Lahar had warned me: finding a place in Bombay is a matter of luck. The first house I saw, as I’ve chronicled earlier, was worse than a pigeonhole. I was beginning to worry. How long will I have to suffer Masilini – my very own fascist dictator aunt? So a couple of days went by and a Farzana Sheikh called. Her fast and smooth Bombay talk made me a tad suspicious, but she is a woman, I thought. And she echoed the compassion and empathy of one.
The not-so-secret agent convinced me to at least check out the place. I wasn’t quite sure, but मरता क्या न करता? At the end of a tiring day, I hitched an auto and told the driver to take me where I now belong. The lane I was to enter was approached by the heavily-cursed metro railways station site and into a bazaar – fruit, veggies, puja ka samaan, chemists, slinky sequinned gowns – so far so good. Then the agent’s “लड़का” escorted me into the specific lane. And then there were smallish eateries and broilers and pet shops.
We walked and walked – I losing patience with every step and the sudden and growing silence and darkness – him losing patience because of my questions; we came to a halt right in front of the gates of my building. I met the landlady and her mother and there began a relationship. She "liked" me.
In three days I moved in – no lock, hardly any stock, and sans barrels.
My first night was uncertain. I didn’t have a pillow, but a mattress with a clean sheet was in place. The room is furnished with apparent necessities, but it is still in need of a full-length mirror. The house does not have a filter, but I have my kettle so I boil tap water. No fridge either. No gas stove.
When I woke up that first Monday in my own space, the brilliance of a big square window took me by surprise. Calm windows at respectful distance with one humouring a cage with yellow parakeets, the noise of children playing in the courtyard downstairs, and the drone of a bunch of girls singing Hindustani classical music were some of the first elements that struck me about the place. I am still not entirely in love with the place, but I’m warming up to it.
It has been about a month since I began staying at one of the many CHSes that line the maze of middle-class Four Bungalows. The lane is lined with avenue trees – Neem, Gulmohar, Mango, Ashoka. It is paved with cement tiles to reinforce the road beneath – a phenomenon that is trademark to Bombay. One end (towards Juhu) opens out to a quiet main road nearer to some good eateries (important, right?) and the other end opens out to the Manish Market – fruits, veggies, a fruit juice-and-sandwich bar, a फरसान shop, provision store, broiler, bar, medical shops, and a bank. In short, everything I need.
In a couple of years, by the time I’ll have been bored to death and preparing to leave the city once more, the Versova Metro station will also have come up. For now, I must suffer the brief spell of construction site dust each morning and late evening when I cross the junctions underneath the pillared bridge.
The place is within a 15 minute radius of my office, an ultra mega super super-specialty hospital, my aunt’s and brother’s homes, some of the best restaurants in town (again, so important no?), a few laundries, and Neel’s and my boss’s residence (the last two are inconsequential, but heck).
My landlady is the conservative types who would much rather have me home by 6 and then just hang about so she can eventually do away with the maid-cum-caretaker. I don’t return until the wee hours. I make sure I run off to Baroda over many weekends. I refuse to take charge of the place. Being responsible for a house that isn’t yours in spirit, or sans anyone to come back to is not worth it. Let it be an expensive crash pad, but I’d much rather the attachment ended there.