Young, Single And Looking For A 1BHK
He’s in his mid-30s, accomplished, wealthy, single and has come to Mumbai because of his job. When he went flat hunting in Mumbai, the rents amused him as they amuse someone for whom those stratospheric sums are little more than small change. What didn’t amuse him was the clause that every landlord insisted upon: unless they were family, members of the opposite sex were not allowed to stay overnight in the flat. “Mumbai, where bachelor pads are temples of celibacy,” he told me.
She’s in her mid-20s and a journalist. One evening, she made chicken stew to take to a friend’s party. At about 8.30pm, she stepped out of her apartment in Santa Cruz, carrying a pot of stew, when a drunk neighbour accosted her. Loudly, he told her that she had no business living in a polite housing society, that she shouldn’t think he was so stupid as to not know what’s going on with the hordes of men that come in and out of her flat at all times, that this was a respectable place and not the kind of building where women come home at strange hours of the night. Neighours could hear this man abusing the journalist and those who poked their heads out of their little apartments saw it happening before them. No one stepped out. This was in Mumbai, the city that prides itself for respecting women in general and working women in particular.
Hearing these stories, almost everyone shakes their head and laughs at his predicament. A few have observed, myopically, that if he’s gay then it shouldn’t bother him. Some didn’t find it funny but, in all seriousness, pointed out that he could pretend that the woman is a family member. “It might make him more discriminating if he needs to limit his ‘family members’ to a reasonable limit,” one person observed. However, whether or not they saw anything humorous in the clause that forbids random sleepovers, everyone was sympathetic and agreed that it was ridiculous for a landlord to behave like a dorm supervisor with their tenant.
Listening to her story, the first reaction is appalled surprise. Then in the ensuing conversation, these questions invariably surface:
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
“Does she have late nights?”
“Is she ‘modern’?”
In case you were wondering, “modern” is a euphemism for “dresses provocatively, drinks, smokes and has sex”.
Despite the fact that her case is far more serious and menacing—what if he had attacked her physically as well?—most men and women I’ve spoken to are more cautious in extending their sympathetic support to her. The reason I haven’t mentioned either of their names is because I don’t want us distracted by specifics. It doesn’t matter what his name is, if he was in your school, in college with your brother, is friends with your friend etc.
Similarly, her relationship status, dress sense and working hours should be of no consequence. Knowing his identity is unlikely to change your response to his frustration at not being able to have women stay over. However, in her case, her answers are more likely to abet her case. If she has a boyfriend, then the immediate assumption is that the apartment is being used as a sex shack. If she is single, then she’s looking for a boyfriend who will help her turn the apartment into a sex shack.
She’s a journalist so the chances of her working late are extremely high but late nights, whether due to work or partying, make her morally objectionable. And yes, she’s modern, without the double quotes. That’s why she’s living on her own, financially independent and will, in all probability, go on to do fantastic things. On the premise that she finds a flat with a landlord who doesn’t mind a working woman as a tenant.
Finding a place to stay in Mumbai has been a challenge for decades. It isn’t just because of how expensive it is. Everyone who goes flat hunting ends up with a cache of stories that liven up conversations for months afterwards. If you show me a landlord who doesn’t rent to actors, I’ll raise you one who told me the last tenants “smoked so much that the airconditioner turned yellow” or introduce you to a broker who will tell you proudly, “There are no air hostesses and Muslims in this building.”
It doesn’t end with finding a flat. In the last few months, I’ve heard of an alarming number of stories in which tenants, all of them young and single, have been kicked out summarily. Almost every young woman journalist I know who rents in Mumbai has faced landlords who are disgruntled by her working hours. As if it wasn’t bad enough that such few salaries are in tune with the cost of living in Mumbai, the place that you get after all the haranguing and hunting is one that is less a home and more a ticking bomb.
Incidentally, the journalist I spoke about earlier told her landlord that she wanted to vacate the flat because she didn’t feel safe living there after that incident, especially since no action was taken against the drunkard. The landlord told her that she must have done something to provoke him and that if she provided the week’s rent, she could vacate the flat immediately. The journalist is now flat hunting. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll meet her for a drink and she’ll add to my collection of flat hunting tales.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently the books editor at DNA.Tags: Flats, Real Estate, The Definite Article