Monday, January 23, 2017

Setting up a house in Bombay

Having a house of one's own is a dream come true for most people. You have the freedom to set it up the way you want, to roam around in your torn pajamas, to sleep naked under those sheets, to have anyone over without having to answer for it, and to come home every day to something you built for yourself on your own. It is a priceless feeling I wish upon everyone, especially young professionals living away from home. It gives you a taste for independence with a touch of responsibility and discipline. And it teaches you a lot about life, yourself, and the world around you.

Living by yourself isn't all sugar, candies and sunshine though. Once the initial exhilaration of freedom wears off a little, you begin to realise living independently is much more work than you had ever imagined.

When I came to Bombay 5 months ago, I moved around a lot. For the first few days, I lived at the house of a friend, who shared it with his father, grandfather, and male help. They were very nice people: they taught me how to ride the local (that too, from the super-crazy Dadar station), gave me privacy whenever I needed it, fed me simple yet delicious home fare, and greatly eased my transition from a Delhi girl into a Bombay one.

Not wishing to impose on their hospitality for too long, I moved into a Colaba hotel after that with my mother, who was in Bombay for a week to help me find a house in the city (to no avail). By the time she left, I had decided to move in with a friend in Matunga whose roommate was looking for a better living situation. I slept on the sofa-cum-bed in their hall for several days, while the roommate searched for her ideal house in Bandra. It became a pipe-dream for her after some time, and as a result, for me too.

Around the time I was beginning to cry myself to sleep, wondering if I'll ever find a place to live in Bombay, my gabby young broker called one day and chimed, "Madam, I have found the perfect place for you. One look at it, and you'll never go looking for houses again. Trust me on this one!" And so I did. I set up a date with him, took the local to Elphinstone Road, and walked all the way to the busy intersection where he stood waiting for me. We walked to the building - a redevelopment project, no points for guessing - only to find out that the girl who had rented out the house and was looking for a flatmate wasn't home yet. The broker, with no other bright ideas, called her up and thrust the phone in my hands - and that night, I had my first chat with the person I was to share a life with in this city for who knows how many months to come.

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That conversation we were both unexpectedly thrown into told us one thing - this was meant to be. We gelled on every count. We were both independent, free-thinking, fun-loving individuals with a flair for the finer things in life. We were excited about meeting each other's friends and jazzing up the place together. I confirmed the house within the next two days and moved in with whatever little stuff I had in the first week of September. The house was brand new, unfurnished, and expensive even by Bombay standards. But the pristine white walls, untouched floors, and the huge windows that lined one side of the flat made all the extra spending seem worth it. Almost five months in, and I still think this house is worth every penny I cough up each month from my hard-earned salary to pay off its rent.

And here we are today.

I spent my first few days in the house like a squatter, sleeping on the floor on an old cotton mattress a friend graciously delivered at my doorstep. During that time, I also played host to one of my friends from Delhi, who shared my humble mattress and ate with me out of delivery boxes using plastic spoons without complaint. Gradually, we brought in furniture, curtains, plates, cutlery, mugs, garbage disposal bags, and other little knick-knacks that make up a household. And it was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

I rent out most of my furniture from Furlenco now, praises of which I could sing from a mountain top (if only there were one near my home in Bombay). Every morning, the sunlight filters through my window and breaks my stupor. I open my eyes a chink to check the time, realise there is still another hour before my alarm goes off, and hit the pillow again. I wake up again only when the sun is high up in the sky and I'm sweating through my shirt. And that is basically how, courtesy the sun's little game, I'm almost always late to work (more on that in an upcoming post). I love it all the same, and I wouldn't sleep with the curtains drawn unless my life depended on it.

The day my bed arrived at my new place, I was high beyond anything I'd known thus far.

Setting up a house from scratch is fun. All of a sudden, you're excited to buy dishwash liquid and floor mops. You spend endless hours at the supermarket, pushing your cart through alleys, picking up whatever catches your fancy as a new homemaker. But a month or two later, the excitement begins to wane and the weekly job of buying milk and bread somehow becomes hateful. And then, one fine day, your household help complains that the bottle of floor cleaner is running out. You promise to bring it the next day, but you don't, because you keep forgetting or putting it off until the house cannot be cleaned anymore. And then you have a brainwave and place an order for floor cleaner and a hundred other 'necessary things' on Grofers, the grocery delivery app. You suddenly feel good about yourself again. But not for long! Because Grofers calls up the next day to regretfully inform you that floor cleaners are out of stock, though the rest of your order will be delivered soon. You're running late for office as usual, you've just spent a lot of money on things you didn't need, and looking at your household help's eyebrows raised in judgement, you quickly reach your wit's end and tear up.

It is in moments like these that living alone and taking care of an entire house on your own will begin to bite hard. You will invariably miss home, perhaps even appreciate your parents for how well they've managed a household all these years. You'll sometimes feel as if you're falling apart at the seams and there's no help at hand. But giving up is not an option. And it never should be. Living by yourself is tough, but it rewards you like no other experience ever can. Some days are hard to live through, on some days you feel like booking the first flight out and returning home to family, and on some days, you feel like yelling at your flatmate for not taking care of any bills. But there will be many more days when you will sit back and enjoy your coffee, read a book in the sunlight, rest assured that your bills are paid and the fridge is well-stocked, and know that life is good.

It is such days that an independent life is worth living for, day in and day out. I wouldn't change a thing about the house I've set up or the life I've built for myself in Bombay, because they speak out for who I am. And your unique identity is more than you can hope to retain in this ever-changing city of dreams and extremes.
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