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The importance of being Homeless


I got kicked out of my house unceremoniously by the landlord – ok that made for a good dramatic beginning but I basically just had to leave the house because he decided to come live there. Now I’m someone whose helplessness at packing is so pitiful that even my German host mother took over the job realising I might just miss my flight back to India if she didn’t. Someone whose brother spent the day after his own wedding packing my suitcase since I was moving to a new city. And this someone now faced the Herculean task of fitting about 2 years of stuff into 2 suitcases. That’s a year per suitcase, and it boggles the mind. Especially since that same suitcase had been carted home empty and brought back full of stuff on every monthly visit. I reserved a weekend to get this done, and I spent the whole of Saturday fretting over the task and ended the night by drowning my apprehensions in beer.

The next morning I woke up groggy but determined. I knew I needed reinforcements and set off to my friends A & B, who had agreed to take me in temporarily while I looked for a house, to borrow some suitcases and bags. Having procured 2 huge ones, and also a large metal basket to carry unwieldy items, I hailed a rickshaw and set off. True to their image, this driver too turned out to be an absolute cretin, all but kicking me out of his vehicle when I directed him to take the shortest way home. I stood by the side of the road trying to keep the huge empty assorted packing tools from causing a roadblock. I called B to come help me find a new rikshaw. 10 minutes later he turned up on my Activa and told me to get on - the very definition of ‘jugaad’. A suitcase in front, one between us and the basket hanging off the side, we set off, a veritable Indian 5 member middle class family – only with the next generation Bajaj scooter and slightly less excitable ‘kids’.

After deep contemplation and ‘planning’ for a few hours, I stood across my house and flung my things into the bags, only pausing to wonder how to pack knives, before deciding to leave them behind. Disaster struck when I panicked at an insect flying towards me and hit myself in the eye with a glass plate I was holding. Seeing a teary stream of blood from my eyelid trickle down my cheek was enough to put me out of commission for 2 hours. Luckily there was too much to do to let myself wallow any longer in self-pity.

Besides my clothes and some other junk, the only movable assets I possess are 1 computer table and the mattress from a broken futon I inherited from my cousin. Sunday afternoon arrived and so did the tempo to move my stuff. At that precise moment the watchmen turned off the lift. Apparently it was not designed to carry some clothes filled bags and pots and pans. B, already sore from the bike ride, found himself making nearly 10 trips lugging a table and overstuffed suitcases down flights of stairs. I scurried around trying to bully people into restarting the lift, only succeeding when there were 2 buckets and a yoga mat left to carry down. It’s a wonder he hasn’t blocked me from his friends list after that ordeal. Drenched in sweat and a sense of achievement, a few hours later we saw the moving guy off.

I.                    Living with the boys

I won’t deny that I was apprehensive. I’d never lived with boys before, I had even taken over the room I shared with my brother when I was about 13 and made him shift to the then guestroom. I unpacked my necessities in the spare bedroom and tried to hide away the rest. The house was great, and had a lovely balcony that was absolutely wasted on the 2 goblins. A futon mattress, my old curtains, a lamp and some cushions later, it was transformed into a chill-out haven. Time to start paying the rent – chilled beer added to the fray, with the best of rock filling the air, so ended Day 1 of my time with my friends turned saviours. But not before we performed one task – I approached the fridge with the dexterity of a ninja turtle, ready for anything that may leap out at me, and cleared out the months old remnants of food that had been stowed away. B ‘washed’ (lightly rinsed) the fungus laden containers before heading off to bed.

The best part about living with these boys is the proximity to such contradictory behaviour that it makes for a great psychological study. Like I imagine the neatness OCD primitive cavemen to be, are these 2. Their motto seems to be twofold – if its already in the house (set up by concerned mothers and wives of friends), lets value it. Let clean it and replace it when needed. (So the house was kept neat and tidy, shaming me into also folding my laundry and stacking my shoes) If it isn’t, it can’t be all that necessary. Thus Laxmi, the (only) Kannada speaking cleaning lady was confronted with a dilemma. As I managed to decipher from her gestures, she wanted an upgrade to one of those “fancy” long stemmed mops. I think she had a bad back. She was quite progressive, insisting on weekends off and only appearing on few days in the week when no one was home to supervise. They met on pay day and life went on, weeks passed and the boys nodded acquiesces to her increasingly dramatic demands for the mop, never wondering how the house was being cleaned. Finally, nearly 2 months after her first request, a brand new mop stood proudly in the hall, along with a receipt. Since A had gone on holiday that day, B mentally congratulated him for getting the job done and went about his life. A few days later Laxmi managed to convey to him that it was not A that had bought the mop, but in fact the next door neighbour- landlord. But why, enquired B, had he undertaken this task? Because, Laxmi mimed out, she had been borrowing his mop on a daily basis for the past 2 months to clean their house. As if to drive home the point of complete breakdown in communication, between the receipt being lost by B and A going over to repay the amount, the mop was purchased from an elderly exasperated/ forgetful landlord at a discount of about 30%.  

The boys don’t want to run a kitchen (all in a bid to avoid cockroaches and dirty dishes that would require Laxmi to earn her wage), so it was ‘dabba service’ for dinner. I had to manage the other meals on my own, testing my skills of short-cut cooking and stomach’s levels of tolerance. The few times I cooked ‘exotic’ dishes (when compared to the dal-roti dabba) I felt like I was back home, with B sneaking half cooked bits off the pan and milling around asking when it would be done. The returns on simple gestures like the offered morning coffee were high, with gratitude and increased tolerance towards the extended rent- free stay of a house pest. That and the wrongful acquisition of the futon mattress, which I apparently no longer own. The deal also included me having to be subjected to mindless Hindi movies that I will not name and never admit to have enjoyed.

II.                 House- hunting

I hadn’t been idle all this while. Apart from the usual Bangalorean difficulty of finding a place like inflated demands of a 10 month deposit, due to a series of unfortunate incidents I was still without home. I selected a 2 BHK, only to suddenly find that the fellow rentee had found another place. I thought to move in with my cousin, later realising her home was terribly unconducive to someone with claustrophobia. The landlord tried to talk me into moving in by suggesting swimming to battle the phobia, but deflated slightly when I informed him I was a competitive swimmer and unless he filled the room with over-chlorinated water, I didn’t see how it would help. I checked out a ‘studio apartment’ which turned out to be a room with an enclosed balcony that contained a gas stove on a plastic table. I visited a couple of molehills that masqueraded as houses, and I realised I was one of the finicky few that looked to natural sunlight for a cheerful survival. I got lucky with a comfortable house in a beautiful locality, where the landlady proceeded to inform me that she had thrown out the previous tenant because a boy had visited. She also asked for my parents numbers and took complete onus of my safety. I decided I wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility.

In the meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the benefits and suffer the cons of vagabonds community living, having recently moved in with my cousin. 

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