On our arrival in Delhi after ten long years in Muscat, our first task was to find a house suitable for rent. So off my mom and I went house-hunting. The first flat we saw in Chittranjan Park (also called the mini-Calcutta of Delhi) appeared spacious enough to accommodate my two-year-old niece and her toys. No more, no less. My mother called it a railway compartment, which was a fairly apt description. We rejected it without much thought.
The second flat we saw stood on the ground-floor, satisfactory in most ways, except that it was infested with ants. To my mind, it looked little more than a two-bedroom version of an ant-hill. The owner of this place invited us in and as soon as he was told that we were from Calcutta, he royally proclaimed that he disliked all people hailing from there. My father’s colleague, who was accompanying us, promptly replied that he also despised people staying inC.R.Park. At this, the landlord quickly said that he wouldn’t be able to vacate the premises before a month. As we could not be expected to spend this period on the roadside, this house was also struck off the list of prospective candidates.
I must mention that the rent of neither of these flats was any the less because of their inherent disadvantages.
Finally we came to a somewhat spacious three BHK accommodation on the first floor. It appeared to be the most attractive proposition for us, as it was located on the main road, and within walking distance of the market. The landlord was a wizened old man, and after some discussion, we soon fixed the deal. Within a few days, the agreements were made and duly signed. And so we started living in our first flat in Delhi.
Like in V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, we also discovered the disadvantages of the home soon after moving in. The plans of the ground and first floor were identical, and as such our voices carried easily to the ground floor, and vice versa. So we could not curse our landlords without their overhearing us. We also got no opportunity to marvel at the clothes they wore, which looked as though they had taken the hole in the ozone layer for inspiration. The attire they wore outside their home was still tolerable, but their household clothes bore gaping holes in them, and they proudly hung these Polo-type clothes out to dry in full view of the general public.
We were taken aback by this kind of attitude. But apparently we hadn’t seen enough yet. Frequently, the wizened old man and his wife got into an argument, and used words that compelled my father to ask us, “Are we living in a slum or a civilized area?”
After a goodish five years of mortal suffering at the hands of these intolerable people, we quit the house. My mother had fished out a good ad from the newspaper, and on seeing that this new flat was more spacious, convinced my father to shift in there. But as an old proverb goes, Old is Gold. So naturally, this house was destined to give us more trouble than the previous one.
First of all the landlord was incurably rude. He could even make “Good Morning” sound like a swear-word. Secondly, there was an office situated next to the house. Lastly, and we had observed this in the previous house also, the landlord and his family were none too keen on socializing with us. We later found out from friends in that area that this was the general attitude of landowners towards their tenants. Leave aside talking to tenants, they said, the landlords didn’t even socialize amongst themselves.
The landlord’s family consisted of himself, his wife, daughter and son. The daughter was just a bit older than me. This lot also argued incessantly. Sometimes the quarrels reached such proportions that we feared there would be a murder in the house.
And here also the slum-talk did not abate. We once heard the daughter call her father a word, which I cannot and will not repeat here for fear of expulsion from Polite Society.
Then there was the office. The chief of this office often used to come out into the open air outside our bedroom, with the purpose of carrying on a conversation on his mobile. The nature of his discussions and the tone of his voice suggested that he was just a little less powerful than the late Dhirubai Ambani.
Within some months, I felt that I would be able to take over his business immediately, as I had gleaned all the details of his operations in India and elsewhere.
Another source of entertainment here was that the wife was named after a famous painting, which she didn’t resemble at all.
After a good deal of torment in this house also, my mother and I decided to shift again, and thus embarked on our second round of house-hunting. We were informed by a friend of a good flat nearby itself, and so we went to visit this place. It was on the first floor, and the landlord claimed it had three bedrooms. On going through a tour of the house, which took no more than five minutes, I found that it was curiously reminiscent of the ‘railway compartment’ flat, with the exception that it had three berths. The balcony attached to the living room afforded a magnificent view of the temple, and this was probably the only factor that prompted my mother to consider it as one of the most beautiful houses she had seen in her life. On reaching home I pointed out to her that if we took that flat it was likely that we would have to sleep out on the balcony, as the rest of the space inside the house would be taken up by our furniture. My mother was convinced, and after rejecting that flat, we went on to see another one which was arranged for by an agent.
After looking around the entire house, which took nearly half-an-hour, we came to the conclusion that it was large enough to comfortably accommodate up to five generations of our family. And if it didn’t have a sufficient number of occupants, it would be little more than what we called a bhoot-bungalow. In despair we turned to an old friend who was quite efficient in estate matters. Within days, he showed us a house which was spacious, decorated, and had all the facilities we could wish for. And thankfully, this time the flat-owners were a friendly Punjabi family. So right now, we’re living comfortably but are perpetually on tenterhooks because we never know when the landlords will change their mind and turn against us.
This article was first published in Deccan Herald.