“Only for Families, Madam”: A House for Mrs Kulkarni, Divorcee

Modern Family

“Only for Families, Madam”: A House for Mrs Kulkarni, Divorcee

Illustration: Akshita Monga

The marriage was over. The relationship had broken down a long time ago, but now that they had acknowledged it, there was an air of finality to things. And finality demands action. So (the former) Mrs Kulkarni packed up all her belongings into two suitcases and decided to start life afresh – except she hadn’t paused to consider the obvious.

She needed a roof over her head. Uh oh.

The big, bad metropolis was teeming with real estate agents and flats begging to be rented, she realised. The only hitch was that neither the agents nor the landlords who lurked behind those rentable flats were particularly keen on leasing their precious properties to a – what! Divorcee??!! No, no, madam, but this flat is only for families. Sorry.

Mrs Kulkarni trudged up town and down suburbs. Even when she said she would stick to vegetarian food and allow no men and alcohol into the sanctum sanctorum, the agents still looked doubtful. Eventually, it would turn into a “no”.

What she did have, apart from those two suitcases of clothes and books, was the detritus of donations that had floated up on her shore in the wake of her walking out of a decade-long marriage.

She was growing desperate. Mrs Kulkarni had a regular job with an ad agency, an active social circle, but none of the brash, unapologetic confidence of younger divorcees around her. Yet, she had no intention of giving up her occasional late nights out, which would happen if she moved back in with her parents.

But before that could happen, a series of adventures awaited her on her house-hunting trips.

Once – timorously – she acknowledged to the bristly moustached estate agent that yes, she was a divorcee looking for a house. A tiny one BHK would do nicely, nothing fancy. The agent looked her square in the eye and asked if he could speak to her “mister” before they went ahead with the deal. Umm, there’s no mister anymore in the equation, she put forth, a little louder for his benefit this time. Oh. A pause and then, “So, who else will be living here?” Translation: Will anyone be living in sin with you, you brazen hussy?

Mrs K invented an impromptu sister. A sister with a respectable MBA and a staid bank job. No go, said the agent. We don’t rent to two ladies under one roof, he said, without batting an eyelid. And so, another pretty little flat was sacrificed at the altar of building society morality.

It cheesed her off no end, that the city had its share of idle flats, filling up their hours vacantly, while she was forced to put her nose to the grind. But then an elderly aunt came to the rescue.

The aunt had a quaint cottage in a Grade A heritage precinct in south Mumbai, which couldn’t be sold because the city’s Rent Control Act and the pagdi system had conspired so. Mrs Kulkarni was offered the use of the flat, gratis. Her colleagues’ eyes popped out when they heard about it. Isn’t that where world famous architects and conservationists were pitching their money and art? Aren’t you a lucky bitch?

She was, she thought smugly.

It was only a few days after moving in that she realised that her flatmates would be a couple of elderly rats who lived in the adjoining drain, and her constant companion would be the steady drip from the leaky Mangalore tiles on the roof. Uber couldn’t navigate those postcard pretty streets; and when the world-famous architect neighbours locked up their homes and left, the nights were peopled with shadows of unseemly types who watched her walk home through clogged lanes.

Enough of heritage, Mrs K sighed, and packed her belongings again. This time, however, she had a plan.

The next time one of those safari suits with a rexine pouch asked her if anyone else would be sharing the flat, she said, “My son.” Now that wasn’t strictly untrue. There was a son, but he was studying overseas. Still, he could be fictitiously brought in on weekends to supply that veneer of respectability. “Ah, you have a son,” the safari suit melted considerably. Mrs K felt a couple of inches taller. “We will need his birth certificate and college admission papers. The owners will ask for it…,” he rushed to explain.

Respectability established, safari suit drew up the housing society’s rules. Criteria designed to impress and draw invisible lakshman rekhas, lest Mrs K have any ideas other than pious. The residents don’t approve of late nights, loud noise, or parties (which apartment society in the history of apartment societies, ever has?). No pets allowed, okay? And no strange “comings and goings,” ah? This last statement-turned-question mark aimed at the slowly rotating ceiling fan.

Okay, sighed Mrs K. She would worry about bending the rules to meet her moderately twisted ideas of morality later. Now was the time to set up house afresh. Konkona’s pad from Wake Up Sid floated into her conscious. It would be minimalistic and pretty, even if there was no Sid to help her do it up.

What she did have, apart from those two suitcases of clothes and books, was the detritus of donations that had floated up on her shore in the wake of her walking out of a decade-long marriage. Kind relatives and well-meaning friends had submerged her in a deluge of extra pillows and pressure cookers and dinner sets that they’d been gifted long ago, and had no use for. She could make a home without spending her meagre savings, they reasoned.

So now she sat, just like a newlywed bride, surrounded by three dinner sets, five table lamps, a dozen bedsheets, and a couple of “milk cookers”. And also, a solid wood six-seater dining table thoughtfully left behind by the landlord. All to herself.

Mrs K smiled as she surveyed her territory.

She would use it all, milk cooker, dinner set, and table lamp. All gifted out of love for a gritty woman who had walked out in the rain, determined not to get drenched. Determined to dance in the deluge.

After all, in the big, bad metropolis, she had managed a roof over her head. By hook or by crook.