I was 17 when I started living alone. I was in Bangalore for the last three years, and now, I am in Chennai. And I am a self-declared pro at finding and living in real estate. Well, the budget real estate. The cheap and the decent. The manageable places. The adjustable neighborhoods.
The struggle to find a space is real.
In Bangalore, I found a room for myself on the fourth floor. So if I come down and realize that I have forgotten something — a key, a book, a child – it is left right there. There is no elevator in that building. Obviously. And in no way, am I going to climb Mt. Everest and sweat in my newly-ironed clothes.
But then something nags you. You need that book for today. Ugh! So you crack your neck side-to-side and motivate yourself to climb up the staircase. By the second flight of stairs, my lungs are compressed. But you see from the corner of your eye, somebody is coming down the stairs and you immediately straighten up so that nobody sees you are dying. Half of your mind wants to run to them and warn them about having to climb stairs if they have forgotten something. But misery loves company.
I would have had two idlis for breakfast, and one of them would be digested in that four flights of stairs and one of them, just by walking to college. So by the time the class starts, my stomach is empty.
I weirdly miss the dosas that they used to make. Because the process to make and get one was long. Every Thursday, I wake up early in the morning and get ready. There are only two pans for around a hundred girls. So it is the survival of the fittest. I go down with my steel plate and face my five contenders who have also gotten ready. We silently acknowledge each other with a meek smile. Still, in all honesty, we will be trying to kill the other mentally. The cook makes the dosas, and we wait like men outside the liquor shop.
Finally, I would get two dosas. I would pour the hot sambhar on my plate and keep it for five minutes. The Vietnamese culture used to cook raw food in hot broths. To cook the dosa, I would keep it in my very fancy vegetable broth, and then I would eat it when I see that the flour is not white anymore.
People who have lived/live in hostels and PGs are the modern-day cavemen. They know how to survive with the bare minimum. I cannot reiterate that point enough. Always trying to save up that much money that I was given, I ended up putting together the weirdest combinations of food ever. Like for example, I would slice a bun (Rs. 15) in half, crunch and smash some chips and put Lays (Rs. 10) in between and eat my potato sandwich happily and proudly.
After food, the next battle would be for the washing machine and for the line outside to put the clothes. Without a strategy, forget doing your laundry. Here again, I would wake up early in the morning, run to the washing machine, dump all my clothes, and scan for an empty line to put my clothes. I would take a photo after I hang my clothes and send them to my mom because it would make me so sentimental that I accomplished this task.
For me, when I come back in the evening and see my clothes pushed to one corner by someone to put their clothes or if I see my laundry peg has been stolen, it is time for revenge. I push their clothes all the way to the side and hunt for my laundry peg that someone obviously used to stick their clothes in. I would take back what was rightfully mine.
This is no time for kindness, concern, or compassion.
Then I moved to Chennai much later on. We found so many places and not one of them; I liked it. Forget good. Nothing was even decent.
The first place I went to was so shady. It was supposedly a homestay. It smelled weird, as well. There was one room, completely unfurnished, pipes that don’t work, and the dealer said he needs three days to fit it all in. Boy, you need a month to clean this shit up.
Then we went to another location. Here, the cupboard is the size of a mini-refrigerator. I inquired if they would provide me with an extra closet, knowing very well what the answer would be.
We searched for more, and every place was equally disappointing. Either they don’t have a washing machine or a faucet or a bed, or it is way too expensive or tough to commute.
And I desperately had to move in somewhere as quickly as possible.
So yes, I am writing this from my room. I cannot hear myself think when the fan is on, because it makes this incessant buzzing sound. There is no attached bathroom. This means I have to lock my room every single time to get to the washroom. Water is available, but it is slightly bad. The water that comes from the sink runs like a thread. So I fill the bucket and scoop water from there to brush my teeth. It is a whole task, my friends. Thankfully, there is a good faucet and toilet.
There are zero mirrors in my room. There is one mirror in the common area, which means I have to comb my hair, put on my lipstick before three girls sitting on the sofa, and texting. There are no dustbins, as well. There is one big trash can kept at the end of the floor, which is kept open as well, and we must put everything there because we don’t have a choice. Starting from our hairballs, to toffee wrappers, to food waste to yes, used pads wrapped in newspaper.
I pay extra for electricity and water. Rent is somehow exclusive of that. Someone, please explain to me how that works. I also prop up two pillows on top of each other as my “working table.” Nobody cares about your shoulders and neck.
Right now, I am praying that I get out of this place soon and alive. I want to thrive. Not just survive. I have already paid my dues in Bangalore. I won’t make this a pattern. But it’s like they say. Bad villains make the story interesting.
Featured Image Credits: Sri Harsha Dantuluri