Whoever said that the hardest thing to find on earth is 'true love' has obviously never tried looking for a decent rented accommodation in South Delhi. For all you brave hearted people out there, if death defying, near suicidal activities like bungee jumping don't quite work for you, try house hunting.
I was posted in Delhi in my new job recently. I knew that if you wanted a taste of the 'high life', Delhi was the place to be. I also knew that the 'high-life' begins with a high-end apartment. What, however, I didn't know was that finding a 'high-end' apartment at a reasonable price in Malviya Nagar was next to impossible. It is said that Lord Shiva had first tried to rent an apartment in Malviya Nagar. I hear he lives up in the mountains these days, barely clothed. Rent Control. However, in my journey to find a place in Malviya Nagar, I was first assisted by a tall , bright fellow. 'Imaan Bhaai' , as he called himself, was full of life and optimism for me. Another thing he was full of was praise : for himself. 'I will definitely find you a place Saahib.' 'I will offer you prices no one else can offer'. ' I have been in this business for 23 years and I know all these house owners personally. Only I can persuade them to negotiate prices.' The 'I' was so prominent in everything he said , that I had begun to wonder if his name should have been 'I-man' bhaai instead. Nevertheless, with 'I-man' bhaai , off I went , hopes soaring even while enduring his incessant boasting of how many people he had obliged by finding them their dream homes. However, my hopes were short-lived, as even after two hours of torturous house-hunting, and what seemed like ages of 'I-man' ranting, we could not find my dream-home. Trouble was, that all the houses that 'I-man' bhaai showed , it appeared, were last occupied by the pre-medieval man. Easily passable as caves, these dimly-lit, dinghy one-rooms were definitely not livable. But not intending to break the jolly I-man's heart, I left the place telling him 'Rooms are alright but I need some time to think. I'll get back to you tomorrow'. I gathered that at my budget, the rooms would not get any better.
But this did not discourage me from looking for a house there. If Mohammed Ghazni, I told myself, could try again and again up to 17 times to conquer a province in Northern India, I should at least give it a couple of more tries. With this, I set off the next day to look for a house again in a nearby area. Little did I know that Ghazni would have certainly given up hope, packed his bags and left for home long back if he were up against what I was : Real Estate Agents. Infact the whole place was teeming with these guys. I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple of years, the government put up sign boards at all junctions saying 'Go Slow! Real Estate Dealers ahead'.
However, this time, instead of going to Imaan Bhaai, I went to a different guy. This was partially because I didn't want to rent the 'pig-sty' type of apartments I had promised Imaan bhaai I would, and partially because I was a pesky brat with a really sore luck. For though this new guy was sophisticated and impressive, the prices of the houses he showed were right off the roof. Literally. Sure the houses were really nice and posh, and seemed quite dream like, the rents were a nightmare. That the real-estate prices had plunged down around the globe seemed to be an ineffective phenomenon in this god-forsaken part of the world. Houses, it turned out, were like girls. The nice and the affordable ones were already taken. Dejected, I told him so. 'Fikr nahi bhaiyya. I will take you to a person who can show houses for a lot cheaper' he said. I was delighted by his camaraderie. It is difficult to imagine one agent lending off his hard-earned customer to another agent without filing a paternal law suit first. In this era, where the biggest 'Satyams' turn out to be the biggest 'Mithyams', this kind of trust was praise-worthy. So we trotted off to this new hope, this friend of his, this other agent, whom unfortunately I recognized almost instantly : 'I-Man' . My heart went on hibernation for a beat or two as soon as I saw him. For all those who haven't been lucky enough, let me tell you that it's a very awkward feeling when you are introduced to your old real estate agent by your new one. Its not a feeling of 'dejavu' by any means. Rather, its like a meeting between an over-possessive husband and his cheating, infidel wife. I could see many discomforting questions in his eyes : 'So is this your new arm candy?'. 'I should have known you were seeing other men'. 'To think, I trusted you, tried to please you, and you run off with this new guy. What does he have that I don't?'
And so, here I am, living out my guilt-ridden days at Jia-Sarai. And while its not the best, it does provide for a perfect hideout till things cool off between me and those real estate goons. While I might never get to actually experience the 'high-life' in Delhi, I shall at least enjoy the quieter side, popularly called the 'Real India' by visiting tourists, the stuff that wins Oscars these days. Looking back, I now realize that the 'I' in 'I-man's' world has a significant impact. It make a perfectly inhabitable 'to let', a 'toIlet'.