Saturday, November 19, 2005

My new hovel

After a long and arduous search (most of which was undertaken not by me but by my darling pseudo-husband), I have secured housing in New Delhi.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

I arrived last Saturday and immediately, S and I went searching. S had been scouring the market for about three weeks, viewing places here and there. Our budget was about Rs 10,000, but we were willing to pay Rs 12,000 in the name of protecting the white girl from Delhi's more nefarious elements. S had his heart set on remaining in Nizamuddin East or expanding to Defence Colony. He also considered flats in Jangpura, Greater Kailash and Hauz Khas, but invented excuses (ranging from "I've heard their water is bad" -- what water in Delhi ISN'T bad? -- to "There's too many people on the street") to keep me from getting too excited about any of those prospects.

We first saw two flats he had shortlisted: one in Nizamuddin West, which would be vacated in December or January, and one in the A block of Defence Colony, perfect except for the fact that it was owned by The General.

I dismissed the first offhand, as we couldn't wait a month or two for housing; the second was, as he said, lovely with the exception of its landlords. So as not to shock the man, a retired general pushing 80 and nearly deaf, S had told him and his wife that he wanted simple accomodation for himself and his new American wife. The man, a codger who refused to let the place out for the last two years because no one suitable approached him, seemed receptive to the idea. The first words out of his mouth, eyes widening? "Your wife is very beautiful." Implying..."and you are very unattractive. How in the hell did you snag this naive phirang?"

So we had tea, and The General began to expound.

"We are very old, and we are needing people who are quiet and not going to bother us. You are seeming to be very nice people."

We nodded. "Yes sir, thank you sir."

His wife entered and sat near me. S continued to ingratiate himself to The General. His wife launched into a diatribe, generally aimed at me, I suppose.

"You are seeming very nice. We have been alone a long time. Our son, he is gone..." (pointing to a picture hung above their mantle, festooned with a garland of wilting orange flowers) "...and our other son, he is what you say crippled. He is very...he does not like to be seen. He will not be seen in Delhi. His wife and his daughter, a very young girl, they live upstairs, and we are afraid of what may happen to him. She stays here for making the money, while he stays...away from Delhi. He will not come. She will go see him soon."

A pregnant pause. I grimace a bit, my most tender grimace, but a grimace nonetheless.

"So we are hoping that the persons who move in will be able to come to our succour. We don't have anyone to take care of us anymore, and we are very old..."

She trails off, and I squeeze S's arm. The pair rambles on, expostulating on a number of subjects. Nearly an hour has passed. If I have to live with this every day, I will go mad. After a few more minutes, we excuse ourselves, thank them for allowing us to look at their residence, and promise to follow up.

Which means that in a day or two we will invent some wacky story about how the broker wants an insane amount of money, and we can't possibly pay for this, we are very humble people, etc. Lies, lies, it's all a web of lies!

Again we take to the streets. A lovely, marble-floored palace in Jangpura, delightful inside but in the midst of a chaotic, traffic-choked street. S disapproves.

A similar pristine space in Janpura Extension. Lovely, but that it overlooks a sewer. No, no, it will not do.

One-room flat with a shared kitchen, much admired by S's brother P (who is in hotel school). I don't share. Next.

Then a reasonable Defence Colony second floor place, nice and airy, though expensive. And another, rather nice if lived in, but with a strange floor layout.

We jumped on the Def Col second floor flat, hoping to bargain the landlord down from Rs 15,000 to Rs 12,000, stretching the budget a bit. He would only go to Rs 13,000. In a moment of insanity, we decided that this was fine as well.

And thus ended our yatra. A search epic and unending, peopled by eccentric characters looking to board only vegetarian foreigners married to Sistine nuns who would tolerate the absence of a shower and running water. A search that introduced to me the idea that I am far too fabulously attractive for S.

A search that, thankfully, has ended.

Postscript: Now the real work -- buying things, cleaning, and making the hovel habitable. This morning was spent mopping floors and cleaning a range procured for us by Dr K, our landlord. Tonight we'll search for curtains. S is scouring the black market for a gas cylinder, as rumour has it that no new connections will be approved in Delhi for at least the next six months. We've booked subscriptions to four newspapers -- The Hindu, Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Indian Express -- and we have mattresses. All systems are go.


Bishwanath Ghosh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bishwanath Ghosh said...

I love your recent posts for two reasons: one, the descriptions are vivid and very well-crafted; two, they bring me back memories of Delhi where I lived before moving to Chennai. After reading you, I feel like returning -- at once!