Nisha Sethi ventures out for house-hunting every day. The 39-year-old carries a list of addresses that she has to visit. No, she is not looking to rent or buy a house for herself but she trawls the city to locate the mortgaged houses, whose owners have defaulted on bank loans.
Sethi, a resident of Mandawali in East Delhi, handles Delhi operations of an Indore-based recovery company, Adhikrut Jabti Evam Vasuli, which employs several women across the country. But Sethi is their sole representative in the Capital and perhaps the only female recovery agent in Delhi.
Sethi, who was born and brought up in Karol Bagh, took up the job of a recovery agent two years back. That time, she says, it was out of compulsion. “My husband had died of heart attack. I had a school-going son to support,” she says.
A soft-spoken Sethi says that men have brought unnecessary notoriety to a job that more than anything else requires human skills: Persuasion and patience. “Unlike male recovery agents, who lose patience easily and resort to rough methods, I believe in a soft approach. The biggest advantage I have over my male counterparts is that I can easily have a heart-to-heart chat with the wives of the defaulters, who are generally kept in the dark by their husbands about the consequences of not paying back a home loan. In many cases, the wives arranged the money to pay back the loan by selling their jewellery after talking to me. Persuasion works better than coercion, the defaulter and family tend to share their problems openly,” says Sethi.
At times, Sethi says, she comes across the ‘neta-type defaulters’, who do not give up without throwing their weight around. Her eyes sparkle as she narrates the tales of properties recovered by her. “Recently, I took possession of a property in Shahdara. This man failed to pay up despite having been served several notices. When I went to take possession of the property, he threatened me and when that did not work, his wife created a scene. But I stood my ground and he left the house with his wife and children, leaving all his belongings behind. I promptly sealed the house,” says Sethi, adding after a pause, “I do not feel good driving a man out of a house with his family. I am most concerned about children and make sure that I do not say anything in front of them. In fact, some days back, I convinced my bank on behalf a defaulter to give him some more time to vacate the house as his children had to appear for their exams. But I cannot afford to be emotional after a point.”
According to her, what also works to her advantage is the fact that most defaulters are men, who either pay up or quietly surrender the property as they fear humiliation at the hands of a woman. “Men find it difficult to plead before a woman. Besides, men who may find it easy to bribe male recovery agents realise that they can't do the same with me,” says Sethi.
She points out that contrary to the perception, rich businessmen constitute the majority of defaulters in the city. “Unlike service class, most businessmen have money but not the willingness to pay. I am dealing with many defaulters from upscale areas such as Greater Kailash, Panchsheel Park, Defence Colony, among others,” she adds.
Not just Delhi, Sethi also tackles some outstation assignments. Her most-difficult assignment was in Jaipur recently, where she had to take possession of what she calls ‘a house of horror’.
The owner of the house had committed suicide after killing his wife and children. “I was emotionally not ready to take possession of a house whose owner had committed suicide. Besides, the house was in a secluded place on the fringes of the city. People in the neighbourhood said they often heard the voices of the children who had been killed inside the house. My heart missed a beat when I opened the door of the house on a cold afternoon in December. Everything inside — the clothes, the furniture — was in a mess. There were even blood spots inside the dark, damp house,” she recalls while quickly gulping down a glass of water.
Sethi’s job has given her an insight into the city’s social and family fabric as well. “At many instances, I found that men who had married twice, never told their second wives about their house being on loan. And when their wives came to know about the truth through me, they confronted their husbands right in front of me, leading to a public fight. It’s shocking to see the kind of lies a man can tell a woman in order to marry her and how properties continue to be at the heart of many family feuds,” she says.
However, there is a task that the braveheart Sethi finds a little difficult to achieve: To convince her 20-year-old son about the nature of her job.
“The problem is people keep telling him that I am into a dangerous line. So, he wants me to do something else,” she says. And what do her relatives and neighbours think of her? “I often return home very late at night. So, initially they thought that I was a loose woman and doing something dishonourable, but now they seem to understand my job.”
Sethi is now enjoying her job to the hilt and have got several letters of appreciation from various banks. “But the only time I feel I am doing something unusual being a woman is when men ask me — ‘Madam, aapko koi aur kam nahin mila? (Madam, couldn’t you find a better job for yourself?)’.”
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