N A M Ismail
It was my belief that similar to tigers, leopards, cats, dogs and wolves the majority of human beings were meat eaters. This had given me an extraordinary confidence that I could eat anything, that flies, except aeroplanes; that has four legs, except chairs and stools; that has two legs except humans; living in the water, except turtles; that slithers or creeps, except snakes and lizards. I had the arrogance to think that 'I belonged to the majority'.
I always believed that unity in glorious India that stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Nagaland lies in the food we eat whether it be the meat of sheep, chicken, fish or rabbit and if one was a vegetarian it was in the biryani prepared using spinach, nuts, roots and spices. I realised how wrong I was when I started searching for a house to rent.
'We only rent houses to vegetarians'
'We only have vegetarians in our apartment, sir'
'We don't like the smell of meat. Please don't mind'
From the north to south and east to west of Bangalore when every owner started saying the same words I recalled the words of my friends from different castes - 'The smell of Ramzan's biryani is unbelievable, friend. Don't forget to invite us.' I also remembered the secret parties my brother used to organise for vegetarians every Ramzan.
However, it dawned on me that none of these would help me in securing a house. I lost the enthusiasm to continue the search on my own without the help of a broker.
I decided that humanitarian and peaceful Allah has created these hurdles for self service people like us, as brokering is also a profession and they have to make a living.
When I spoke to the first broker and informed him of my budget he gave me a list of available properties.
Cheerfully I drove my scooter to the place he had mentioned and received a welcome with a broad smile when I reached there.
I liked the first house itself. The owner also liked the prospective tenant.
When I was about to take money from my pocket to give as a token advance, the owner asked a question, 'what do you do?'
Immediately I remembered what my dad had told me when I had joined a newspaper as a journalist. During wedding and other functions when my dad was asked what I was doing he couldn't just say that I was working in the newspaper industry. The people who were expecting answers would assume that the job would be either delivering newspapers to homes in the morning or to do with the waste paper business. My dad had to struggle it seems to explain my journalistic work.
I saw the gate in front of the house with the plaque of Krishna's blessing (Krishnana Krupe) and managed to say 'Journalist'. He told me about all the roads which are in need of repair in the area and asked for my name. By this time I believed it was guaranteed that I would get the house and said 'Ismail'. The Agent's face fell. The owner was disappointed and after recovering said 'I am okay sir, my mum is still alive and she doesn't like it. Please don't be upset'.
I was too empty to feel upset and said angrily 'You could have said in the beginning itself that you don't let the house to Muslims.'
'You speak Kannada so well..... That's why I didn't know.'
I sat on the scooter not understanding if the owner was praising or reprimanding me.
The broker sat on the pillion and said, 'I was also confused as you spoke in Kannada, otherwise I would have taken you to a Muslim owner's house.'
I felt like driving the scooter under the BMTC bus.
I remembered that my pregnant wife would be waiting at home, so I stopped the scooter by the roadside and dropped off the agent and said, 'I don't want the house, I will erect a tent by the side of the road' and left.
The owners of our current rented house had been decent. Once a year the landlady would visit us and say, 'It is over a year.' I would then offer to increase the rent. After accepting my increase they would not return for a year. The owners had encountered difficulties and had to let us go. In order to relieve the owners of their problems we had no other choice but to leave.
After failing on my own and after the disaster with the agent, I remembered, when I was travelling on my scooter aimlessly, that a friend had told me about free classified papers. I purchased all of these and took them home.
My wife understood the situation when she saw my face. She looked at me. I remembered the poet, Bendre. She started lecturing about my profession and my bad mouthing which erased that memory. Then she said, 'you do not know how to search for a house. I replied, 'you find it' and immersed myself in the free classifieds. She called Bhavani Prakash, a friend and a theatre actor. It seemed like there was a discussion about an animal called husband. At one time the phone was handed over to me.
'Who said they won't give a house to you? I have seen seven to eight To-let boards. Both of you come over here right now. In our area you will find a house for a small family.' I said, 'yes' and went to 'their area' with my wife.
