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Wanted: A house for Mister Sheikh

Abhishek Sharan assumed the identity of one Imran Sheikh, a software professional from Aligarh, looking for a flat to rent in Delhi. A first-person account of the rejections he faced...
None | By Abhishek Sharan
UPDATED ON JUL 05, 2008 09:48 PM IST

A three-bedroom, 800 square-feet flat facing a park in Malviya Nagar”, or “a two-bedroom, 1,080 square feet flat with parking facility at Safdarjung Enclave”.

The choice available to those looking for rented accommodation, property brokers promise grandly, is limited only by one’s ability to spend and producing a company lease. Till you identify yourself as a Muslim. This is what I found amid trips to more than a dozen flats in the city with an assumed Muslim name.

My Makeover

To pass off as Imran Sheikh from Aligarh, I must drop all signs of being a Hindu, my colleagues advised me. I took off my silver ring, a gold chain carrying a miniature Sai Baba, and a beaded wrist-band. I made a mental note to sprinkle my conversations with landlords/property brokers with “Insha-allah”.

I decided to first check out south Delhi, which is the “place to be in”, according to many. I would describe myself as a software professional working for an Indian firm.

Ground Zero: Malviya Nagar, South Delhi

I did get ensnared by the charm of the “park-facing” Malviya Nagar flat whose details were displayed on a popular house-hunting website. I contacted Chandan (25), the broker, who asked me to come over and meet the owner, Gopal Ahuja, a businessman who dealt in electronics goods.

The flat was neat and spacious. Ahuja said he was looking for a ‘respectable’ tenant. I liked the flat and was ready to pay his rent demand of Rs. 14,000 per month. A pleased Ahuja said I will have to pay a bit more once he installed air conditioners. Over a hurriedly-ordered cup of steaming tea, he somewhat absent-mindedly asked for my name. When I replied, he stole a quick, furtive look at me. He then flipped out his silver cell phone and walked a few paces away. “Call up Chandan later, I am busy,” he announced.

When I did, Chandan said that the flat had been taken by somebody else. When I persisted, Chandan was nonchalant. “Ahuja is conservative; he is not willing to rent to a Muslim. But I can get you another flat,” he said.

But the broker never called back.

Vasant Kunj, South Delhi

According to an internet ad, the flat located here was a “beautiful two-bedroom flat (1,000 square feet) with a modular kitchen, granite flooring, ample light and greenery around the house”. For a rent demand of Rs 17,000 per month, it was not exactly a steal, but inviting enough.

The ad gave only a phone number belonging to a ‘Sharma’. He grilled me over the phone on my nature of work and whether I could furnish a company lease for the flat. I replied in the affirmative. As a matter of routine, he also asked for my name and that did it, perhaps. The line suddenly went dead.

I called him again; but he took the call only on my third attempt. There was no apology. When I asked him about the flat, he spoke rapidly, purposefully. “You will have to get your identity particulars verified by the local police here, by the Aligarh police, and also by your employer who must attest your photograph,” he said, breathlessly.

Usually a landlord/broker just makes a tenant fill up a single form comprising his identity particulars which are meant to be verified by the local police. So I protested that verification is only meant to be a formality after the deal is done. But he was adamant. By the end of the conversation, he had mentioned the word ‘police’ six times and ‘photograph’ thrice.

Punjabi Bagh, West Delhi

I checked out a flat that was located in a “prime location, with built-in almirahs, sized 990 square feet”. The rent was Rs. 14,000 per month.

The semi-furnished flat, Mrs. Komal Arora (its owner) said, had a balcony full of aromatic flowers — roses, bougainvillaea and chameli. I told her I liked the flat. But her enthusiasm ebbed the moment I mentioned my name. A few moments later, she suddenly asked if I was married. When told that I was a bachelor, she was a trifle disappointed — “Sorry ji, we accept only married men.”

I wondered if she had forgotten to inform me of her abhorrence for the unmarried male earlier or was it just a ruse to rebuff a Sheikh…

Model Town, North Delhi

The flat was airy, with almirahs in the two bedrooms, and sized around 650 square feet. The landlord, one Jasbir Kapur, asked me my name after showing around his flat. He then said that I was required to show him my passport. What if I do not have one, I asked him. “Well then, get one. Good day,” he ended the conversation curtly. The passport was a new precondition for me.

Mayur Vihar, East Delhi

It was a three-bedroom ‘kothi’ with French-windows and a spacious porch. The owner, Vimala Chandra (name changed), a Delhi university lecturer, asked for my details. Next, she asked if I was married. Learning from the Punjabi Bagh experience, I said I am.

She then demanded if I had kids. No, I answered.

“Just that my flat is too big for a couple, so I suggest you should call in your parents too once you take it,” she said.

I have decided to hire her flat, may be in future — without an assumed name.

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