My eyes lit up at the rare sight of a "To Let" placard, sans the regular postscript "only for girls", outside a house in Sector 34 in Chandigarh.
While I was thinking whether I should barge in straight or wait for someone to show up at the gate, I spotted an old man sitting in the veranda, signalling me to step in.
The landlord, who must have been in his late 70s, was sitting on a chair staring at an open register lying on his lap.
Even before offering me a seat, the man bombarded me with umpteen questions regarding my job, caste, creed, credo, marital status and even my eating and drinking habits.
"It's a one furnished room with attached bath and a tiled kitchen. So, can you afford to pay Rs 9,000 per month, plus electricity and water charges?" he asked, staring straight into my eyes.
Shaken a bit by a barrage of questions, I told him, "But let me see the room first". "What's the point of showing you the place if you can't afford that amount?" he responded.
I told him I could pay the amount provided I like the room.
He gave me suspicious looks while passing me the register. "Write your name, phone number and permanent address here," he said. There were already half-a-dozen entries on the page with a cross mark in front of each one of them.
I did the needful and waited for the man to usher me in. He stood up, I followed the suit; he
turned back and said, "Okay, let me tell you in advance that I charge Rs 40 for showing the room."
Now, that was unheard of! "But why?" was all I could say.
"Well, one, I have paid Rs 500 for the advertisement. And, two, seeing the "To Let" board "koi bhi muh utha ke chala aata hai (anybody walks in to see the room)". They see the room and say that they will let me know by the evening and that's it. So, do you want to see the room?" he inquired.
I picked up my bag and was ready to walk out. "I don't mind paying Rs 40, but I do mind your attitude," I said.
"You are entitled to have your opinion, but do you know how much a sack of cement costs?" he snarled.
"What's that got to do with it?" I asked. "Try building a house. Then you will understand. This rent is dirt cheap. And you are making a fuss over Rs 40! There is no such thing as free lunch," he said.
The feeling of disgust within me, meanwhile, had turned into kind of amusement. Thinking about my circumstances (I had to leave my present room in a couple of days), I decided to have a look. "I don't think Rs 9,000 for a single room is dirt cheap by any standards. Anyways, let me see the room," I almost pleaded.
He marched ahead of me and opened the door of the ground-floor room. "See, it's furnished," he said. I found a shabby, cramped room with three cots lying in a row and two rusted Godrej almirahs, occupying the two corners, and a cooler. I followed him to the kitchen. "All tiled, as the ad read," he said.
Even before he could lead me to his bathroom, I took out four Rs 10 notes from my wallet and told him that I didn't like the room. He took the money and while pocketing it said, "If it's pinching you too much, you need not pay."
I almost rushed out of the room saying, "No, no, you deserve this money."
As I neared the gate, I thought I must give back to him. "Okay sir, not nice meeting you at all," I said.
"Same here," I heard him say as I stepped out of the house hurriedly.