In 1995, my family, after a fascinating decade spent in the Middle East
among the exotic Arabs, returned to our homeland. On arrival in New Delhi, our first task was to locate suitable accommodation
for rent. ‘Tis not so easy, we discovered, especially if you seek residence in the mini-Calcutta of Delhi – Chittaranjan
Park. My mother and I, blissfully ignorant, went off house hunting armed with addresses provided by an enterprising estate
agent of that area.
The first dwelling we saw had two bedrooms, each no larger than a solitary railway berth. We summarily
rejected it, and in subsequent conversation, called it ‘the pigeon-hole’.
Our second place of calling was
a ground-floor apartment whose exterior appeared quite promising. But no sooner had we entered the house that the landlord,
after brief introductions, stated grandly, “I do not like Bengalis from Calcutta”. Since that exactly described
us, my mother promptly replied, “I do not like Bengalis of Chittaranjan Park”.
And on these less-than-amiable
terms we parted, the rent and other details left un-discussed.
We turned out to be third time lucky, or so we thought.
The next flat we saw was 3-bedroomed, spacious and in a prime location. We negotiated terms with the landlord, and within
a week we had settled into our first house in Delhi.
In the following five years we saw that the owners who lived on
the ground floor were untidy, unkempt and uncouth. At the end of this period, when we were regularly receiving electrical
shocks due to wires protruding from all possible crevices, we decided to shift. This time around, the first house we saw was
immediately satisfactory, and we needed look no further.
What we didn’t know was that we had merely shifted
into the ground floor of an uncertified asylum. The landlord and his family quarreled during all their waking hours, and used
words that I cannot repeat here for fear of expulsion from Polite Society.
In addition to these murderous rows,
an office adjacent to the house perpetually harassed us. The chief of this establishment often came out into the open air
outside our bedroom, with the purpose of conversing on his mobile. The nature of his discussions and the tone of his voice
indicated that he was only less powerful than the late Dhirubai Ambani.
Two years later, we embarked on a second
phase of house hunting. This time, the first flat we saw was curiously reminiscent of ‘the pigeon-hole’, and the
second large enough to accommodate five families. Fortunately, we located an apartment that comfortably balanced these extremes.
The owning family is decidedly friendly, but we live in perpetual fear of their turning hostile.