(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 16th May 2009)
“My landlords think I’m getting married next month,” a friend of mine whined, “I thought I’d be here for one year and move back to Mumbai, but this recession’s hit, yaar, and I can’t find another job!”
“Resurrect your grandfather and kill him again,” I suggested wisely, “you get another year that way.”
When one has moved from Chennai to Delhi, the first thing that hits one as one leaves the airport is the auto. A Delhi commuter would take that sentence quite literally, but even if one is lucky enough to be physically unharmed, it impacts the iris so hard one could risk colour blindness. To someone used to black-hooded mustard autos, there’s something about lemon-hooded green autos that seems to indicate they’re being sick over themselves. When one has travelled in one, one can empathise with the motion-sickness.
The second thing that falls around one is the impenetrable blanket of language. The air is thick with Hindi, and people like me wade through it with broken sentences recalled from the CBSE Class VI to VIII Third Language syllabus.
The third thing that strikes one is that no one wants to rent out a house to one person. They all want ‘families’.
The last two epiphanies hit me simultaneously, when I found myself trying to communicate with a broker who spoke no English. Thankfully, he eavesdropped on a phone conversation I had with my mother, and told me in thrilled tones that he was Malayali and could understand Tamil. The converse being true, we got into quick secret negotiations as my prospective landlady squinted, “aap log Saauth Indian ho, kya?”
The broker then entered quick secret negotiations with her in Hindi, and then looked at me with a mildly crestfallen expression and said in Malayalam, “they only want a family. Maybe, if you don’t mind a suggestion, you can tell them you’re getting engaged and your husband will join you in a year once you get married. By then, we can find another house.”
So that was how I moved into a five-room house with a terrace and balcony. My parents were asked to encourage the myth when they visited, a duty they carried out after I painted a dire picture of being left homeless in an alien city that spoke an alien language. A couple of months later, I showed my landlords a diamond ring and turned the right shades of red. When they asked for a picture, I told them South Indians considered it unlucky for couples to pose together before marriage. I also sent my fiancé off to the United States to do an MBA, and left my landlords suitably impressed.
Inspired by my story, several of my friends have used the same tactic, but unfortunately, not with the same aplomb. A male friend of mine has resurrected and killed four sets of grandparents, got his fiancée into an accident from which she will take a year to recuperate and found convenient shanis in his horoscope.
Another carried the experiment too far, and even introduced her boyfriend to her landlords. When the relationship soured, and her landlords began enquiring about the absence of “woh”, she solicited my advice and was asked to send him off to do an MBA at Harvard.
Meanwhile, when my landlords ask me about “woh”, I wear the expression of the longing lover and tell them how much I miss “woh”, and how I won’t see him for another year.