*Divyaroop, 25, is a call centre employee in Mumbai.
Sunday morning jolt
It was a beautiful, lazy Sunday morning and I had woken up in the afternoon. As I was wondering what to cook for lunch, my phone started ringing. It was my landlord. I had already paid the rent for this month. What could be his grief then, I wondered.
A Sunday spoiler it truly was. He told me that I had to vacate the house soon. His brother was moving to Mumbai from Kerala for a job and he wanted the house for him. What a nightmare, I thought and shared the news with my two roommates, who were fast asleep. We were given a notice of fifteen days to a month to vacate the place. Hence, began my search for a new house.
Opening the pages
I called up a couple of friends, checked the internet and even asked my colleagues at the office. People suggested a few options but none looked great. Then I spoke to a few brokers and one of them asked me to come over to check out a place. I liked the place and finalised it. We decided to do the paperwork and financials on Monday.
I work at a call center and live with two roommates. *Abhay is a freelance model while *Mohak is studying in a college. I was at work on Monday, so I asked my roommates to give the token money to finalise the deal and submit the required documents. We were asked to bring various documents like Aadhaar, PAN and a joining letter or an office ID.
Abhay and Mohak went with all the documents. I recently joined a new place and didn't have my joining letter with me yet, and so we offered to give my new office ID. At first, they agreed. The landlady was ready to take our documents and get them photocopied. At this point, the broker took her aside and said something. Soon they returned and said, it will be difficult to rent with just an office ID. It can be fake. You'll have to get the joining letter!
When I got back home, my friends told me what had happened and it felt a bit weird at first. How can anyone question a photo ID card of your workplace?
I then noticed Abhay was wearing a green eyeliner. It suddenly dawned upon me that it may not have been the lack of a joining letter but the presence of the green line on Abhay’s eyelid that had perhaps caused the u-turn.
My doubt was confirmed when even after procuring the letter, the landlady and the broker still appeared unwilling to seal the deal. ‘You get the letter and then we'll have to check,’ said the broker and left. He didn't even wait for my friends to confirm how soon will he respond.
Reasons not to rent
I assume that they did not want to ask us about our friend’s appearance and his eyeliner but declined to rent us the house fearing his identity. What strikes me is that people in India can possess fake Aadhaar and PAN cards and still get houses on rent? But we who had all the original documents were denied a house.
It also got me thinking how difficult it is for people to find the house for various reasons. If you are a bachelor, people have issues. If you are a girl and living alone, finding a place to rent can be tough. If you drink or smoke, landlords tell you it is not allowed. If you eat non-veg food, some landlords have problems with that too. Some landlords won’t rent their house to a Muslim. And if you are a gay or a transgender, your chances are probably minuscule. In fact, if you're anything but a shaadi shuda couple with a baccha or two, people have issues!
The current situation
Abhay felt guilty that he was careless and expressed his identity so openly. However, we felt that it was good that he did what he wanted to. It is better to know something like this in advance than to be harassed later. We couldn't have managed there later with that attitude. But still, he felt he saddened and angry by what had happened.
We are still looking for a house within our budget in our locality and it's been a stressful time. Day in and day out we see discrimination and homophobia. It doesn't matter how honestly you have lived your life. What matters is how you dress, feel, and express yourself. And if it doesn’t fit with what the society considers normal, then your academic, professional and other qualifications and honest work reputation, all is in vain.
We met that landlady again after two days when some other broker took us to the same apartment to show us some flats. She appeared to not recognize us and avoided eye contact. I really wish she had given us a chance, to know us as people, to see how good tenants we could have been and how we all could have had a relationship that wasn’t smudged by the prejudice over an eyeliner.
Check his video below.
*To protect the identity, few names have been changed.