By Issac John May. 01, 2018
When I moved to Mumbai, I was told that as a Catholic I would get a house for rent cheaper than the average heathen. In one building, I was specifically asked if my wife was also a Catholic. Other owners were okay with my Hindu wife, but weren’t okay with the thought that I wanted to keep a dog.
When I moved to Mumbai last November and a wise guy from office told me that as a Catholic I could get an apartment for rent cheaper than the average heathen, I’d have to say I was rather proud of my religion.
My childhood was spread across eight towns and 10 schools, and now, professional reasons over the last 14 years, have seen me put down temporary roots in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. Searching for an apartment, shifting bag and baggage (and dogs) is an onerous task for most of my generation. For me, it’s an inevitable fact of life.
Last year, Mumbai came calling for the fourth time in those 14 years. Despite the floods and the traffic, and the lurking risk of losing a limb to a bomb blast nearby, I was somewhat happy. I could’ve barely afforded a bag of popcorn for myself when I first visited the city – but I’ve always felt at home here.
Having lived in rented apartments for almost the entirety of my 35 years, I was past the stage in my life where anyone could give me any worthwhile advice on house hunting. So when friends advised me about the neighbourhoods I should look at for houses, I nodded, and hemmed and hawed. A passing reference was made to how certain societies in certain neighbourhoods are particular about having only Gujju vegetarians, which, to me, meant hordes of other communities in this cosmopolitan city would welcome me and my wife with open arms.
We saw 20 houses over the first two weekends, all the while refining my brief to the two brokers I had engaged with. I wanted a house with a balcony, not knowing that asking for a balcony in Bandra was like asking Virat Kohli to sing a lullaby without a swear word. It would need rigorous practice and time – but I was okay with delaying things to get to the right apartment.
I extended my time at my Airbnb and decided to up the quotient on my Catholic card. Those Catholic buildings, that my colleague referred to, were nestled in quiet lanes all over Bandra and came under the Salsette Catholic Co-operative Housing Society supposedly. In less than two months, I was rolling off the names of those buildings as easily as the alphabet. Pitlochry, Clementia, Mistique, Crescent, Sunnyville – I had seen and loved them all.
The question about space being half of that in Bangalore and the rent being twice, was the only hiccup.
“You know what, let me only look at Catholic buildings from here on,” I told my broker. He understood the financial undercurrent of the sentiment and agreed. And that’s when, an interesting set of events started unfolding.
In one building, I was specifically asked if my wife was also a Catholic. She isn’t, so I was shunted to the back of the line. They wanted a thoroughbred Catholic family. Other building owners were okay with a Hindu wife, but weren’t okay with the thought that I wanted to keep a dog at some point of time during my stay. That bugged me a bit. Not that I had a dog. But I love them and had fostered them multiple times in Bangalore before, so I wanted that option to be available to me.
I’d been seeing so many furries in Bandra on my morning runs, that I wondered where those people lived. I was not in a mood to fight with the society to allow the dog, citing High Court judgements, so I kept quiet. I was anyway taking a principle-based stand, that I wouldn’t like to stay in an apartment building that has a problem with dog, though I didn’t even have a dog.
In one building, I was specifically asked if my wife was also a Catholic. She isn’t, so I was shunted to the back of the line.
I cast my net wider. I saw a Sindhi building that I liked but they had some doubts if I was a Muslim, and they weren’t ok with that. It was wrong in my books too; not because I was born to a Muslim mother, (I actually enjoy joking about all religions) but the blatant questioning was sort of jarring.
I then saw a “Muslim” building. It turned out that one of the 1993 blasts accused had stayed in the same building. “Just one floor above,” the broker said with a touch of pride, but I wasn’t very enthused about it. I turned it down. My search had gone on for a couple of months now – another month wasn’t going to make a difference. The number of houses I’d seen until now had risen to 40.
It had to work out eventually, I told myself.
With patience, comes all the rewards you seek. Two weeks ago, I found the perfect house, the best layout, the right living room size, a stunning kitchen, three bal-fucking-conies and just about in the budget. The owners were okay with the dog bit as well. It was the dream house. It helped that the owners were Catholic too. It always does, doesn’t it?
I handed in my deposit, and last week was all set for the society meeting. They had an interview process I was told.
Ten minutes before the scheduled meeting, I heard from my broker.
“The society has said that they’re okay with the owners having dogs in the building, not the tenants,” said my helpless broker, who’d by now shown me 70-odd houses said. The absurdity of the discrimination was infuriating. Of course, they wouldn’t even consider meeting me, so that I could understand their concerns and alleviate them.
The owner returned my deposit cheque a few hours later. “We are sorry. We don’t want you or us to be involved in any sort of a fracas with the society later,” the landlady’s son texted me on WhatsApp.
This is Bandra, perhaps the most liberal, most well-travelled, well-heeled neighbourhood in the country. Underneath the swerving cobbled paths and lush greenery – and privileged residents who drive matte-finished Porsches – lies the decay of a society that has a problem if you are not from a specific religion, that rewards you if you worship the right Gods, that thinks that prospective peaceful tenants should have a different rule than homeowners, and most of all has a problem with dogs. Not that this hasn’t been documented before, but where does the buck stop?
Of course, the irony that I too was okay to shove my religion in the face of anyone who cared to check, to save some dough doesn’t escape me. So I know I was part of the problem, not the solution.
But that’s our reality. Within a three-kilometre radius of affluent sophisticated living, two fundamental rights and duties as laid out by the Indian Constitution – of treating all religions equally and treating animals with respect – got squashed repeatedly over the last six months even as my house hunt count crossed 100 visits.
Here’s how it ends though. Last night, I saw another house. The owners were okay with dogs. The building secretary asked me if the dog was friendly. I said yes. His next question was if the dog was big or small.
I went with medium.
I am now in the market for a dog. The house will have to wait. Until they see my baptism certificate.
Issac is a marketing professional with over a decade of experience across leading brands such as CNBC, PUMA and Discovery. His first book, Buffering Love, a collection of short stories based on apps redefining relationships, released earlier this year.