Ah, these greedy landlords! The rant of every artist/designer/hipster of Hauz Khas Village. Wasn’t it once just another ugly village in south Delhi, notwithstanding its picturesque ruins? Wasn’t it us the long-haired bohemians who made it oh-so-cool? So cool that rents skyrocketed and landlords kicked us out for those willing to pay more (the prime location on the main street could command 1.5 lakh a month).

In June, Outlook magazine ran a story, saying: “Greedy owners, big brands and rude money cramp the folksy chic of Hauz Khas Village".

Mange Ram Gochhwal, 55, looks puzzled by the first charge. A landlord in the village, he lives in a monument-facing abode with his wife, son, daughter and 17 tenants. Lounging on a soft leather sofa, he says very politely, “Myself greedy? It’s the demand and supply of the market. There are big chains tempting us to lease out our homes to them at such high rates you cannot imagine. A day might come when, like a few other landlords, I will move to Vasant Kunj or Gurgaon, and this whole house will be on rent."

Mange Ram Gochhwal’s pink house , as seen from the monument

Cars are the new cows. “My father had two buffaloes," says Gochhwal. “I have a Volkswagen Polo, Škoda, Alto, Accent and a Toyota Fortuner… it’s an SUV. At least 10 families (here) have SUVs."

The village has become completely urbane. Concrete blocks have come up everywhere, save for a row of shanties on the southern side, which are home to the area’s street vendors, a no-go area for shoppers. A lovely old-fashioned panchayat building on the main street doubled up as a primary school; it was demolished two years ago. Close by, a temple survives.

The crowd in the village comprises of stylishly-dressed visitors. The sights of some local women—their faces hidden beneath dupattas—could be a culture shock to some. The inside lanes stink of drainage.

Village folklore tells of a Muslim zamindar presiding over it 400 years ago. Since his two sons could not take care of the sprawling estate, they invited a Jat family from Mohammadpur Nangli village in Alwar, Rajasthan, promising them one-third of the land for free.

Gochhwal with his family in the drawing room

Today, every family in the village survives, and thrives, on the rent money. “We have," says Gochhwal, “40 restaurants and 60 landlords (in the village), of which 15 are those who were not the residents here but purchased the land for commercial interests."

Some landlords have leased out parts of their houses to restaurants, boutiques, galleries and studios. Some keep lodgers. Gochhwal’s four-storey mansion consists of two dozen furnished rooms, the most expensive accommodation being a two-room set at a monthly rent of 25,000.

The house is like a mini United Nations. There are tenants from Brazil, South Africa, France, England, the US, Japan, and India. A Spanish cinema PhD student left two months ago. One room houses a certain Mr George from Georgia. “We prefer firangis," Gochhwal says, “They are cleaner, politer, and efficient with water management, and they pay the rent on time."

The lodgers include a fashion designer, an event manager, a real estate entrepreneur, a doctor, an engineer and a magician.

“I took my first tenant in 1997 for 10,000 a month," Gochhwal says. “He was a car financier."

The monument as seen from Gochhwal’s balcony

From Gochhwal’s balcony, we can see tourists walking around the monument, guidebooks and cameras in hand. One man attempts a yoga asana in the garden. Another, a woman in straw hat and sarong, is painting on an easel-mounted canvas.

“I was born in Out of the Box," says Gochhwal. He means the building which houses the café of that name. That was his father’s original residence. Later, the family built another house at the site of his present address. “This place, where we are now, was a semi-wilderness of stones and bushes. We first raised a shed for our cattle and farm equipment. Later, we turned it into a seating area for the family’s men. The women continued to live in the old house."

That house still belongs to Gochhwal’s extended family. In the 1990s, one of his brothers rented out a portion to Village Bistro, perhaps the earliest restaurant in Hauz Khas Village. It was closed during the sealing drive in 2006. Gochhwal never tried its delicacies. He rarely dines out. Living amid some of Delhi’s most loved places to eat, he has only once tasted Yeti’s Tibetan food. He has never been to Gunpowder.

The village’s main lane

Indeed, some of the sons in the village might end up like their elders.

“Every evening, the village’s old men sit on the main lane and watch the girls walk by on their way to restaurants," says Gochhwal. “The grandfathers stay out till late hours and don’t get up even when their families start calling them on their phones to come home for dinner."

And what does Gochhwal do in the evening?

The landlord starts laughing.

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