A few weeks ago, a friend of mine joined the ‘Immigrant Singles Club’ in Delhi. Like me, she came from Calcutta. And she was keen to get hold of rented accommodation in south Delhi: “It may be a tad more expensive, but it’s safer, more personal and less forbidding,” was her raison d’etre.
If you don’t have a social support system to help you find a place, the next thing to do is scan the papers. So she pored over the classified sections of all the mainline dailies. “Have you noticed,” she suddenly looked up from her perusal, “that there are an awful number of landlords who specify that they want to lease out their premises to ‘foreigners only’?”
“Let’s go visit a broker and find out if anybody wants to give out place to a single Indian female,” I suggested. The Defence Colony broker looked glum the moment he heard that we were looking for a place within Rs 7,000. “You will get a barsaati for that kind of money, but that’s going to be tough too: foreigners gladly pay at least double for the same place, so most people would rather have them around,” he offered gallantly, adding that, earlier, the expats would almost invariably be the embassy crowd, and they would live in the cloistered quarters of Chanakyapuri or Shantiniketan or West End or Vasant Vihar, but these days they are fanning out everywhere: “There are so many of them, you see,” he rounded up.
He also told us about the ancillary benefits of having an expat tenant: they are less likely to haggle over the rent, are more professional in their dealings, and, more importantly, pay their rents on time.
I guess it’s nice to be a member of the First World in a Third World country where people view you admiringly because you are supposed to be top-dollar and you look different. I had a fleeting glimpse of being viewed from the other side — and I loved it. A few years ago, I had visited Sunderbans with a colleague to do a story on the widows’ village there. We were walking down in our ‘Western’ attire amid an onslaught of furious stares, when one of the gawkers couldn’t help it: “What country you?” he yelled out; his entourage took a couple of moments out of their ogling schedule and looked at him admiringly – before training their admiring gazes back to us.
“Just shut up, don’t say anything,” my friend muttered. “No, I have to,” I giggled hysterically — probably affected by the touch of the midday sun. “India,” I shouted back. That was the end of our place in the sun. Okay, that was the boondocks and this is a throbbing metropolis, but feel-good is, well, feel-good.
The other day I had gone to Khan Market to give a film roll to be developed. I was trying to convince the man at the counter — of a shop whose placard grandly announced: ‘Get Prints Developed In One Hour’ — to give me my prints by the evening. “No madam, that’s impossible,” he said tersely, “there’s a huge backlog, and one of our machines has crashed – tomorrow morning is when I can give them to you.”
In walked a chic Caucasian blonde, with a temperamental little kid, and handed over a roll. Whatever happened to the fancy digital cameras that we poor Indians can’t afford? “I need the prints now, as in a couple of hours,” she drawled. “Basically, I have to have the prints by the time I finish shopping.”
“No problems ma’am,” gushed the man. “Give me an hour and they will be done.”
I could either instigate a race riot or walk; I opted for the latter.
Meanwhile, my friend from Calcutta has moved into Chittaranjan Park. The expats have not yet discovered the virtues of eating fish and rice.
Email Sushmita Bose: firstname.lastname@example.org