It was one of those humid and dry Bangalore summer days when I stepped out with my friend and future roommate Manjusha to look out for accommodation in the city. The journey from Kumbalgodu to Marathalli took the two of us almost three whole hours. We weren’t discouraged as we were in one of those victorious moods – we were recruited by a leading news agency.
It was a prestigious and laudable moment in our lives; hence the long BMTC journey seemed very petty. Our bus halted at this seemingly bizarre location, which looked like a cross between a highway and an area that looked urban, called Marathalli. We were starving and hence decided to stop at a cake shop. The owner of the shop gave us the menu card and we mustered the courage to ask him about the rents of apartments around that area.
The owner asked us, “You want an apartment. Why?” We were left puzzled. Why do we want an apartment? Hmmm… because we intend to live in it! He then questioned us, audaciously, “You can choose a women’s hostel na? Why do you girls want an apartment?” His ugly smirk and bizarre question made us feel guilty. Are we not allowed to take an apartment? Are we doing something illegal? We thought that he may not answer our queries and hence swallowed our samosas and left the place.
Scene 2: Yemlur. Behind HAL airbase – a remote village which is now visited by information technology workers thanks to Divyashree Technopolis. We were thrilled at seeing our new office, but our smile was short-lived. The place was filled with small chai (tea) shops but we also found some decent looking apartments. We approached one of the owners and asked him about the rent. He remarked, “First, tell me will you have boys coming over?” We were stumped and confused as to why we were asked such absurd questions. I told him, “Sir, please tell us the rent of the place, first. We might have friends visiting us at times.” He raised his eyebrows and then told us, “No boys should come. If you assure me that, we can proceed”.
We were forced to make an unrealistic commitment. Both of us are not ‘party animals’. But we have a fair number of friends. So does that mean that when two single, working women who hire an apartment are forbidden to socialize with the world around them? We realized that it is not going to be easy to find a good house. A narrow minded society flooded with recent stories of crime against women is now scared to accept a social and professional working woman.
Our hunt became tedious; we walked around the place and randomly asked people about flats. We also asked security guards, “Bhaiya apartment khali hai kya? (Is an apartment available on rent?) With 1 or 2 bedrooms, a hall and kitchen?” Probably our randomness proved to be too risky for us as we were finally called hookers by one of the ladies who were sitting with the guards. They asked the guard, “Aei maagi gulo kothat theke aesche?” which means “From where have these hookers come?” in Bengali. Being a Bengali myself, I understood that she thought that we were hookers or maybe it is just the way they generally term any woman. But overall it was an embarrassing day!
The overload of vague questions made me think if society is unable to digest the idea of an independent woman or whether it is the string of crime stories involving women that has turned society into a wicked teacher who always has this stick in his hand to induce fear and trauma in the mind of his students. Society has forgotten that it is absolutely normal for girls and boys to have friendship, trust and love between them. It is time to splash some water on the half asleep society so that it realizes the abnormal metamorphosis of its thought process against women. This change or rather setback in attitude will not only bruise our freedom but also affect the men out there who continue to be boorish spectators to the miseries endured by the opposite sex.
This article was first published at Sneha Banerjee’s Convergence and has been reproduced here with the permission of the author.