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A room of one's own

For most single women, hunting for a place to live is bracing for a battle, writes Anima Balakrishnan

Illustration Satheesh Vellinezhi

VERBAL VOLLEY Getting a house depends on your ability to forget notions about privacy

This call is for only nice, warm girls, preferably hailing from a well-to-do-family but necessarily on good terms with their parents. You are wrong if you thought it was another matrimonial ad. The above-mentioned qualities are a pre-requisite if you are single and hunting for a house; but it cannot guarantee you success.

Aeons ago, women were taught to be all these and much more by over-zealous mothers when they slipped on to the wrong side of 18. Now, girls can go back to their mothers and even grand mothers to take a crash course in being `nice and homely', for it will come in handy if they are single, in a new city and hunting for a place to stay.

You may be a single woman in her 20s who has set foot in an alien city with a new job. After spending half your lifetime adjusting to the whims of temperamental roommates in hostels, a quiet place to call your own would seem a simple and legitimate necessity. But if your task is to find a place in a "not very cosmopolitan city", brace yourself for a battle unanticipated, a session of interrogation that makes you squirm and a character appraisal you are unaccustomed to.

A marathon search

For all those brave women who have embarked on this adventure, the tales of woe are umpteen, their experiences not so funny and the queries posed aimed at throwing out of the window one's right to privacy.

"The first time I went on a house-hunt, I got the house after seeing over 35 houses," says K. Vidya, a journalist based in Hyderabad.

Vidya had come to Hyderabad five years ago when big companies and young working women from afar were not too common. "If you are alone and looking for a house, people naturally assume you have fought with your parents. I had to tell them that I am on good terms with them and that my mother will come down and stay with me occasionally," says Vidya.

But for Alakananda Das, an advertisement professional, the hunt for a house proved to be a test she was not prepared for.

"My friend and I were told we would be given the flat if the other residents of the building approved of us," says Alakananda.

Since finding an accommodation was high-up on their agenda, the friends went dressed in their best traditional clothes to be "approved" by the other residents.

"We were willing to put up with everything, but the owner wanted to know our age and asked if there was a possibility that one of us of would get married soon. He did not want to lose out on tenants just because one decides to tie the knot," says Alakananda.

The girls found themselves in a spot since they could not guarantee they will not be married in a year's time.

Of course, the demands set before single women are not attempted with other tenants and often passed off as `routine' conditions.

Coming back late, even if your job requires you to do so, entertaining guests or male friends, partying, eating non-vegetarian food — everything is a strict no-no.

Character certificate

"To get a house, I even had to get a letter from the HR personnel in office saying I am not a troublemaker," says Vidya.

R. Lakshmi, a freelance writer, recounts how the owner refused to give girls the house though they were willing to pay the advance on the spot. "The owner realised we were serious only when we offered the advance. Though he had let us see the house, he later said there were families around and did not want girls as tenants. The message was clear," she says.

Ann Thoppil, a 26-year-old single woman in Bangalore, was relatively lucky. "I saw nearly 30-40 houses before deciding on one. The condition of my landlord was that I should be on good terms with my parents. As long as the girl was a `nice, warm and homely person', they did not have a problem," recalls Ann.

"But, I know that they are keeping a watch on me," she adds on afterthought.

Since most of these women are desperate to have a roof over their head and do not have the energy to undertake such an ordeal again, they follow all the `rules' diligently.

"I still do not entertain male friends at home. The neighbours have a problem with it. They give very suspicious looks which makes me uncomfortable," says Vidya.

But Vidya is optimistic, for things seem to have changed for the better across cities. "With call centres and IT coming up in a big way, women living alone is a not a rarity anymore," she says.

(Names changed on request)

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