Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diary - Living in Jangpura Extension

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House hunting in Delhi’s middle-class neighbourhood.

[Text by Lesley E. The author runs the blogsite Bombay Boy. Picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

In August, 2006, I moved to Jangpura Extension. So many people I know love Jangpura Extension. I wanted to love it too. So what if the legendary Om Hotel serves awful oily glop. And so what if the equally legendary ham sandwich of Novelty Stores is of a type that only those with very low standards would call the best in Delhi. (The pudina chutney they serve with it is God-like.)

Its numerous parks are full of gorgeous stray dogs and huge cats, all lovingly fed by residents. Its chaotic market in Bhogal is one of the few places outside Khan Market where you can find the right ingredients for Christmas cake in season, at non-Khan Market prices. Jangpura is 10 minutes from everywhere, yet has the most reasonable rents in south-central Delhi. And the neighbouring Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin stays wide awake well past midnight. Pretty soon I too became one of the tribe that asked why more people don't live in Jangpura.

Then I found out that people have indeed discovered Jangpura. Many of these are the broker's beloved — the foreigner — and rents have gone through the roof. The lease on my house was expiring and I've been trying to find another house here for a month. There are none available for someone like me, with a budget like mine. I knew rentals had risen, but by how much? I was paying Rs 18,000 for a three-bedroom. After speaking to six brokers, Rs 22,000 is the first offer for a three-bedroom house that's grabbed before I even get a chance to see it. Fine, I'll stop drinking, and revise my budget to Rs 25,000. Brokers sound doubtful. Fine, I'll quite smoking and go up to 28. Still not enough. Ok, I'll pay 30 and get a night job. With my much fattened budget, I felt confident that I would soon be choosing between a variety of nice houses in the colony I love.

We first got to look at three monstrosities, but at least we discovered Jangpura's Telegraph Office in A Block, all but forgotten in this SMS-age. We loved the board with its suggested greetings: 'Heartiest wishes on the anniversary of the Republic'. 'Congratulations on passing board exam'. 'Greetings on the occasion of Bihu'. We promptly sent off two telegrams that caused panic to the receivers, who thought someone somewhere had died. We determined to look till the end but not leave this lovely colony.

Then I got a promising call. The house in O Block was gorgeous. "Are you a Christian", the lady asked, seeing my card. Yes, I said, you could say that. "Ek to aap aurat hai aur woh bhi Christian. You must be eating a lot of meat." This I was not prepared for. Misogyny and homophobia I know how to handle. No matter how ridiculous it feels as a lesbian to hear landlords concerns that you are unmarried single women, and all kinds of men will come visiting at all kinds of hours, that I am prepared for. Yes, I said, I eat all kinds of meat. "How often do you eat it?" "As often as I can." The broker is making goo-goo eyes at me. I think he wants me to stop speaking. I tell the broker despite their rudeness I will take their house anyway. They tell him out on three counts – woman, Christian, journalist. The broker implores me to tell landlords I am vegetarian. "Bolne mein kya hai, paisa to nahi lagta na."

The next house I see is a bargain. A 3-bedroom duplex right opposite where I live. I can just throw my bed over the balcony and across the street to move. I speak to the owner. He asks what I do. I tell him I am a journalist with the Outlook group. He asks if this is an Indian company. Obviously, I say, this is India. No thanks, he says, only MNCs will do.

A week goes by. Finally I hear of a place in D Block. I set off to see it but halfway there the broker calls to say it is owned by a vegetarian family, and they say no point in even bringing a Christian to see their flat. There was just something about the way it was said, which made me feel like a pollutant. I wanted to give someone a very tight slap.

Another two weeks pass and finally the phone rings. Again I set off to see a house. Again I'm stopped on my way there: No, because I am a journalist. What on earth could be the issue with journalists? Apparently, we 'make trouble' for landlords.

I finally spoke to no less than 17 brokers, all of whom have bhajans as ringtones. Brokers in Jangpura seem to largely worship Mata Vaishno Devi. Having trawled through the lot in this colony populated by scared people, scared of every kind of Other, I think I finally know the profile. So if this fits you, Jangpura is the place for you: A) Non-Indian, yaani ki white. B) If Indian (kya kare), family man with only male issues, non-smoking, non-drinking, vegetarian devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi, working for non-media industry blue-chip MNC company in Fortune 500 list.

