A Pinch of Everything

I moved to a new city in December 2011 and have been looking to lease a decent apartment ever since. It has been a very difficult hunt. That’s probably due to the fact that I have NO friends here. Initially, I was too busy to make new friends and later on, I was disgusted to.

I responded to a post on one of the “Desi” websites and checked out a place. I took an instant liking to it and the girl who had posted the ad liked me. We agreed on a few terms, the most important of which included that I needed the place for two months and would extend the lease based on my work agreement. She seemed totally cool about it and nodded her head like she was a Parkinson’s patient, desperate to share the rent and utilities with me. Two weeks passed. I was supposed to move in on a Tuesday. I called her up to ask her at what time I could be there with my stuff. And she bluntly told me that she wasn’t ‘cool’ with the two month agreement and had found a new roomie. This was the minute I realized that this apartment hunting shit wasn’t going to be easy.

Staying away from home, always in a boarding school or a hostel makes you meet people of all sorts. It doesn’t teach you much though. Or perhaps I haven’t learnt much.

Now there are some Indian names that you can use to christen both girls and boys. Being a little skeptical and hoping that it would be a girl who held the name, I dialed the number. Neither was the person a woman nor was the conversation a pleasing one. The most frustrating thing was that he asked me out on a date (without even seeing me). He wanted to go wine-tasting. The second one asked me if I was on any dating sites. The third one was the most ridiculous of the lot. He apparently got my number from one of the other two guys. He had decided to call me because I was from A.P. He asked me straight to my face (or to his phone) whether I am a “party-girl” and would like to live in with him in a 1 bed-room apartment. “Just like friends, you know,” he had added.

I decided to talk to my only guy friend (he’s going to be mad at me now for pulling him into every other blog) and bitch about these men. He then warned me that there can be no “just friends” when it comes to men and that too if they mention wine-tasting. To the best of my knowledge, girls, according to Indian men, fall into two distinct categories; the boring grandmothers and the party sluts animals. So, if you are this self-sustaining woman who stays away from home and is comfortable in western clothes, you automatically fall into the second category; the kind of person who will go and get drunk with a stranger or move-in with him. They will not let you be this woman who can be happy with her freedom and be respected at the same time. Do apartment hunting women scream “Available”? This kind of sexism disgusts me.

Restricting my search to “females only” I continued to search for a new place to live. I came across this girl whose ad I liked mainly because she stayed at a convenient distance to work. I called her up. Not only was she rude but she interviewed me with questions such as, “Tell me about yourself.” I informed her that I wasn’t exactly looking to share a place and would be glad if she could provide me with some information about the leasing office (I couldn’t find anything on the internet). She adamantly declined to even give me the apartment’s name and said that she would call me back in an hour. She never called back.

I wanted the name of the place at any cost. I asked a friend in Houston who is very good at talking to strangers to come to the rescue.  I say strangers because if you actually knew my friend, you would never believe that she is sweet-spoken. Anyways, my friend called her up and said she was looking to share this place. This rude woman told my friend that she would call back to confirm. And she did. She said that the place was taken but they had a good chit chat about the city for about 15 minutes. She gave my friend the name and address of the apartments.  She also told my friend about stores that I never knew existed in this city.

As my friend narrated the entire phone conversation to me, I interrupted, “Did you talk to her in Telugu?” I asked.

“Yes, she is from A.P”, She said.

You see, that’s where I went wrong. I had spoken to her in English.

The South Indians naturally assume that I’m a Gujarati because my last name is Patel. The North Indians think I do not deserve to a Patel because I can barely connect two Hindi sentences together. I went to a Christian minority college in Chennai that had no special rights for regular people. The Tamilians who listen to me speak in their language think that it’s an attempt of sheer mockery. I actually had a guy, who worked with me briefly, call me “Sambar rice”, when he found out that I was vegetarian. Another fancy name that I’ve heard is “Chennai chepala (fish) batch” because I prefer listening to original Tamil songs instead of Telugu-songs dubbed from Tamil. I am considered “dating-material” because I am out-spoken.

Our constitution says, and we brag to the people from other nations, that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, linguistic democratic republic. This big fat essay answer looks pretty, only in the Civics notebook. Who follows it anyways? We will always be surrounded by narrow domestic walls.

My parents fell in love with each other when they were about 15 years old and they got married 10 years later, with a lot of drama because they belonged to different communities. I went to a school that helped me to realize that there is only one caste, the caste of humanity. I studied with people from different parts of the country for over a decade. I cannot read and write in my mother-tongue and I talk in English to strangers. My last name is Patel and I am not a Gujarati. I went to college that was in my neighboring state and I work in a country that’s half-way across the globe from my homeland.

Where do I belong?

And when the hell will I find a decent place to stay?