LUDWIG VAN Beethoven moved house at least 60 times in the 34 years that he lived in Vienna. That means he’d had a new home roughly twice a year. I have just relocated to a new house, and it’s my thirteenth time in 12 years. Not in the same league as the great composer, but we’re in fraternity: we’re professional nomads!
It’s never easy moving from one home to the next. I’m sure Mr. van Beethoven had more than his fair share of exhausting moments. No amount of careful planning prepares you for tough surprises, as a lot of factors in relocating are beyond your control. The pain begins when selecting houses. They are either too large or too small or too pricey or too dilapidated—nothing seems to be the right size, the right location, and the right price. And even if you like the place, there are the endless negotiations with agents, landlords, and housing societies, who exist solely to protect their own interests, in behalf of YOUR own interest.
Mumbai has been the most challenging city to find a place to live in. In the past few years, India’s most open city has been brutally terrorized by attacks fomented by non-Mumbaikars, so the city’s no longer interested in making it easy for everyone. Landlords are required to register lease agreements with the local police, who require no-objection certificates from housing societies, who rigorously screen prospective tenants to ensure that only the best residents populate their domiciles. Oftentimes, in the interest of security, the decisions of housing societies override the landlord’s concurrence. And that’s when prospective tenants—like me—end up suffering.
My search for a new house in Mumbai—which began my in July after deciding to live in a less expensive house—has been the most adventurous. And hilarious. I was ready to close the deal with one rather old flat because of its proximity to my office . . . until the landlord discovered that I was non-vegetarian. Apparently, he was vegetarian, and he couldn’t allow meat-eaters to use his kitchen. Or kitchen-for-rent. There are racist and sexist discriminations, but foodist?
Another landlord, who apparently wasn’t vegetarian, allowed me to live in his house on the third floor with my two dogs Polo and Pancho. However, he had to argue my case with the housing society, who finally consented on one condition: that I don’t use the elevators with the dogs. That was fine with me: I told them I’d use the stairs . . . and the dogs would use the lifts. I never heard from the society or landlord afterwards.
The biggest hindrances to getting a flat in Mumbai, however, are your civil status and your citizenship. If you’re single, you’re not deemed desirable, no thanks to that single man who lived in a rented flat and plotted the November 2008 terror attack. And if you're single AND a foreigner, you need all the luck in the world, no thanks to that single man who lived in a rented flat and plotted the November 2008 terror attack. And, oh, whe was a foreigner. After continuous rejections for being single and being a foreigner, I asked my real estate agents to find me an Indian wife to rent, instead.
I finally found a place early this month. It’s a brand-new flat in a brand-new building called Rustomjee Elanza, 12 kilometers from my office. It’s on the 34th floor, so I get spectacular vistas of south Mumbai. It’s a splendid gift for my perseverance, and it’s all because the housing society has not been formed yet. This means I have some time to enjoy the freedom from getting singled out for being a single, non-vegetarian foreigner with two dogs.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the views from the balcony, along with the madness of being a nomad!