For those of us who do not call Delhi our original home, finding accommodation is a tough prospect. We have to match budget with safety and facilities available. And in Delhi (I’m not qualified to comment on other places), this is a tough prospect. In Bombay, the higher you go, the better the view and therefore more desirable the apartment. Of course, the prices follow the person up each flight of stairs. In Delhi, the reverse is true- cēterīs paribus, the higher you go, the worse the view and the less desirable the apartment and of course, to the delight of most of us non-Delhites, the cheaper the rent!
Even among us roof-top dwellers there is a hierarchy. First come the “room-set”. This usually means randomly placed rooms (not necessarily adjoining) on a rooftop called a barsati. If you’re lucky, the bathroom will be next to the room you’ve made into your bedroom; and if you’re really lucky, the door to the bathroom will open into that room so you don’t have to make a trip outside in extreme heat or extreme cold. You pay the landlord/lady a ridiculous amount of rent for a room that can barely fit a single bed and a steel almirah (cupboard). Your desk is your suitcases piled one on top of the other with a wooden board for a table top. For food you either pay a dabba service or your landlady. She keeps a tab on how many times you open the fridge and how often you put on the cooler. Oh, and she wants you home by 7pm latest because she has to have her dinner at 8 and lock up before that!
Next comes the pseudo-flats still on a rooftop, but they usually have about two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. Here the deadline is anywhere between 10-12pm; but in this case the landlord / landlady needs to know what time you’re going to be home and usually keeps a look out for you. Then come the flats ranging from just under the roof downwards with or without marble flooring upon which depends your increment in rent!
For those lucky enough to match floor height with budget, the battle has only just begun. The next obstacle is the “interview” with the landlord (or worse still, the landlady!). This interview could last anywhere from 2 seconds where a glance dismisses either party or an hour where after all your personal details are duly ascertained, you could still be dismissed. Dismissal could depend on whether you’re a student or not, whether the salary you earn is enough to pay the rent (yes, one even asked to see a copy of my pay cheque), or even whether you’re female and single or female and married. If you’re female, married is usually better because then, it is presumed, you’re more “stable” or your “character” can be vouched for! If you’re single, proving that you have a moral character worth renting to can be exhausting. The most ridiculous question I’ve ever faced (and more often than not) is why am I still single? One went as far as to ask – You’ve been in Delhi two years and still not found a husband? tut tut! The answers to these questions determine the cost of the flat – being single and without any prospect for marriage means you have to be willing to pay more to cover the landlord’s mythical risk! Its the economics of being single I suppose!
Oftentimes, one will face this discrimination at the level of the broker, even BEFORE you meet the landlord. I saw one flat in a DDA complex where the flat was too spacious and well done up for the asking price. I walked out and realised why. There were two flats per floor and right in the centre of the wall on the landing was a well done up text box duly printed on executive bond paper that read Ms. So-&-So, Flat no. X, 2nd Floor, followed by the phone number!!!! It was the flat immediately adjoining the one I was being shown.
Lets presume you’ve been lucky after various attempts (and having lost a lot of hair to worry) to have found your floor-rent price match and passed the interview. The next step is moving in …. observation: my you have a lot of things for just one person! My response: really? I thought I needed a chair to sit on, unless single women in you’re experience sit on the floor in an empty house? (that usually shuts them up). The first month or so, your neighbours are curious about you – they go to the landlord for the story – where is she from? the moment you say ‘Bombay’ they get suspicious! Then, the old aunties and uncles will do their own version of interviewing – beta, don’t you think you’ve been coming so late? Do they really keep you this late at the office? Or another one of my personal favourite … beta, we would like to meet your mother and father…when are they coming to visit? As if firm in the belief that possession of parents and their materialization will ensure character and excuse my coming late from work!
Even after you settle in, you have to remain vigilant – is the electricity meter running too fast, do you get water on time, is the roof leaking in the wierdest of places? is the landlady’s son using your room to study when you’re not there? does your land lord want to sell the flat before your lease is up? All dreaded questions and answers. Three different sets of people I know are searching for accomodation in Delhi – one set needs to move out because the land lady’s brother is coming back and she was staying in his flat and now has no place to live; another set needs to move out because the landlord’s neighbour rented his apartment to expatriates for an exhorbitant fee – he figures that if he throws his current tenents out and fixes up the place nicely, he could do much better than his neighbour! The last set of people I know who are searching for a place are due to be married in October. All three have been searching for at least three weeks or so. I called up the broker I used to get my place and told him about these three – madam, you understand (he said), the prices have gone up and a nice respectable apartment in south delhi needs to be matched in price!
So far so good … I have another eight months on my lease (or so I hope, my fingers are crossed for luck).