Finding a place is Delhi, South Delhi was what I was up to last weekend and the run up to it. Staying currently in Sheikh Sarai II, I was asked to move due to construction work being undertaken. A friend from Bombay used the finely wrought term ‘redevelopment.’
As I scoured places like CR Park, Alaknanda and Kalkaji I was amused to observe how people in my building seemed to change their behaviour towards me. Now that I was leaving, I didn’t seem to count. A handful were genuinely sorry, and almost choked when replying.
Amidst the dust, cement and grime which swirled around me when I got home to my barsati (a 1-room accom on the terrace), I wondered how many days more I would survive here. Labourers were also using my loo by now without so much as a by-your-leave.
After I recovered from the initial shock of the steep rentals, I set about getting practical. I had to quit my current lodging by the month-end – which left me with just 2 weekends in June.
Rates for a 1BHK (bedroom, hall, kitchen – I looked it up!) varied from 10-15 grand per month depending on the locality. What intrigued me were the back entrances for some of the places I was shown by the property dealers in CR. So you got into a service lane and then dived into a hall of sorts – the only succour being, that it was cool. On another occasion I was shown a 2 room set in the basement, which promptly had me feeling suffocated.
Another dive I saw had workmen at it furiously doing the plumbing on a newly-constructed terrace flat on the 4th floor. While the views were breathtaking, getting to the 4th floor also took your breath away! They all ask 'Where are you from?' When I say 'Goan' they relax a little. When I told an elderly landlady I teach guitar (hoping to warm things up) she read me the riot act saying that would not be permissible here as that constituted commercial use of the place. Well!
And as I made my journey outward to seek out new lodgings, it was also a journey within. I needed to find a place where I would be happy within. ‘Peace, Be still,’ Jesus had said to the unruly waves in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mathew 8: 18-27). Peace and stillness was also what I was looking for.
In my search I was struck by the poetry of Pope John Paul II:
I take my first steps on a footbridge
My heart -- is it a footbridge throbbing in each joist?
Is thought a footbridge?
My thoughts only trace what my heart is tracking
Feelings perceptions -- but which fills me more?
This footbridge is all.
And yet I grow differently,
feel the wind differently, differently sway.
Both strong and weak speak to me
and strength is the contrast:
the world leans differently
on strength and on weakness.
Is the bridge just an image of somebody crossing?
Over the deep, groping for the shore, he throbs
at the merging of currents . . .
And yet I stand
a profile cut from the wave
which withdraws and leaves me behind.
My motion is different:
there a shape is enclosed in transparent brackets,
here the truth is confirmed
in my own life.
Was moving house like standing on a footbridge? It was – in a way. These steps I was taking were so tentative. A new place after 10 years propelled by, what I thought, was the avarice of a few to 'redevelop' by first throwing down to the dust.
But change is not always negative. If we look for the positive in life it will come hither. Dad was happy I finally made the decision to shift – last September when he visited my place it was like a war zone!
I think a time in life comes when one is called to upgrade. If rents are 3 times now or more, salaries have tripled too. A new space will open up new possibilities. A hall could be useful to conduct guitar classes, to dance or as a study. Yes, the old rhythms must yield way to the new and the familiar trot home:
And I will show you . . .
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
-T. S. Eliot The Wasteland
I was given a tip by a friend who also was doing the rounds for accom in South Delhi. ‘Take the place if you like it,’ she had said ‘You can always change it later. Places are so difficult to find.’ It made a lot of sense.
And when I zeroed in on a sunny apartment which I liked I was surprised to find that I could divide my friends into two categories, viz. One which did not balk at the price I paid and said in terms of the location it was a good choice, and the other who shied away from the enormity of my choice and dithered in confidence. Truly I felt much happier with the former. They were from among the few who helped me push my own limits – to see where I could be, even if I didn’t have the big picture just then.
When I had selected my place I was quiet, giving it time to sink in. Of the many I had mentioned about my search, a few came back and asked whether I had found something. To them I shared my findings. To the others it may not have mattered.
The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II. Translated from the original Polish by Jerzy Peterkiewicz. London: Hutchinson, 1982. Copyright 1982 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City.