Sunday, December 16, 2001

Home Sweet Home
Part 1 | Part 2

Part 3

Dahisar seemed like heaven after Kurar. The paint was peeling, there was more furniture than floor space, the doors wouldn't shut properly, the neighbours were surly... but these were niggles we could live with.
But slowly the euphoria of moving into a relatively better house, in a relatively better area began to wear off. A building sprung up overnight to block our terrific view -- and the easterly breeze -- of Bombayites strap-hanging from trains on their way to work; the rains brought with them a flood of sewage water right into our compound; the taps ran dry; after the paint, the plaster started falling off in chunks; the doors grew increasingly intransigent; the knees got bruised through regular and forceful contact with edges of unwanted furniture.
With each passing day, the cribs grew...
Living in a rental house is like living in transit: your life is forever on hold.
The little things you thought would adorn your home: like that set of gifted crystalware; that lovely wooden fruit bowl we bought on our honeymoon (our first purchase after marriage); the handcrafted pot; the ethnic wall hanging; the colourful thorans... they all remained neatly packed, stuffed under the huge double bed; soaking in the smell of naphthaline balls from neighbouring woollens.
Every purchase we wished to make was prefaced with three questions: Do we need this now? Can't it wait till we have a house of our own? Where will we keep it?
So we waited. Buying nothing. Doing nothing. Postponing our very life.
We had both given up our jobs. We had turned 'entrepreneurs'. The real estate boom went bust (What was available for nothing less than Rs 7000 a square feet in Powai was now going at Rs 4000 and finding few takers). But, by then, we had abandoned all hopes of buying a house, at least for a while. Our greatest benefactor -- HDFC -- wouldn't entertain us without three years of tax returns, and even then we would be treated like pariahs of the credit-seeking world.
The business grew slowly -- but steadily. I bagged a part-time consultancy job with a national daily. I applied with the only savings we had -- Rs 50,000 -- for a MHADA house, on the advice of an influential friend, who promised to swing it for us. Three months later we got the money back, without even so much as a note of regret.
Aeons later, the influential friend surfaced again. His story: a big builder in Kandivli had built rows upon rows of buildings, and post-the-real estate bust, was finding it difficult to get buyers. He was selling flats, in distress, at Rs 800 a square feet (at the height of our house-hunting exploits, it was Rs 2400)
Off we went to the builders' office. In the first place, my friend got the name of the builder wrong. In the second, he was a 1000 bucks off the mark.
Dejected, I went home to inform an expectant wifey of the bad news. She took it very well. "What's wrong with 1800, isn't it much less than what it was three years ago. Where will we get a deal like this?"
What's wrong indeed? And that was that. We didn't bother looking up the place. We didn't bother checking on the builder's antecedants. We didn't bother checking our cash flow ("At the most, what do we have to lose, if we can't come up with the rest of the money: only the signing amount, na? Let's cross the bridge when we come to it"). We parted with the fifty grand that we got back from MHADA as the signing amount.
The builder promised possession in two years. Every month we would have to pay 10 per cent of the total amount, based on the progress of the work. Thankfully, as is the wont of builders, he took four years instead of two. That gave us two years more than we had expected to raise our end of the money (HDFC having reluctantly agreed to foot the rest).
I am not a great believer in destiny. But just think about this: when I chased the dream of a house desperately and ceaselessly for over a year, it completely eluded me. And then when I was not even trying or thinking about it, it falls into my lap, like some manna from heaven.
It's twilight again. The palm fronds have lost their golden sheen. The birds are massing on the water tank. I turn my head and, in the distance, I see a skyscraper rise above the surrounding slums. I shiver a little at the memories it evokes. And I thank my stars.

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