How much space does a person need?

Tolstoy’s answer was six feet. Let me change the question to how much land is available in Mumbai to each person. The land area of the island city of Mumbai is close to 68 square kilometers. The number of people in this area was last counted in 2011, and was 12.5 million. It may have decreased a little since then, but this number will serve. Take away a quarter of the city’s area for roads. That gives us about 35 square feet of space per person. That’s a rather small room. Take away another half of the land area for offices, and you decrease the space to 12 square feet. We begin to approach Tolstoy’s limit. What chance, social distancing?

In a place like this you learn to be alone in a crowd. You can spend a quarter of your life packed like sardines into a can called a suburban train, and live a complete life in the space between your earbuds. You can get off the train, walk home to your 35 square feet bed-sit, and count yourself a king of infinite space. But you may have bad dreams.

Which is why work-from-home is a wonderful idea. As long as you have a job which you can do over the internet, what is it really that brings you far from your family and friends, from that familiar place that you grew up in, to a crowded city like this? We discovered the freedom of the internet during the pandemic. Immediately after the end of the lockdowns, we began to travel during the week, working on a laptop that you could take anywhere that gave you a wifi connection. I saw sunrises over deserts and mountain lakes during this time. And I saw nomads even more adventurous than me: kayaking between meetings, climbing cliffs with phone and earbuds in backbacks.

What keeps us bound to these cities? The concerts and dinners, the art and the collegiality of the workplace can be sampled a couple of times a week. But I love to walk the streets of the city, alone, camera in hand, taking street photos. Would I be able to watch people in this way in any place other than a city?


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


      1. It’s really paranoid of them. We are often photographed at Council events because we signed a document allowing them to publish the photos. Hence we are everywhere. There is also a document that can be signed saying no you cannot. When I am photoing I have nearly always got to wait until no one is there.

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  1. I suppose I.J. that it’s a question of what you’re used to. There is absolutely an exciting vibrance in a city that as we say “never sleeps”. On the other hand there is a certain peace in places that fit the opposite extreme. My husband and I love to visit our family in NYC but are always happy to return to the quiet of our own world. Happy are they who get to choose their location and who find peace wherever life finds them. Wonderful take on the challenge this week, especially loved your fish image – the clarity is amazing!

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  2. Technology allows us to imagine space even when confined, quite like books did back in the day. Work from home has definitely added flexibility research proves that productivity has gone up, and why not, considering the over-heads have gone down considerably. What might have taken another decade to happen, covid has catapulted for us.

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  3. I was amazed in Guangzhou that in the midst of a crowd of people I had solitude. There is a Chinese word for it, but I have forgotten what it is. Coming from Colorado it was a huge change. Some of the photos I’ve posted here of the Big Empty have garnered comments like, “That kind of space terrifies me.” I feel comforted by it.

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  4. I don’t know what the geology of Mumbai allows. New York City is underlaid with deep rock and the solution way to go up to provide more space, but even then the cost of space has long been prohibitive for many average workers. Work from home has been a boon, and many are taking advantage to find more “breathing space” to the cost of developers and investors in apartments and offices. My father said, “every young man should live in New York for a year – and then go home.”

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