As for me, I gave up. But despite the torment of the past month, I still love Jangpura. You see, I am Christian. I prevailed on my landlady to extend my lease. Bless her heart, she will. All my scared neighbours should note, the meat-eating, trouble-making freak remains in your midst. Keep your doors locked!


Raza Rumi said...

Lesley: this was a fabulous piece - extremely witty and evocative. I felt as if I was walking from house to house with the multitude of brokers with bhajan inspired phones ringing and dietary habits being scrutinized..

This is also a great study of Delhi from 'below' - as it lays out the inner sub-cultures and perceptions within the metropolis: the local versus the foreign, MNC vs Indian, vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian, etc not to mention the layered identities: Christian, woman and journalist- all thrown in this existential melting pot ...

thanks for enriching the Delhi Wallah and amusing distant readers such as myself..

I am almost tempted to write a piece on how I was given a rough time by wily brokers as an expatriate..

Anonymous said...

What’s wrong if people have bhajans have as their ring tones? Why is the author unhappy about it? This is not religious fundamentalism. The world will be a better place if people start believing in god. Doesn’t matter if he is Krishna, Jesus or Allah.

hnewdelhi said...

I must admit this is very entertaining - the piece itself, as well as the comment about God up there.
I've only seen Jangpura from the flyover while commuting, but it looks a singularly desolate place. Especially compared to the vibrancy of our Gutter Klass.

hbat300 said...

I have grown up in Jangpura. I left Jangpura 28 years back. Jangpura is a beautiful place to live. I would prefer H, K, J and E blocks.
About your article: In seventies I have the same impression about the christians behaviour means how they dress up, drinking, easy to have love affairs etc. In Jangpura people were/ (I do not still they are) from medium class families and possibly most of their parents were refugies from undivided pakistan. Still I think in medium class families girls/ woman do not sit openely with men to drink bear or whisky even in most of the cases they do not drink at all. In india tradition most of the marriages are arranged marriages. In addition to that in such families some members of the family or the whole families are vegetarians. And they do not eat beaf at all. When we combine all these, in my opinion, they think that they would spoil/disturb their family values by allowing a single christian lady to live in their appt. I (Hindu) live in a family where my wife and four kids are christians. I was confident for a long time that in general christians have less moral family values then we indians from Jangpura. In general I can say all these medium families in Jangpura are fantastic once you have created a social relationship with then it does not matter whether you christian or Hindu. Their main concern is "bad" christian behaviour rather than your religion. Just try to have relationship with them avoiding drinking, eating beaf or man/woman relationship topics at first instance. You can say yes you eat meat but prefer vegetables and change the topic. About friends you can say you have many friends and very much impressed by indian traditions. Hope this could help you have a better understanding with them.

Aring said...

Interesting read...all very much a reality and something we live with almost everyday...

DW said...

Very interesting observation!Arrived in Jangpura Ext a week ago and will remain here for the next several months. M glad that I didn't have to go through all the process of finding an apartment as my predecessor have already done that for me :) Haven't gone around much but seems like the place is nice to live.

Indu said...

Hi Lesley, loved your post! Am moving to Jangpura Extension this weekend- I'm a journalist too, and a single girl, hard-core non-veg and 'half' Christian. Thankfully dint encounter problems on those counts tho but maybe cos I'm moving to a PG (nice flat's sorta out of my budget now). Hope the niceness of the place makes up for the size of my room :D
Merry Christmas!
PS- The photos are amazing, too
PS2- Some of the comments are entertaining, too eg "bad Christain behaviour" (!!)

talwar1948 said...

Dear Lesley,
I did go around your web site, especially "Living in Jangpura Extension" and your great receipes and Om Hotel for food etc.
We also own a property in C Block, and last year during my visit back home we renovated it,and is available for rent / lease, and is fully furnished etc.
I wrote here, on your diary, just in case any of your friends were looking for 1 BHK GF fully furnished accommodation.

Please feel free to write me a email, to know more about it.
A Talwar

Anonymous said...

Quite an entertaining piece this, Good job! And thanks for the heads up. Just what I was looking for, I moved into O Block two days ago. The neighbourhood is lovely, albeit, rather silent.
Add another to the surprising number of and single christian female jouralists from Jangpura =)
Once again, thank you google.
Seasons Greetings!