I was in a zen state after having had the experience of visiting more than 10 houses. Bhavani was full of enthusiasm as it was new for her. Searching started again. When I saw the first 'To-let' I looked around and saw a tulasi plant pot. I was a little disappointed but Bhavani pushed ahead. I followed believing in ladies first. The owner appeared to be decent. He opened the door and started showing us the house and stated his requirements which included small family, husband and wife only. During his conversation he asked 'who is having the house?' I introduced myself by giving my name. 'I won't let the house to non-vegetarians' the owner said. We were disappointed and started on our next target.
The second 'to-let' also prohibited non-vegetarians. When the third person also said the same, Bhavani who had become angry by then said, 'see, if they prepare non-vegetarian food they won't share it with you. They will eat it. Also when the rate of meat is so high do you think it can be consumed every day?' I ended up consoling her and said, 'let us visit the next house.' We didn't like one or two houses. The rest of them had the condition of Brahmins only or Hindu only and by then the day had come to an end.
By this time, Bhavani had also reached zen like state. She had started calling a few friends informing them that a muslim couple are looking for a house to rent. I got back to making phone calls to the owners who had advertised in the free classifieds. As soon as the owners answered, my question was 'Do you rent the house to Muslims? It didn't seem as if they were embarrassed with this question. Maybe they were pleased with the question? Straight away they used to say, 'No'.
I continued to make the phone calls without losing my patience and realised the likely areas where I might be able to find a house to rent. In a way I started to understand the social mindset of different areas of Bangalore. Making phone calls like this started giving me a sort of enjoyment and I also changed the style of my questioning. 'Do you rent the house to non-vegetarians?' If the answer was no I didn't continue the conversation.
If they said yes, I would ask 'What is your caste, sir?'
Most of them were pleased to answer the question saying, 'we are Reddy's, Kurubas, Gowdru,...etc'.,
Once I had the answer, depending on the way they had answered the previous question, I would ask the next question, 'Do you rent the house to Muslims? Most of them would say 'No'. I wouldn't leave it at that. 'Sir, you said okay for non-vegetarians but now you are saying no'. I would get an amusing reply, 'your Kannada is so good.. but..' or 'Muslims.. too many people. That's why we don't give' I used to be really thrilled if I received this reply, 'no sir, we are only two. My mum and dad are no more. My wife's mum and dad are afraid of Bangalore. Give it a try sir. I will pay the rent on time.' They would put the phone down to avoid my pestering.
Whilst searching for the house I managed to understand the map of Bangalore's caste, religion and the mindset of the owners of rented houses. I started understanding the necessary physical and intellectual tools required to create a theory on where Muslims might succeed in renting a house.
When the owner says, 'do not rent the house to non-vegetarians' what it means depends on the timing. If they said that after hearing your Muslim name or before will give a clue. Whilst searching for renting a house forget Ahinda, Ambedkarism and other ideologies.
*If you are searching through a broker it is better to inform them of your caste and religion at the start.
*In South Bangalore, it is mainly Muslim owners who rent houses to Muslims. Anything different then it has to be British period Bangalore i.e., Cantonment area.
*Caste and religion is less likely to be an issue if you are ready to pay more than Rs 25,000 per month
*Muslims can try their luck in newly built areas.
*It is easier to get a house where there is a Muslim majority.
Whilst searching for a house using these sutras, either because of the fortune of my about to be born daughter or because of the ethical anger of some of my non Muslim friends I manage to rent a house from a Muslim family. My political, social and cultural research into rented houses came to a temporary halt. I need to remember during this Ramzan time that the all seeing and all controlling lord of known and unknown world had put me through this test so that I am aware of untouchability. Let all praises be to him. Amen.
N A M Ismail is a columnist and works in the editorial department of Prajavani, a Kannada daily newspaper. He has edited many books and has diverse interests including translation and digital initiatives.
This article was first published in Kannada in Prajavani as ಎಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ ಮನೆ? on 07/06/2014. Translated from Kannada by Sridhar Gowda