea), in their houses on a little hotplate-type thing, or outside using clay ovens.  People than eat using their hands (like everywhere else in India) wherever they can find space.

The Washroom

Bathing is an interesting concept.  There are public water pumps in the street, which are turned on during certain hours of the day.  During this time period the water flows freely onto the street, and the men use this water to bathe in.  They stand in the street in just their shorts or dhotis (traditional skirts), get all sudsy, and wash themselves.  It seems really strange and kind of embarrassing when you first see it, but now I’m used to seeing large groups of men washing themselves on the side of the road.  I’ve never seen a woman bathing in the street (or otherwise) but I was told that they bathe in the houses.  To be honest, I’m not quite sure how they accomplish that.

And the office

One of the homes we visited was FILLED with shoe parts.  It turns out that the family assembled shoes and sold them to make money!  And these weren’t hand crafted, one-of-a-kind shoes.  They looked like the types of mass-produced shoes you can find on your local shoe store in America.  It really made me think about where my shoes come from… and everything else for that matter.  I wonder if any of my shoes were put together under such circumstances.

So Much Unnecessary Space..

Although things surely vary from place to place, this is what we saw when we went out into the communities to the homes of some of the sponsored youth we’ve been working with.  It was a real eye-opener, and I’m glad that we got to see the homes first hand.  Although it did make me feel kind of guilty for having so much space in our apartment here- we could easily fit 50 more people and it would still be less crowded than their homes!  It also made me realize why the youth don’t seem to mind when there are 40+ of them crammed in one room for our classes, while we continue to comment/complain about how crowded it is.  I’m more grateful, as well as more aware, of all the space I have at home.  We’ve got it pretty nice in America!

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Posted on: February 8, 2011 | Categories: Children International, Economic Opportunity, Environment, Fun Facts - Cultures and Countries, India, Poverty, Traditions, Water



  • Jeremy says:

    there was one house i visited in Kolkata which had 18 people living in one of those tiny rooms – it was absolutely unbelieveable. From that point on I never cursed my tiny Los Angeles studio again!

  • Damon says:

    Nice article, Meagan! You summed up the living situation perfectly…AND it was fun to read. It’s remarkable that families can live in such close, cramped quarters and still get along.

  • Meagan says:

    Jeremy- 18?!? Wow! Seeing that first hand really makes you think about how much is really “necessary.”

    Damon- I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! It’s still a mystery to me how they all get along so well- most families I know would probably kill each other ;)

  • John Keller says:

    Meagan, what is outside this room, other rooms and other families? Are they one story high? And do they own this one room house? John

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