Tenant, Feminist, Coward, Courageous - who was I?


I was 23 and I had just taken the possession of my first rented apartment. Though small, it was the apple of my eye… my pride… my first home in Mumbai.

For all those people who have never shared their home with a stranger, my apologies! For you won’t ever understand the magnanimity of what I am talking about… The happiness of not having to share your home with a bunch of random strangers is a feeling only someone who has experienced it will truly comprehend. Moving from a Paying Guest to my own rented apartment wasn’t just a house change for me, it was a life change!

Anyway, I am digressing…

So, I was 23 and here I was! Alone in my apartment! It was nearly eleven on a Sunday night and I had spent the better part of the weekend in moving my few belongings, getting the handyman to put up a few nails and screws in the walls as per my needs and finally setting the house up.

The bed was in place and so were the suitcases. I didn’t own a cupboard yet. The kitchen had been taken care of too – an electric gas and a few utensils along with packets of Maggi and Knorr soups was it all.

And as I slowly walked towards my new bed (a mere mattress since I couldn’t really afford a bed yet!), I heard it for the first time. The noises I would supposedly get used to over the new few weeks, or may be months. But that night, that scream that pierced through the dark night scared me. It was a scream of a helpless hurting woman, followed by a sound of something crashing down. The crash was followed by a yelling husband and a few more screams.

I realized I had stopped breathing. Tentatively, I sucked in some oxygen and took a shaky uncertain step towards the window. It was a warm night, however my spine certainly couldn’t have told you that.

Neither did the screaming stop, nor did the bashing. And a clueless me continued to stand at the window, rooted to the spot, wondering if I should continue to listen or run away. The feminist within me wanted to help the woman, wanted to call the cops and ask them for help. But the tenant in me was scared to lose her new apartment that she was in love with. After all, I had been informed by my Estate Agent that I needed to lay low and ensure that there was no complaint against me. As a single woman renting the apartment, I was going to be under microscopic scrutiny by the society members and the first complaint would mean me being kicked out.

And there, standing all alone and listening to the screeching wails, seeing out of the window however seeing nothing, I grew up. Those few minutes (or was it a couple of hours?) taught me my first lesson of tenancy. I was a single woman by myself in an apartment – and if that didn’t scare me enough, the fact that I am a defenceless tenant and I would have to go through the stress of finding another house and a house-owner who would be up for leasing his house to a single woman should.

I was a tenant, and even if I wanted to raise my voice against a wrong doer, I couldn’t. Why you still ask? Because I was a tenant, and that too a single woman.

After what felt like an eternity, I turned my back to the window and to the woman, and crawled into the bed. The war between my head and my heart began that night and continued for the next ten months.

A week before my lease ended, the noises turned a notch higher. It was now unbearable. How could I stand it? Or may be, my fear of losing my home wasn’t a fear anymore and that made me more courageous, more outrageous.

I finally made the call. Two cops answered my plea. And as we knocked on the door and waited for it to open, the cop turned to me and said, “You are really courageous to have taken this step by yourself. Thank you.”

A tear rolled down my cheek.