Don't hang your dirty laundry in public!
Sharing a rented house was one of the most fun things I did at college, but it also taught me a funny thing or two about landlords. I thought I was prepared for all kinds: landlords overly concerned if I ate veg or non-veg food, what religion I practiced, whether I’d be a good girl and be home early and never bring boys home, whether I’d be as OCD about house cleaning as they wanted me to be.
Like I said, I thought I was prepared.
But landlords are a funny species. They seem to take particular delight in coming up with new ways to torture young tenants.
But hey – since we’re young, we make sure we torture them too. That’s the only way things can stay in equilibrium. Sometimes you’ve got to feel sorry for them – poor creatures who have to deal with not just their own sorry lives but also the crazy mess of other young lives. Then the feeling passes and each side can go back to being at wary war again.
A PG in Pune is a fine thing. First the agent showed me and my parents houses without windows. Then the house where the beds were in the kitchen. He told us cheerfully that I could use the kitchen counters for studying. One landlady told us we couldn’t have guests for more than 15 minutes at a time. Else we’d have to pay a fine. My parents were rapidly reconsidering the whole plan of higher education for me.
Finally, a new agent showed us a house with 3 bedrooms and a massive kitchen, all to be shared by six girls. Everyone beamed at each other. It didn’t matter that the house was in the shadow of the landlord’s house. The next day I moved in. As I was walking my parents out, we all yelped. There in the grass under the seetaphal tree was a big fat snake gliding by. My mother once more – briefly – considered the option of putting me in her handbag and taking me home.
I lived there for two full years. It was a sanctuary, a soap opera and a complete madhouse.
There was my youngest roommate, a 16-year-old straight out of boarding school who brought a new boy home every week. Boys were not allowed, of course. Our landlord and landlady had said this was a strict no-no, but the girl we shall call Baby pretended this was strictly in our imagination.
Once, Baby’s roommate walked into the house – where the front door was open and their own bedroom was also open – at the moment when Baby was attempting to become a Woman. Naked with a friend. The roommate gasped and ran out. When Baby was later scolded for stupidity, as well as possibly drawing fire from the very virtuous looking young landlord’s family, she denied the whole thing. “I wasn’t making out with Rajat. We were just exchanging sweaters!”
We couldn’t decide – did our landlord just keep missing Baby’s boys, or was he suffering them along with us?
There was my own roommate who, between leaving bhujiya on the bed and dried up rotis between beds and pale green cheese under the bed, was rather forgetful. I woke up one night convinced I was in a horror movie, but nope, it was just that she’d set the gas cylinder on fire. I jumped up and clutched my wallet and laptop, prepared to race out. Everyone was either yelling or gathering up their favourite things. Then out of nowhere came a pale moustached man in a white kurta-pyjama. Our landlord to the rescue!
He walked into the kitchen without talking to us, used tongs to reach through the flames around the stove and simply shut the gas connection down. Then, without saying anything, he walked back past us quivering in our pyjamas.
For the next week we kept waiting to be summoned and chucked out of our lovely house with the seetaphal tree and chikoo tree and slightly singed kitchen. No summons came. Baby returned shortly to smuggling boys in and out.
Then it was my turn. Sort of. I went to a class party. It was horrible. But I hung out a lot with a fragile, sweet classmate called Ayesha who was the only non-horrible, non-fake person there. She was quite high when I was leaving so I thought I should take her back with me. I didn’t want her to stumble through Koregaon Park in her mini skirt at midnight.
At home, alarmingly, she didn’t get sober. After a while she started crying and yelling that she was in pain. After two hours, even I had to accept that I had to somehow get her to a doctor, regardless of how much I just wanted to sleep. I came out on the street vaguely wondering how to get transport. I certainly couldn’t get an auto at that time. Finally I gave up and swallowed the possibility that my landlord would evict me the next day and rang his doorbell.
He arrived in his kurta-pyjama as if he had stopped to iron it before answering the door. He didn’t blink at my glitter-covered face (don’t ask). He didn’t blink at my request that he drive us to a hospital. I brought Ayesha out of the house in her silver mini, teetering heels, drunk as a skunk, giggling and moaning alternately. He helped me get her into the back of the car. He didn’t blink when she gagged. Or when she puked a little in the back seat. He helped me admit her, asked if I needed anything else and drove away.
The next day I awaited the summons from the dhokla-makers. Nothing came for four days. On the fifth day, the manservant arrived saying Dada wanted to see me. I went meekly in a hastily-worn salwar. When I got there it was not Dada who was waiting but his wife – his perfect counterpart in neatness, quietness, paleness. Now I felt very sorry for myself as I prepared to hear a diatribe against slutty, drunken behaviour.
Nothing could have actually prepared me for what came next.
The woman’s prime objection that day to me? Our washed clothes drying in the sun. To be precise, when we girls hung our clothes on the lines that ran between the houses, she and her husband had to see our bras.
Our what? My turn to blink.
She’d summoned me to tell all the girls in the house that the landlord did not want to see our bras on the clothesline. If we insisted on drying our bras outside, we should – like all decent people – at least hang a towel over them.
It didn’t even occur to me to say that hello, a towel over a wet piece of clothing is not a very bright idea, eh? A guarantee that the delicates will stay wet. I just gulped like a goldfish many times and nodded my head. She looked stern and let me go.
Our house of six girls continued to make riot for the next year that I lived there, but that was the only time our landlord ever called to scold us. Of all the prejudices I expected to encounter, his discomfort at the sight of ladies’ underwear was something I’d hardly anticipated. Blissfully, I’ve never had to worry about wearing wet bras ever again.
By Jyoti Singh
Cover photo credit: Recyclenation.com