Single girl in the big city? No Vacancy!
If you’re moving from a little town to a big city, hoping for some space, here’s a disclaimer: the minds and apartments here are much smaller than you’d expect.
Living independently as a young working woman in urban India is not at all like Carrie Bradshaw’s exuberant love affair with New York City. That is what I expected, nay, aspired to. I was looking forward to being a single girl in the big city. I thought it would be liberating, life-changing, empowering. As it turned out, it was just plain exhausting. At the first meeting with a burly old landlord, my hope of life as a young, fierce, independent, apartment dweller was sorely crushed. He wore a nose that was too big for his face, upturned with suspicion, beady red eyes, and an accusatory, rough voice. But he inspected my perfectly normal T-shirt and jeans ensemble with particular disdain. “Married?” he asked. “Uh, no.” my unmarried friend and intended housemate answered hesitantly, as if we were confessing to being criminals. “Then, no. No bachelor ladies!” he declared, promptly shoo-ing us out of the apartment like pesky flies and turned his sweaty back to us. We looked at each other in confusion.
What is it about single women that repels society?
Are we a thorn in the side of an otherwise healthy society? That is certainly how we are treated.
Every landlord has their own set of quaint requirements. One of them even demanded to either meet my parents or see a consent form, making me feel like an infant at a parent-teacher conference. After much searching, we finally met a kind-faced man who agreed to rent out his apartment to us, after enumerating a hefty list of do’s and don’t’s - the most significant rule was sprinkled multiple times for good measure - “no boys allowed!” They were so strict that my brother was questioned multiple times while trying to help me move into said apartment.
One uneventful summer morning, I thought it would be perfect for a swim so I put on my swimsuit and marched off to the pool situated right at the center of the four blocks of the apartment complex. Forty-five minutes later, feeling relaxed and rather pleased with my time in the water and having taken a shower, I found my landlord ringing the doorbell and tapping his feet impatiently as he chided me on my ‘poor’ choice of clothing and demanded that that I wear something else to the pool so that people wouldn’t look. Evidently, the Watchman was taking his title much too seriously.
Having debated this with multiple friends and other homeowners, I have come to realise that discrimination against single working women is a real issue. We have all had to contend with interrogation, judgemental glaring and in some cases, persistent haranguing in our quest for decent, rented accommodation. We are even fed a concoction of absurd arguments - some even intended to make us feel like denying spinsters housing in a society with ‘families’ is a favour to us.
“For your own safety, it is better to take a PG, no?” “It becomes a huge problem for the owner if something happens to you, please understand.”
What they fail to understand is that we will then be forced to rent houses/apartments further away from the city, amplifying the risk of our safety and well-being considerably.
A young woman I spoke with, who has recently married, noted the stark difference when she rented a home with her husband. She stated that she was shocked when she was invited to a meal with her new landlord - something she never imagined possible after her unnerving prior experiences as a single woman.
It isn’t just that we are young, unmarried women. It is that we are independent women with questionable morals due to our late hours, ‘modern’ clothing, romantic liaisons, parties and the occasional boy friend (yes, Auntie from C 301, sometimes they are just friends who happen to be male). We are considered to be a “nuisance” to our neighbours for reasons as basic as late-night phone conversations, “careless” with regard to maintaining a flat and an “embarrassment” because of the visitors we allow into our private, rented quarters.
Our behaviour is keenly monitored by the neighbours, and reactions range from lifted eyebrows and whispers in stuffy elevators to house owners banging on the door at odd hours and hurling derogatory insults. There seems to be no respect for the fact that all tenants, married or otherwise, have the right to live as they please - after all, they aren’t guests at the home they are renting.
And it isn’t just these superficial things that disqualify us from being granted housing. We are refused as tenants based on our eating preferences (‘Non-Veg? We don’t want the house to be impure’) and our religion (‘Oh!’ *insert awkward, judgement-filled, grimace here*).
Ironically, the bachelors who occupy flats do not have to battle this issue to the same degree.
Their behaviour is put down to youthfulness while for spinsters, it is outrageousness!
It is hard enough to navigate the eve-teasing on the streets, the stares of male colleagues and the unsolicited advice of overbearing family members. We don’t need to wade in the murky waters of harassment from landlords and building societies too.
Although women are fighting to become irreplaceable at work, we are still an inconvenience to society. We are finally financially independent and can afford to rent a lovely home, but due to this archaic thinking, we have no place to live. Women are expected to be beacons of Indian culture, rooted in tradition, smelling of talcum powder and kitchen spices. It is, apparently unacceptable to make seemingly ‘western’ choices such as working late, attending/hosting dinner parties or wearing a skirt. And God forbid, you ever, ever smell like whiskey, lest you want your house thoroughly inspected for alcohol.