By Aleesha Martinez:
Home is where the heart is. All that you need after a long and tiring day at work is the warmth of the food that your mother cooks for you, the care that only your father can provide, the love that a sibling exudes and the comfort of your bed. A lot of people are however, not as lucky as the ones who can avail the benefits of all of the above. No, I shall not venture into discussing the problems of poverty in a country like ours as it has been reduced to a hackneyed issue by virtue of the million debates around it. I would rather explore the lives of students who live in metropolises other than their home-towns in order to study and the trials and tribulations they have to face owing to the same.
We live in difficult times and the times they are a changing. The world is moving at the fastest pace possible and the word ‘cut-throat’ is rendered minuscule considering the competition these days, where a student scoring a 99 percent is branded as ‘average’. This is when the term sacrifice comes to play as one needs to give up on certain things in order to achieve a hundred more. College admissions have always been the most dreaded part of a student’s life and attaining a seat in the esteemed University of Delhi (ranked one of the best universities in India) is like a dream come true. Now, not all future Einstein’s and Shakespeare’s of the country hail from the capital and thus the problem of accommodating the growing number of outstation pupils crops up. College hostels are not big enough to house everyone so they allot you a seat only if you scored, say a 95 percent. And where do the ones with a 94.99 go? Why, you can always pay and be someone’s guest!
Being a female in the rape capital is not an easy task. The difficulty magnifies when you are a female who has to live, study, work and travel alone in the city. Renting a flat is not the safest of options as there is no security as such and then of course your morals are always put to question by a bunch of inquisitive relatives. Paying Guests remain the only mode of survival as they promise ‘safety, comfort, the basic of amenities and good food’. But do they really deliver what they promise?
I shifted to Delhi from the City of Joy, Kolkata in the year 2010, having been one of those few lucky girls to have secured admission in the college of my dreams. My parents were paranoid about my safety and well-being and thus began an extensive search for a paying guest accommodation in the vicinity of my institution. After a lot of house-hopping and meeting people who said that they ran PG’s that could be compared to 5 star hotels, while actually owning shady and run-down dormitories with the dirtiest of toilets, I chanced upon this particular property which was supposedly owned by the most popular man in the area. Before I could ponder over his popularity, I was somewhat happy with what I saw and so was my father. The rooms looked spacious, the maid seemed friendly, the food was supposed to be the best from amongst all the PG’s and the man seemed trust-worthy. Having seen properties where a kitchen was converted into a room and was introduced as a novelty of sorts with ‘open shelves which would provide ease in storage’, I somehow felt like I had no choice but to say yes to what I was being offered and thus began my transition from living with over-protective parents to turning into an independent girl who could fend for herself.
My initial days were spent in adjusting to an entirely different atmosphere, however I was comforted by the fact that the 16 girls I lived with had a similar story to tell and could thus empathize with me. The owner of the PG came across as the friendliest and the kindest man ever, so was the domestic help. The food tasted good, my bed was made everytime I got back from college, my room looked neat, my things were all in place and there was always someone to get me a packet of maggi and some paracetamol if in case I had hunger pangs or a sudden bout of fever. Two months down the line, I realized that nothing but change is constant. The food had started to taste like the paracetamol the little boy brought for me from the chemist, the tea was more like brown colored hot water with a teaspoon of sugar, the PG owner was seen during odd hours conversing intimately with the maid and the maid behaved more like a warden than a domestic help. I could find dust in the several nooks and crannies of my little room, the quantity of my shampoo was reduced to half within four days of buying it, I had to run to the drug store if in case I needed a painkiller and the lightning speed that at which the WiFi once ran could easily be compared to that of a snail.
My parents asked me to complain, my friends in college asked me to complain and I asked myself ‘‘Is there any point in complaining?” because everytime I did the same, my PG owner came up with a hundred flaws of mine to counter my arguments. There would be no hot water in summer only because the air-conditioners would then have to be uninstalled, my lip-glosses and nail-paints apparently had grown a pair of legs and simply walked off from my room, my maid would not clean my bed because she was frustrated with life and I was asked to pay the rent for three months in advance so that both me and the PG owner were free from the ‘burden of giving and taking cash’. The rice was as undercooked as it could be and the the 5 pieces of cottage cheese in the gravy screamed at the top of their lungs ”look we are here, now don’t complain there was no paneer in the matar paneer”. I thought I saw some blood in the chicken I was about to eat and the milk could well be renamed ‘white colored water’. Like a bolt from the blue, the AC’s were taken away during a raid only to come back with the knowledge that our PG was not even registered as one.
Another lesson I learnt as a resident of a paying guest is that love blossoms in all its glory when you run a business such as this. A neighboring PG owner, a 25 year old who was supposedly quite a looker was going around with a tenant if rumors were to be believed. Then of course, my 60 year old ‘uncle’, being a man ahead of his time was openly having a scandulous affair with our domestic help. The pervert inside of him never failed to show itself as his sermons on life were always replete with innuendos and tales of how his ‘undergarments ka business’ flourished. I did as a matter of fact consider moving out, but it would totally be a case of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ because I know that the place I am, well, forced to call home is not as much of a hell-hole as the others in my neighborhood. The food may still suck and I may still have to spend an hour cleaning my room everyday (I have an obsessive compulsive disorder for cleanliness), uncle may refer to my voice as appealing while addressing me as ‘beta’ all the while and dig his nose into our private lives but I do get the food on time, the toilets are always clean, the 9 o’clock curfew ensures my safety and he makes it a point to take me to the doctor every time I fall sick.
I guess life is all about adapting onself to change, learning to adjust and coping with adversities. There may be several problems associated with the kind of life I live, but if the positive side is to be taken into account I live with the nicest bunch of girls and have formed bonds which I am sure will never break. Maybe all that you need to look back and feel happy about what you gained in life is a troublesome PG owner 🙂
Weird uncles may come and weird uncles may go
But my friends will stay with me forever, I believe so.