Slut-Shamed By Landlady, Thrashed By Landlord In Bangalore

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“Get out, you slut!” My landlady slurred at me in Tamil on a February morning, eyes split in anger and her words biting me harder than the cold outside.

I had only just moved to Bangalore in 2012. A few friends from college and my then boyfriend were visiting and therefore staying with me but this wasn’t a concept my landlady understood. And before I could comprehend her words, I was homeless. She demanded I leave along with my comrades because, duh, we were obviously slutting it out and OMG that is so unholy! I made a few frantic calls until a friend offered to accommodate us, and for the rest of their visit, we sojourned in sleeping bags at his place. Thank you, S.

Gulmohar trees that turned the colour of Trump’s hair in spring (strangely comforting five years ago) skirted the windows of my new studio apartment. Funnily, that was what convinced me to take up the place (apart from being obviously homeless and desperate). Seven months in, life was great. Beautiful, even. And then it was not.

A surprise visit by my landlord on a searing summer morning took him by surprise instead. He was scandalised to discover me in the oh-so-shameful act of hanging out with my new boyfriend, and promptly launched into a sermon. A comprehensive (I had just wrapped up a night shift at work and returned an hour earlier, only that my work hours didn’t comply with “regular” standards) verbal apologia for my conduct couldn’t convince him. Dismissing me, he barged into the house and dragged my boyfriend out. He yanked his shirt until it tore and then nearly threw him off our third floor balcony.

After swiftly tucking the loose end of her pallu into the front of her saree, my landlord’s wife accompanied her husband in his assault. I tried towing her away but she twisted my fingers and propelled me aside. Eviction followed the next afternoon. Concerned friends advised against filing a police complaint because apparently nothing would come of it. After all, they were locals and we, “North-Indians”: also referred to as “outsiders”. (Just to clarify, I come from the eastern part of the country and he was half Khasi-half Maharashtrian who had by then lived in Bangalore for 12 years.)

I took up a 2BHK with him (and Minion, our cat), where the houseowners lived in the same building. We had lied about being married. Months later when they figured us out, they asked us to leave saying they were averse to cats. Not that Minion ever interfered with their lives, but whatever.

We retold our fabricated story to attain the next house but I left a month later because we broke up. Our raging landlord chastised us for being unmarried and living together, and made outrageous remarks about our character.

I was prowling around for a house again — after a long time, as a single woman. It was 2014. One middle-aged landlady looked at my eensy-weensy denim shorts and refused to let out her house.

The next day, I calculatingly wore an unassuming kurta but another landlady said, “strictly no boys allowed at any time of the day” — meaning I could not have male friends over because heaven knows what I could be doing with them. But girlfriends were allowed, no matter if I happened to be homosexual. Then a third landlord, who hated “latecomers”, said I had to return home daily at a “decent time”. I finally lodged with my best friend for three weeks in his cubbyhole until I found another house.

(Un)surprisingly, these criteria apply exclusively to women. My male friends weren’t required to be similarly puritanical. Rules such as “cats and women not allowed” weren’t for them. Houseowners weren’t interested in knowing what time they got home, if their shorts were too short, or their armpit hair was too long, what sabzi or non-sabzi was being cooked for dinner, or how many times they shat and shagged in a day.

Women must clear the litmus test to impress houseowners. Generally speaking, men are exempt from this new-age feudalism where we are expected to pay our landowners in cheques, good behaviour, and honourable values in exchange for a house and safety. And if there are any men who might have faced discrimination for their bachelor status, albeit in an entirely different way, you get what I’m trying to say.

However, one common question irrespective of gender is, “What religion do you follow?” In cases where religion is easily discernible from your name, you might be spared an interrogation, but not a judgment. But if you have an uncommon or even neutral name, such as mine (Chandni is common among Hindus and Muslims), then god help you! Doesn’t matter if you follow the religion of your family or whether you even believe in a god or you’d rather not disclose, an answer must be articulated.

The first time I met Mr Chandrappa, he left no solid impression. I was certain I wouldn’t recognise him if I accidentally ran into him elsewhere. Initially, he seemed no different from the houseowners I had previously dealt with. Later, I decided he was intimidating and, at times, even friendly. Intimidating because of his thunderous voice, and friendly when that voice broke into a parched laughter, almost as if he was coughing. I even noticed his neat thatch of white hair, his stoutness, and a face full or freckles. He must have been somewhere in his sixties.

I took up the place because he lived far away in a different neighbourhood and therefore didn’t have to explain my lifestyle to him (no surveillance, YAS!).

When the pipe of the sink in my bathroom leaked, Mr Chandrappa fixed it. If a wiring problem occurred or if the electricals disrupted, he came over with his tools and repaired it. Once, the screws of one of my dining table chairs unbolted and no matter how much I tried to fasten them back, the chair would never be steady. I asked Mr Chandrappa to help me with a carpenter’s contact but the next day, he landed up with his brown toolbox and fixed it. He liked being hands-on and insisted I save money.

And every time he came over, he only had agreeable things to say. Sometimes he commented on how he loved the decor in my house. He took interest in my Pink Floyd Ummagumma poster and admired the pictures I had torn from an old Reuters calendar and pasted asymmetrically on a corner of my living room wall. He would ask if work was alright and if my family back home was doing good. Not burning the house down was pretty much all he expected out of me.

So why should I be thanking him with 1,500-odd words? After all, he was an ordinary person of a generally pleasing disposition who liked helping people. He was basic, decent, non-interfering, non-judgmental, polite, and even charitable. But these weren’t adjectives I had learnt to associate with landlords. For me, landlords were enemies I wanted to slay.

But not Mr Chandrappa. In a peculiar way, we had become friends. He was doing me no great favour by extending basic human courtesy. And although I shouldn’t have to thank him, I must.

Mr Chandrappa did not judge me (and instead even apologised for disturbing me) on the many Sunday mornings he came to collect rent, and I greeted him hungover — a cigarette in one hand and a beer in another. He did not slut-shame me for my outfit — whether it was a saree or shorts of questionable length. Nor did he stare in disbelief when he saw three boys passed out in my living room and two other in my bedroom. He never snooped around my life, asking neighbours how late I came home, and he did not preach morality or enquire when I planned to get married. He didn’t take it upon himself to tame me in the way he deemed fit or behave like he owned my life. He let me be.

Casual and even not-so-casual sexism in the house renting business has become so normalised that even a slightly favourable demeanour seems refreshing, even thankworthy. Sexism from women is as much (perhaps more) as it is from men, reinstating a narrative disadvantageous to women in India, wherein “good girls gone bad” is not acceptable but “boys will be boys” is.

In my experience, one in every five houseowners is unbigoted, even friendly. And although one would imagine this as a normal/regular phenomenon that can be taken for granted, it hardly is. Realistically speaking, luck is probably the only reason I found him.

And so thank you, Mr Chandrappa. May your rare streak of neutrality glow upon all the moonless meandering pathways of real estate in India. #KhabarLive

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