This is an edited version of the blog published here.
Right off the bat, 90% of you womenfolk can feel me, will be with me, hand-in-hand and maybe even share your own nightmares. And it is easy because, the country has been benevolently unanimous with its oppression towards women. And men, please don’t gear up to appropriate this. We know this concerns you too, but this article is not about you, it is about my displaced life — so if possible, listen.
I could not tolerate the way women were treated in my house (by women mostly, yay bargains), so I was very early in bidding adieu to the comfort and security of living with the family. In Chennai, I have lived in hostels, PGs, studio apartments, you name it. But most of them were equally patriarchal and expected women to follow such ridiculous code of conduct, that I kept moving from hostels to hostels for years on end. In general, a rational person, a woman, who is not employed in a 9–5 position, who makes films, is probably the most hated house seeker in a country driveling patriarchy. Err, hi!
I don’t remember the last time there was no crisis situation in my life and yet, like most women I know, I have had to gather myself up and get out. So after a month of ignominious phone conversations with strangers, I finally found a place to stay. Wait, there’s more to it. But before that, I would like to bring to your attention this conversation:
Me: So, it is just going to be me, is that okay with you?
Her: Oh, ya err.. I guess yes
Me: Are you sure? You don’t sound so sure
Her: The thing is, we have recently moved out of that place because it is easy for my daughter to go to college. It is just the two of us you see
Me: Okay, but about the…
Her: So there is this guy, who is the president of the association and he stays in the same block. He may have a problem
Me: But the house belongs to you, so I don’t..
Her: Yes, that’s what I’m saying, you go to him and tell him “I am like your daughter only, please understand my situation and allow me to stay in your building, Sir.”
I do not want to analyze the idiocy in that conversation, please feel free to.
Coming back to the house that I had successfully got without having any embarrassing conversations. He figured that he’d rather be greedy than a creep, (there is always a catch!) so he heartlessly charged me twice as much than what the house deserved. The house was incredibly small, and was always dark even during daytime. PLUS there was a maintenance amount which was obviously ‘separate’, electricity ‘separate’ — I haggled desperately and he agreed to reduce it by 500 — I will tell you later, how many BMWs and penthouses I bought with that. Maybe if I was a hypocrite or a sell out, I would have made some money doing disgusting corporate projects, and written content for the iyer iyengar network. And maybe that would have helped me pay my rent and take care of my expenses better.
Having left a cushy job to pursue something more meaningful would seem a bit ironic, if the alternative to it was that of a sell-out. But I carried on despite troubles, and barely a year later, the house chose to create havoc in my life because, come on, “troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things”, right? Sure! The house was no longer habitable. A whole lot of termites that wouldn’t go, no matter how many times they spray that vile liquid and I sit tight inhaling all of it. To add to it, they decided to increase the maintenance of the house by 500 more.
And thus I commenced once again, the loathsome procedure of willfully denigrating myself, by talking to strangers about my relationships and sex life. I posted an advertisement on Facebook groups thinking it would make the starting point of the conversation a little less cringe-worthy. It has this sentence in it along with the other specs “I will be the only tenant, so those of you looking to have “only family” need not get in touch.” And right after that, messages landed on my other inbox, some appreciating (?) my message and some asking me to “call them” and even some, asking for my phone number so it would be “easier”.
This message from a guy, who I will refer to as DC, landed unassumingly on my other folder too — we interacted for a while after he very professionally engaged in sharing photos of the house and giving me details about it. The next morning, he lets me know that the house he showed me would not be okay for me (read: single, filmmaker, progressive, independent woman) but he would show me a couple of other houses.
Desperate that I was, I arrived at whatever place he’d called me to and he said, the house that he was planning to show me wasn’t actually free because he either did not have the keys or that it was occupied, one of the two. And two other instances where he said a mishmash of the excuses mentioned above. We lost touch because I assumed he was not going to do anything more than waste my time.
