The Paying Guest: Episode 1

As soon as I entered the house, I stood in the longest corridor I had ever seen. The kind you see in horror movies.  It smelled like a chaotic mix of cheap detergent, stale cooking and shampoo.  And chaotic would be the word that best described the rest of my experience as well.

The Paying Guest. The money-making racket where old flats in decrepit buildings in Mumbai are rented out by wealthy multi-flat owning families to a profusion of starry-eyed youngsters for rents that are lower than whole flat rates. But when you add up the rent the land-lord collect from all the tenants, it would be equivalent to the salary drawn by a fresh MBA graduate.

A dozen women, four rooms, two bathrooms and a shared kitchen. You do the math. It is a recipe for disaster or exceptionally engaging circumstances depending on how you look at it I. I obviously choose the latter (barring the fact that I am using this post as a therapeutic release).

Disclaimer: All the situations, people and creatures (yes, there were actual creatures) described henceforth are unfortunately true and any slight non-resemblance to them is only evidence of my overactive imagination.

The day I moved in, in true Indian overbearing parenting tradition, my mother came to drop me absolutely ignorant of the fact that I was twenty fucking four years old. She looked at the sparse furniture in the room and the single bed I was allotted with a mixture of fascination and condescension. The room I was to occupy was the largest room in the house and hence there were four beds in it. The more the merrier anyway. Wonder which son of a bitch came up with that.

I was to share my wardrobe space with my bed-mate (This was a new term I learned and probably the only phrase I know which says bed and mate without a sexual connotation). My bed was along a long window and the beam above gave away that the space was originally a balcony which had been renovated to expand the area in the room.  Next to the large window was a ancient, in the most non-vintage sense, dressing table which had been white at some point in its lifetime and now was illustrated with large, stray drops of wall paint. There was also a large mirror which in true Indian fashion had stick on bindis of various shapes and colours along it’s edges (needless to say these were the first things I got rid of when I moved in).

The space between the wall and my bed was so less that once I kept all mu luggage along the wall, I could hardy pas through without tripping at least once (okay, more than once). The storage space allotted to me (actually the lack of it) was setting me off on some kind of panic mode as I looked at my endless “stuff” and the space I was to fit it all in.

My mother was kind enough to rub the very same fact in as I looked around. She stood up to leave and added,

“Manage kar legi?” (Will you be able to manage?)

I nodded calming myself in my head with the fact that in a few short minutes, I would be by myself, like I always wanted. (I just wishfully ignored my eleven other room mates at the time).

“Ab tujhe maa ki value samajh mein aayegi.” (Now, you will understand your mother’s value) she announced as we headed out for some last minute shopping.

Apparently when you live on your own, there are many things you don’t realize you’ll need till the actual situation arises. One of my first of many lessons on living alone.

In a few minutes my mother was gone and I was like I had fantasized, alone.

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Until I heard a unusually high-pitched voice.

“Tum kahan se ho?” (Where are you from?) asked my crazy-haired roommate with breathtakingly ugly matching pyjama and top. I answered in monosyllables, trying hard to not let anyone steal my moment of zen.

And then I saw it, scratched onto the steel cupboard that I was to share with crazy-hair, in bold letters:

 “Whoever will open our cupboard without our permission will be a BITCH.”

Such a warm welcome.

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