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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!