After 3 weeks of hopeless searches coupled with murderous rage and suicidal tendencies, the infamous DC gets back in touch — only this time, he is sure that the tenants have vacated and he would like me to see the house.
I went, and I loved it — it had a lot of light coming into the house, it had such a beautiful balcony — I started falling hopelessly in love with the flat. I agreed to the terms and we went through the finer details of up to when I would move in, and even though it was equally expensive, I said okay because I had to go somewhere.
I came back triumphant, told my folks about it, took them to show it to them and watched them fall in love with it, just like I did. It was late July and I needed to provide a month’s notice. It is true that I was falling ill and chronically coughing due to the sprays, and the fungus on the wall in my present house. My hair fell so much that one day I went and tonsured my head. All those things are now going to end because I am going to move to a new house. So I let the house owner know and gave him a month’s notice so that come September, I can sip my coffee in the balcony of the new house — with birds chirping exclusively for me.
But my woes were far from over.
It was just 10 days to September and my present house was filled with cardboard boxes. Mind you, DC already made me pay him 21,000 as a token to block the house. Yes, that’s the amount he asked of the 1 lakh advance, as a token. He has been telling me that he will send a copy of the contract via mail so I can check, but it hadn’t reached me despite my constant checking. And also, this house does not belong to him, it belongs to some Shobha. He assured me that I don’t have to worry. He said that he has a lot of relatives and friends in the city who own flats and he does the service of finding tenants and maintaining the flats. So the 21,000 went to Shobha, who I have never met even once. I was supposed to go and collect the keys to the house as he was such a nice person to let me take the flat 10 days early without paying anything extra. Ha!
I get a call from him and my room started spinning: “Hey Vaishnavi, how are you? Listen there is a small problem. The association had a meeting yesterday and they have all decided to not let a single woman stay in their flats because of some security issue. So what do we do, do you have any suggestions?”
Oh I have suggestions for you — these are also my speculations on what would have happened:
1) Don’t be this world savior, protector of women in grief, and offering them your homes and heart.
2) Because you are privileged, maybe it would be a good time for you to introspect on what you just threw at me, a single woman with no home and just boxes.
3) Perhaps your greed would have been a little less obvious if you hadn’t decided to give it to some family for a higher price in the last minute. So stop pretending to be a philanthropist.
4) Maybe you shouldn’t have shamelessly scanned through my Facebook posts and thought, “oh good god, this girl is going to have sex every night with total strangers by bringing them to my flat, because she is talking about feminism — we don’t want her type” You know, because THAT is what it means. And your ignorant half-assed brain is capable of only understanding so much.
5) And here is my last suggestion to you and to all your types out there — drop dead! Your existence is the very reason why people like me have to fucking battle each day, while you happily parade in your ill-deserved privileged life.
In that two-minute phone conversation where I gasped more than I could utter a word out of my mouth, he assured me ten times how he will turn things around for me. And how he will find me a house and call me in 3–4 days and how I should trust him. It is September already and I heard none. I won’t call him, and I do not see the point. I was forced to split all my things into 3 of my friends’ houses and am temporarily living in my mother’s and my friends’ houses.
At the end of this fiasco, a certain calm engulfed me. A familiar calm that denies women any surprise at the onset of a tragic incident. A calm that knows me too well and demands me to be okay, by habit or by practice. I have now decided to travel a lot and channel that money into making films, continuing my activism and taking care of myself. It is not a lot and I will soon run out of my savings, but I don’t fear it anymore. People like me, who have been displaced so often, physically and emotionally — we arrive at the problem solving stage sooner than the rest.
This is not fair at all, but living in India as a woman has taught me well enough that fairness comes in tubes of cosmetics but not in the way we live our lives. I just want to reach out to all the single women who, despite so many challenges, grit their teeth and manage to live their lives dealing with this extremism in the name of patriarchy.
You matter, your struggles matter and despite such heartless men who lurk around to creep the living hell out of you — hang in there. Now more than ever — hang in there. Because if we give up, they win. And if history has taught us anything: we’d rather be rebels than slaves!
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.