Zenobia D. Driver
Having changed my residence thrice in the last two years, I am quite an expert on house hunting now. I have realized that apart from pleasing sundry relatives, marriage and kids would also endear me to house-owners who look askance at single, independent women. Often I have given cold, unwelcoming landlords / landladies a long story about Mummy coming to live with me and watched their stern visage soften. Unfortunately, this is often followed by the inevitable questions about why one is not married, when one plans to get married etc and one must always be prepared to politely answer or diplomatically change the topic.
If one is a single woman looking for a house to rent, a plain-jane/jassi persona is far more advantageous as compared to a cool pseud persona – most house owners are terrified of women with ‘modern’ morals bringing boyfriends over and having wild parties. While house-hunting it is always better to wear a salwar-kameez and dupatta –the dupatta not wantonly flung over the shoulder but worn in sober Jassi style. Make-up is a strict no-no, unless it is kajal and bindi, thus firmly reaffirming one’s closeness to Indian traditions and morals.
Taking one’s friend / colleague along to check out the house also requires careful strategy and planning. The person must be of the same gender as one. A person of opposite gender is permissible only if accompanied by his spouse, thus clearly indicating his non-availability for night-time frolic with the tenant-to-be. However, even a couple may jeopardize one’s chances of getting a house if they act too senti in public or look too modern, thus resembling the section of modern youngsters that have a pretty flexible definition of marriage and enjoy group frolic.
Some cities are worse than others. In Bombay, transactions tend to be more or less commercial in nature with fewer extraneous considerations. A few owners do come up with random conditions like not wanting non-veg cooked in the house, but they tend to agree once you threaten to back out of the deal (dunno if this is true for all-jain or all-sindhi buildings). In Calcutta, house owners create maximum fuss and inconvenience – many of my colleagues were asked to produce a print-out of their resume and were interviewed by the owner before he would agree to rent out the house.
Real estate agents, across cities, are, at best a lazy bunch who do nothing other than show you the house; in some cases they are downright shady. Allowing them to negotiate or enter into any discussion with the owner directly is a huge mistake. I had a lucky escape once when I was about to hand over a cheque for the brokerage amount to a real estate agent’s representative when the said rep had plans of running away from the city with the money. For days after that, I had nightmares about this guy entering my house with the second key and killing me.
Then I moved to Bangalore and met the real estate agent who smashed my ego and danced on the fragments with hob-nailed boots. This guy is a smooth – talking character who convinced me to look at a house because it was ‘a very beautiful house, madam, almost as beautiful as you’. I realised how old, disheveled, decrepit I looked when I saw the house – the whitewash was peeling, the floor was dirty, there were cockroach droppings and dead cockroaches everywhere, every plug-point and switchboard was broken, the lights were missing and all the walls had random pencil lines and scribbles running across them. It is not a coincidence that I started applying a face-pack and exercising regularly after that.
To end, a poem by Sophie Hannah which sums up the whole process beautifully :
It's a poem called 'You Won't Find a Bath in Leeds', and it's a revenge poem about a lettings agent my boyfriend and I dealt with when we first moved to Leeds. He actually tried to convince us that we would never find a flat with a bath in it, and to settle for one that only had a shower.
You won't find a bath in Leeds
From the River Cam and the A14
To the Aire and the tall Ml,
We left the place where home had been,
Still wondering what we'd done,
And we went to Yorkshire, undeterred
By the hearts we'd left down South
And we couldn't believe the words we heard
From the lettings agent's mouth.
He showed us a flat near an abbatoir
Then one where a man had died
Then one with nowhere to park our car
Then one with no bath inside.
With the undertone of cheering
Of a person who impedes,
He looked straight at us, sneeering,
'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
'We have come to Leeds from Cambridge.
We have heard that Leeds is nice.
A bath is seen in Cambridge
As an integral device,
So don't tell me that a shower
Is sufficient to meet my needs,'
I said. I received a glower
And 'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
He fingered a fraying curtain
And I said, 'You can't be sure.
Some things in life are uncertain
And that's what hope is for.
One day I might meet Robert Redford
At Bristol Temple Meads.
I've found baths in Bracknell and Bedford
And I might find a bath in Leeds.'
He replied with a refutation
Which served to increase our pain
But we didn't head for the station
Or run for a rescue train,
Though we felt like trampled flowers
Who'd been set upon by weeds.
We told him to stuff his showers
And we would find a bath in Leeds.
Some people are snide and scathing
And they try to undermine
Your favourite form of bathing
Or the way you write a line.
At night, while you're busy praying
That your every plan succeeds,
There are killjoys somewhere saying,
'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
A better definition
Might be reading all of Proust,
But the concept of ambition
Has been radically reduced.
While the London wits are burning
Their cash in the Groucho club,
In Yorkshire we're simply yearning
To locate an enamel tub.
I win, Mr Bath Bad Tidings.
I have not one bath but two.
En-suite in the sweet West Ridings
And no bloody thanks to you.
I may never run fast, or tower
Over Wimbledon's top seeds
Or hit sixes like David Gower
But I have found a bath in Leeds.