I’ve always been a bit of a nester. I was one of those people who arrived in my college room, and had to sting up fairy lights, make home-made cushion covers and arrange my books by size and genre before I could feel truly at home.
The last few months in Delhi, therefore, have been a bit of a trial. Who knew that finding a room would be so difficult? The plan was to live in a girls’ hostel (abundant as they are in Delhi) while looking for something more permanent – preferably a room in a shared house. Having been moved on from my first hostel when the landlady’s (absent) husband decided that he didn’t much like the idea of a foreigner living in his house, I found another, and the real hunt began in earnest.
A series of rooms found in north Delhi near to the University were vetoed by friends more streetwise than me – “not safe for foreign women to live alone in that part of Delhi.” Plans to live with Udita were sadly brought to a halt when we were not able to find a mutually convenient location, so that she could get to work in Greater Noida, and I could commute to North Campus. Susanna? Super keen, but tied into a six month contract she couldn’t escape from without losing her deposit.
Both however took turns to accompany me on a search around the city which ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. The room in Vasant Kunj? Great, except the living room didn’t have a roof. Hauz Khaz? Lovely, but the landlady lived on the floor below, and wanted to impose curfews and ban guests. The one near GK? Wonderful on paper, but would have involved living with two Indian boys who gawped at me as if they had never seen a girl before, and (judging by the house) seemed not to have been introduced to the concept of cleaning. And the hundreds of rooms that came up in Defence Colony? Too, too lovely, but viable only if you have a spare Rs30,000/month floating around.
Meanwhile, the hostel situation started to take its toll. People at home assumed that it was the privacy – “how can you share a room with two other girls?” that would be the issue. Funnily enough, that was never really a problem. My room partners were laid-back, friendly, and we developed that easy type of female companionship that you can only really get when living in such close quarters. Priyanka would ask me to paint her nails, Mridu would help me with my Hindi homework, we’d moan about the food together.
No, what got me – I guess – was the lack of autonomy. The inability to deal with situations – to think for yourself and solve problems. When it became clear that one washing line for thirty girls just didn’t work, stringing up a new line caused political discussions the like of which I’d never experienced. When we found ants in our mattresses, putting them out in the sun engendered the sort of telling off I’d not encountered since childhood, as Aunty explained how I was defacing her house. When mice and cockroaches became a problem, we couldn’t authorize pest control to come ourselves, but had to hand the issue over to another’s judgment. My habit of working at the upstairs dining table rather than on my bed (our ground floor room had terrible internet signal) was vetoed, and I developed the expensive habit of spending my mornings in Coffee Day with my laptop. Something had to give.
Luckily, it did. A room in a shared flat, on the edge of (but not in) a pretty salubrious area came up. The perfect mixture of privacy and company, home-comforts and affordability. I share a bathroom, kitchen and living room but can retreat to my own room at any time. If I fancy splashing out on Costa I can walk to a swanky market within twenty minutes, but within a five minute radius of my house I have a reasonable vegetable wallah, a small tailor, and a selection of street food.
So here I am, sat on a chair (no less!) at a desk. To my left sits a set of fully categorized books, and to my right the best closet I have ever had the good fortune to call my own. Yesterday, and after only limited chasing, the Holy Grail arrived. A hot water geyser! Yes, after three months in Delhi, I had my first hot shower. And not even from a bucket – an actual showerhead. What can I say? Utter bliss. All that remains now for the house to be truly christened is for cheesecake to be consumed here. Susanna? Udita? Come on over!