It was as if Soofiya’s (who gave only her first name) entire world transformed in a second depending on whether she was wearing her veil, or not.
When the 25-year-old came from her hometown of Baramulla in Kashmir to pursue higher education, New Delhi was a new world.
There were wide roads, buzzing shopping districts and an unstopping pace — except that it was not the new world she had imagined.
“There was a lot of eve-teasing and harassment, and I thought it would be better to wear the veil,” said Soofiya.
That brought its own set of problems.
As she looked desperately for a place to live, one look at the veil ensured a refusal from homeowners. The city did not want a veiled single Muslim woman in its homes.
“Guess it didn’t turn out as planned. I had no option but to take it off,” she said, “And things improved … now people have become so warm that they don’t even mind sharing the same plate.”
But the city was still making Soofiya’s Muslim name her biggest enemy. She just couldn’t get an apartment on rent. Soofiya was pining by now.
“We have a huge house in Kashmir…but look at us here,” she said in a Kashmiri drawl.
So I decided to step in. We decided to walk the streets of Amar Colony, a South Delhi neighbourhood, looking for an apartment.
We knocked on one door after reading an advertisement posted on a utility pole nearby.
“Hi, May I help you?” said a middle-aged man in a yellow shirt and black jeans, speaking in a fake British accent.
“Hi, I am Nitasha Sharma. We are looking for a room on rent.” I did not introduce Soofiya on purpose.
We sat in his impeccably clean living room and were offered water. He then showed us the room on the first floor. It was a large, well-furnished room with an attached bathroom, an air-cooler and a balcony.
The rent was decided and the owner told us his set of rules —two months’ rent in advance, no smoking, no late night entries, and certainly no boys. We agreed to all the conditions.
And then I said, “So, when can Soofiya shift sir?”
His smile vanished. His eyes narrowed. “Soofiya? But you said you are a Sharma, right?”
“Yes sir, but my friend would be shifting in,” I said, introducing Soofiya.
He went out of the room for about 10 minutes. He came back with a strange smile: “Girls, I am sorry to have wasted your time, I had promised someone else for the room.”
He requested to speak to me alone. He took me to the verandah and said, “It seems that you are from a nice Hindu family. Don’t waste your time and get back to your own business.”
“These people can’t be trusted. I am a respectful man and I don’t want to get into any mess.”
Soofiya now lives with her maternal aunt and is still looking for a house.