The Five Painful Stages of Renting a House in Mumbai


The Five Painful Stages of Renting a House in Mumbai

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

What’s tougher than looking for a needle in a haystack? Looking for a habitable house in Mumbai. I just completed the process of moving into a rented flat for the third time in three years. Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, even this scarring experience has started to feel routine. You really can get immune to anything, no matter how terrible it might seem at first. Just like Mumbai’s train rides or the monsoon.

But even though I’m now more familiar with my broker than Jai is to Veeru, there’s no denying that moving remains as unpleasant as finding out that Gabbar has abducted Basanti. I find it easier to cope when I know what to expect, so I’ve catalogued the process of renting houses, right from the search for that one musty room which can just about occupy a sofa-cum-bed to saying good riddance to that nosy neighbour who asks you everytime he sees you with your girlfriend, “Beta, shaadi kab kar rahe ho?

The five stages of renting a flat in Mumbai are inspired by the five stages of grief, because of letting go of more than half of your salary every month is like waking up in a bucket of ice with one kidney.

Stage One: Desperation

You thought 30 days was a long time, didn’t you? But it’s just four short weeks to make it all happen – to find a flat within your budget, close to your workplace, not in a seedy lane, and which does not have water supply from four to six in the morning only. There comes a time when you wake up in the middle of the night, sweating after you’ve had a nightmare about sleeping on your favourite beanbag in the middle of Dadar station. This is when you know you’ve entered Stage One.

The desperation kicks in after you realise that even a one BHK with a functional gas connection is rarer than a unicorn in the mythical kingdom that is Mumbai’s realty market. That’s when you start running through every option, visiting houses from Byculla to Borivali – in neighbourhoods you never thought you’d pass through, let alone live in. When you find yourself looking down at lizard failing to hide itself in a dirty toilet bowl and thinking, “It could be worse. At least it’s not a rat,” you’re on the cusp of transitioning to Stage Two.

Stage Two: Acceptance

I know what you’re thinking: Shouldn’t acceptance come last in this progression of stages? How else could there be a happy ending? Sorry, but this isn’t your momma’s bedtime story. Renting a house in Mumbai isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a horror story written by Stephen King at the height of his ’80s cocaine addiction. The acceptance I’m talking about is foreshadowed by you being totally chill with lizard in the toilet. At this point, you’ll accept anything as long as it keeps you from spending nights on a railway platform. A meddling landlord? No problem. Leaky pipes? That’s manageable. A neighbour who’s offended that the welcome mat outside your door isn’t written in Marathi? Bring it on!

Time flies faster than you realise, and before you know it, you’re staring down the barrel with only a month between you and homelessness.

Stage Three: Repair

Stage Three begins after you’ve signed your lease agreement and moved into your personal pigeonhole. You rented this bed, now it’s time to lie in it. Of course, by now you will have long given up on your ideas of a “dream house” with a balcony overlooking the beach, but you aren’t going to live in an absolute dump. This means grappling with everything you overlooked during the house-hunting process. It’s time to say goodbye to your friend Gordon Gecko and call in pest control. Also, you find yourself signing up for an involuntary scavenger hunt. You become an active participant in a game of “Find the creaky hinge/leaky pipe/broken window”, except the cash prizes aren’t meant for you but the neighbourhood handyman who has been waiting for a sucker like you to move into the broken shell of a flat.

Stage Four: Frustration

Once everything in the house is running as smoothly as you can make it run, you can settle into some kind of domestic rhythm. You learn not to flush the toilet while your roomie is in the shower, unless you want their water pressure to drop to the levels of clogged pichkari. You make peace with your house help’s preternatural ability to show up only when you’re running late. You master the art of directing lost delivery boys and Uber drivers to your building gate, and for a few months, everything will feel like it’s in order, until one day it isn’t. Like the ancient Chinese torture method of Death by a Thousand Cuts, all these minor annoyances pile up day after day, eating away at your patience and sanity.

Your last straw could be anything from a 24-hour power cut to a neighbour’s dog that howls all night, but one day, you’ll wake up saying, “Fuck this shit.” Welcome to Stage Five.

Stage Five: Abandonment

This is the end of the line for you and your current place of dwelling. The litany of woes has grown too long for you to recite, and it’s time for a fresh start. It’s almost Zen-like, how once you let go of any responsibility toward the house, its problems stop bothering you. You decide that restarting the vicious cycle of looking for a new house is easier than fixing up all the issues in your old one. You call your landlord and inform them that you’re not going to renew your lease, and promise yourself that you’ll get a head-start on your search this time.

Except, time flies faster than you realise, and before you know it, you’re staring down the barrel with only a month between you and homelessness. Welcome back to Stage One, it’s never going to get better.