Scrambling around New Delhi with a real-estate agent in search of an apartment only to slam down a property agent’s fee, deposit and find furniture that fits, is about as much fun as cleaning off betel nut spittle from your shoes.
Ok, maybe it’s not that bad.
As a foreigner, apparently, I can’t really complain. Apparently, even though I’m a single woman in this city, I have a golden ticket to this process, a pass-go-and-collect-$200 card—the all-American easy pass. “You don’t know how lucky you are,” my friend Chiya tells me. Feeling victorious after finding a flat (however marked up the rent may be) in Defence Colony, I was all smiles. But Chiya informs me I don’t know half the battle she and most single Indian women face when flat hunting in Delhi.
A competitive real-estate market is the least of her worries, she tells me.
The landlords don’t ask if she can pay the rent. They want to know if she—a bubbly, well-groomed, single, and employed 29-year-old—will bring sex to the neighbourhood.
My jaw drops. Seriously?
Chiya first lived on her own in university, married and then divorced. Her parents live in South Delhi, but she prefers to live on her own. A choice afforded by her income. “It’s an exhausting process,” Chiya moans as she recounts her recent search for a home sweet home. “I became a broken record. They ask, ‘Why do you want to live alone?’ I say, ‘Um, because I think I’m old enough’.”
After three months of full-time searching, Chiya found a flat in Chittaranjan Park. It came complete with a list of rules from the landlord: No boys, certainly no sleepovers with boys, no late nights out and no loud parties.
The “rules” come from concern, Chiya grudgingly explains. If you’re a single Indian woman living on your own, the landlady feels she must watch out for you—just like your family would.
“It’s an Indian mentality,” Sonia Kakkar, a landlady in South Delhi says. “We just feel more protective. You just feel that you are responsible.”
As a foreigner, Chiya and Sonia tell me, the “rules” don’t apply. I’m already a weird western female roaming around on my own in a city far away from my home. If I come and go at odd hours of the night and invite boys over, it’s not going to sway opinions already planted by foreign movies about my loose western morals.
My landlord seems to have no qualms about how I live—with a Frenchman, a platonic situation for splitting rent—but I wonder what the neighbourhood guards think when on any given Wednesday, I go out with my flatmate; on a Friday, I get picked up by another male friend; and then on Saturday, I leave on my own and get dropped off by yet another friend.
K.K. Pandey, 40, a guard in the South Delhi neighbourhood of Anand Niketan, tells me he couldn’t care one way or the other about what the foreign women coming and going do.
“Times have changed,” K.K. says. “People have personal choice.”
But he notes rumours fly if there is a “night halt” by a male friend. It places some question on the girl’s “personal credit”, he says. We’re not talking money here, we’re talking character.
So, if times have changed, would he let his daughter live the way foreign women do?
I get a one-word answer.
Nice double standard. This certainly didn’t make me feel any better about how I am perceived as a single woman living in this city, but Renu Addlakha, a sociologist at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, lays it out for me.
“If I were you, I would just get over it,” she says. “There is no way the guard doesn’t think you are having an affair with your room mate. That concept hasn’t arrived here yet. Certainly not for the guard.”
I guess everyone has a role to play in Delhi’s paradox.All right then. I’ll get over myself
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