Bhupinder’s haunting voice, in the Hindi movie Gharonda (accommodation), for the song एक अकेला इस शहर में encapsulates both the despair of finding a decent – nothing fancy – accommodation in this unforgiving city and a lonely life, despite the surging crowds accosting you in every facet of daily life. The adage – to find yourself alone in a crowd – never seemed truer and apt than in this city.
A family friend, who was also dad’s colleague for many years, summarised the city’s irony succinctly:
यहाँ पर रोटी मिल जायेगी, कपड़ा मिल जायेगा, बस नहीं मिलेगा तो रहने के लिये मकान
Translated, that reads: You will find something to eat in this city, something to wear, what you will not find is a house to live.
It’s not that houses have vapourised, leaving the city with a massive shortage of accommodation – it’s just that whatever you like or put your finger on, will, much akin to Murphy’s laws, be out of your budget. What’s in your budget, you will quite obviously detest.
Till even last year, no one in their right mind would have believed that a one bedroom apartment – the very basic unit of accommodation that can help you lay claim to being part of civilisation – would cost upwards of Rs 1 crore. Well, it just crossed the rubicon!
With the result, more and more working professionals are being pushed to the fringes of the city if they want something decent to live in – which means you spend longer and longer on your commute to work.
Capital values aside, even rentals don’t make life any easier. But more than the prices, what gets to you is the complete apathy of the landlords, who despite charging the earth, moon and sun, plus a hefty deposit, have left the available accommodation at the mercy of the elements.
The one I managed to zero-in on, thanks to the resourcefulness of the broker – and I have been told umpteen times that I am ‘lucky’ to get a place in the area where I reside at the rent that I pay with the expression, o wow, always, unfailingly, there – the landlady would not get the house whitewashed, would not fix the plumbing, would not get the servicing of the gadgets done, would not…..
I guess the broker was about as weary as I was listening to what she would not do that he suddenly piped in: I’ll get it done. The guy was shaking his head long after we concluded the deal: Not in my 30 years have I come across such a landlord, he sighed.
Owning house in Mumbai is the single biggest achievement, the high point of anyone’s life and signals that you have arrived in this city. I guess owning a house anywhere in the world is a matter of pride, but out here, finding an accommodation, whether bought or rented, signals to the world at large that you are a significant presence in this city.
People don’t ask how much you earn, where you work, or heck, what do you do for a living. All relationships will come to nought if they discover that you don’t have a pincode beneath your name.
Relationships too, more so in this city, are a matter of convenience, observed a fellow commuter on the local suburban train, observing the public display of a young couple. Parents have been forced out of the small tenements they have resided in as the children grew up and started their own families. A husband-wife relationship would crumble under the onslaught of high rentals and higher prices of apartments. A couple might come together to share an accommodation, till one of them finds something better and moves on – both out of the apartment and the partner’s life.
To be fair, it’s not something unique to this city – just that the propensity to find such instances is far greater, due to the sheer numbers. Consider this number for instance: over 6 million passengers are ferried daily on the Mumbai suburban local train network, to and from their home.
And despite being squashed in the jam-packed trains, with even the sweats of each other intermingling – yucky, I know, for someone who might read this, but true – you are all alone. Heck, just last night I was at a cousin’s wedding and despite the over 300 guests filling up the entire banquet floor of the Novotel, and despite some of my relatives also being there, I was alone. Unsure of the etiquette – do you hand the gift to the couple, or to the bride’s mother? Should you walk up to your cousin sister and say congratulations while she’s with her freshly minted in-laws, or should you wait till all the crowd has finished posing for the photograph?
And why does one pose for photograph with the couple – is it a recording of evidence that you actually came for the wedding?
Of course, I also saw a lot of smiles – smiles that were stuck like post-its and seemed all plastic. Were they real? Was there something else behind those smiles? When people say they are glad to see you, do they really mean it, or are they just being polite?
I think it was time to have my dinner and just fade away, which is exactly what I did. And no, I did not get myself photographed with the new couple. My sister was looking just too lovely and the groom, with a little stubble, handsomely rakish. Why spoil the entire frame!!!
एक अकेला इस शहर में, रात में और दोपहर में,
आबोदाना ढूँढता है, आशियाना, ढूँढता हैं
दिन खाली खाली बर्तन है, और रात हैं जैसे अंधा कुवां
इन सूनी अंधेरी आखों में, आँसू की जगह आता हैं धुंआ,
जीने की वजह तो कोई नहीं, मरने का बहाना ढूँढता है, ढूँढता है, ढूँढता है
इन उम्र से लंबी सडकों को, मंजिल पे पहुचते देखा नहीं
बस दौड़ती, फिरती रहती है, हम ने तो ठहरते देखा नहीं
इस अजनबी से शहर में, जाना पहचाना ढूँढता है, ढूँढता है, ढूँढता है