“Christian Log Daaru Pee Ke Danga Karta Hai”

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“Christian Log Daaru Pee Ke Danga Karta Hai”

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“B

ahar gaon ki hai kya,” the tall, pockmarked man wondered aloud, asking his portly companion if their new client was a foreigner. “Haan, tabhi toh bhao badhaa ke bola,” chuckled his partner, as both men checked out the lanky redhead walking from room-to-room, confirming if the electrical switches worked, opening and shutting doors and windows.

The men were both housing property brokers operating in the real estate gold mine that Mumbai’s western suburbs were 10 years ago. Today, homes in that part of the city are plain unaffordable, but even then the apartment she was looking at was a filthy hovel only slightly bigger than a public toilet (and equally stinky). “Best studio apartment. It is near mall, madam. Just like foreign country, madam. You like mall, madam,” asked Mr Pockmarks.

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The redhead was familiar with the drill by now. This was the fifth pair that was trying to scam her that week. Property dealers would first show her these rat holes and quote twice the rent. Then they would show her exactly one barely habitable apartment at an even more outrageous price, hoping she would jump at it irrespective of the crazy rent because of the shortage of other good options.

“Desh ka naam kharaab karte huye sharam nahi aati,” asked the redhead, in impeccable Hindi. It caused both men to suffer a mild heart attack. “Saali Indian thi,” she heard them whisper to each other as she exited the apartment.

That redhead was me. I’m blonde now. Not that it makes any difference, because regardless of the colour of my hair and skin, I am trying not to get PTSD every time I go house hunting. I’m an unmarried woman. I’m Christian, a journalist, and live with two cats. All these seemingly innocuous facts stack up to limit my housing rental options drastically, even in large, supposedly cosmopolitan cities. It isn’t just the greed that bothers me; the bigotry, stereotyping, and sexism form the icing on this shitcake.

“Christians are very ‘happening’ na! I’ve heard you get booze in Church.”

Sample the following conversation:

“Your husband didn’t come with you?”
“I’m not married.”
“But you look old.” (Thanks! Where are my dragons?)

Or then this:

“Christians are very ‘happening’ na! I’ve heard you get booze in Church.”

I mean, I could tell them that it’s not as if the priest hands out free tequila shots to increase the church attendance, and that several churches run de-addiction centres for alcoholics. But where do you begin with a guy who gets his education on the community from Bollywood stereotypes like “Michael Daaru Pee Ke Danga Karta Hai” or Anthony Gonsalves who had a conversation with his mirror image in a drunken stupor?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard the super shady, “You guys are allowed everything na? Short skirts… boyfriends?” I only wish my romantic life had the kind of luck and ease that people attribute to it. In reality, every girl who went to a convent school has a horror story about a Sister Bertha and her searing look of disapproval should she spot a hint of a knee grazing the school uniform’s hemline. And that the friendly neighbourhood busybodies Mrs Braganza and Mrs D’Souza are human CCTVs when it comes to teens of opposite genders hanging out together.

But the one that instantly crushes my self-image every single time is, “Oh you are Christian? Good, my friend is looking for a nanny for her child.”

It gets most interesting when home-owners find out I’m a “media wali”, who probably gets to hang with Ranbir Kapoor and do shots with Kangana Ranaut. When I tell them I report on health, environment, and women’s rights, I get a look that Anderson Cooper reserves for Kellyanne Conway. I have to remind them that the late-night media parties that they think I attend, are often held on the pavement outside the State Assembly, in the company of frustrated, overworked, and depressed journalists, sipping cold, extra-sweet tea. Breaking into a spirited rendition of “We shall overcome” in one such situation, is about the most fun I’ve ever had.

Yet, the insinuations are, “Only beautiful girls get jobs in media” followed by the nudge-nudge, wink-wink “Yes, I’m sure you work very hard.” The final nail in this coffin are my cats. While some have wondered if I have adopted them because I don’t have children, others have been outright hateful in suggesting they are harbingers of bad luck and ill health. An old man with a particularly wicked imagination asked if I was rearing them to eat them some day. He was mildly better than the dude who asked me if I was a witch and practiced black magic. He wasn’t off the mark, because that’s what every unmarried, childless woman on the wrong side of 30 is… perceived to be a witch.

After four peaceful years, my current lease will be up soon. I look forward to what new torment awaits me with the same enthusiasm as that with which Theon Greyjoy awaits another encounter with Ramsay Bolton. Perhaps, instead of visiting houses, I should just invite prospective landlords home for a cup of tea. They can see first-hand how nicely I have maintained my current apartment and how well behaved my cats are. I might even show them my articles to demonstrate that I am a serious journalist. But I’ll keep a can of pepper spray close… just in case someone begins the conversation with, “So, is it true what happened in Julie…”

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