House-hunting for a Muslim in Delhi can be a long and excruciating exercise….
I shudder even now when I think of the incident of my husband, a media relations executive, being called a terrorist.
Five years ago, in Dwarka’s Sabka Ghar Apartments here in the Capital, we were not able to get our favourite news channels on cable TV. My husband had been calling the cablewallah without much success. One day he tersely asked him what was preventing him from giving us the channels? The cablewallah shouted back, “ Chup be, terrorist! Bada aaya mujh par chillane wala (Shut up terrorist, dare you shout at me!).
Shocked and hurt, my husband and I went to the Dwarka police station and met the Station House Officer. He called the cablewallah and asked him why he had used the label of terrorist. Was it our Muslim names? The remorseless response was, “Sir, muh se nikal gaya (it was a slip of the tongue)”.
The SHO made the man sit in the police station for almost the entire night and pacified us with the assurance that such “elements” were everywhere. We left the place somewhat placated.
But could we blame only the cablewallah? Our house hunting experience in Delhi and Noida confirmed that the educated class did not think any differently.
In early 2007, Yusuf and I went house-hunting in Delhi and Noida. We looked at almost a hundred houses in all four Delhi zones -- South, West, East and North. We thought we were lucky to find a house in Greater Kailash-II, the posh South Delhi area with rich, educated inhabitants. It belonged to a former Mr. India. We paid a token amount and decided to shift some luggage. We went to receive the keys to the house, and to our shock found that the landlord had changed his mind. He wouldn’t even let us in. Instead he returned our money stating blandly, “We have sold the house.”
How can a house be sold in just three days, we asked, and wondered why he hadn’t informed us. He had no answers. I asked him bluntly, “You don’t want us because we are Muslims, right?” He refused to answer my question. It was insulting, and we protested. In response, he asserted, “My son is a former Mr. India with a lot of connections.” So instead, we had to be careful.
South Delhi areas with dense Muslim populations are Okhla, Abul Fazal Enclave, Zakir Nagar and Batla House. They are typical ghettos. In East Delhi, areas like Laxmi Nagar and Darya Ganj in Central Delhi where Muslim population is thick, getting a good dwelling was extremely difficult because people, fed up with insecurity and exclusion elsewhere, finally come here. The houses are awfully expensive as a result. The landlords know Muslims prefer these areas, especially post-Babri demolition and Gujarat violence and rents have risen. And we, being educated Muslims, avoided living in ghettos.
The search in Delhi yielded no results. So we headed for the National Capital Region. In Noida, people were openly prejudiced. Most of them seemed to think Muslims cook bombs in their kitchens. Others who didn’t want to be labelled “non-secular”, hid their intentions behind “we don’t want non-vegetarians” or “late night entry at home”.
We had almost finalised a house in Noida Sector 10 through a property dealer. It belonged to an old couple. We were ready with a month’s security and advance rent as the dealer advised. At the premises, we found another party talking to the landlord, negotiating a lower rent. The aged owners didn’t seem convinced, but also didn’t seem to know we were Muslims. The moment we revealed our religion, the old man’s wife rushed inside, and called her husband in. Ten minutes later they came back with some cash, apparently taken from the other party. The owner apologised saying, “I am sorry…my wife had fixed it up with the other family and I didn’t know about it. You were late by just half an hour. We have otherwise no problems in keeping Muslims.” We could see he was lying. The property dealer too apologised. “Sir, please don’t mind, Noida has reservations about Muslims.”
Finally we got a house in Noida – in Nithari village. It belonged to a retired Army officer. He warmly welcomed us and said (quite unnecessarily), “We treat Muslims as our brothers and sisters.” But we refused it as the house was bang opposite the house where the killings of children had happened, and the house, on the top floor, overlooked the drain into which the bodies were thrown.
Out of the blue, our non-Muslim friend, a former General Secretary of the Press Club of India, a freelancer with a Pakistani newspaper and with known sympathies towards Muslims, handed over the keys to his Dwarka house. He said Aligarh Muslim University, where he (and we) studied, taught him to love “ Mian bhais ”. His unclean house was empty for four years, with no power and offered hard water. We didn’t want to go so far, but we had no choice.
Living under the scanner made us uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the hard water made us think of moving.
There are two Muslim-populated posh societies in East Delhi. Abul Fazal Apartment in Vasundhara Enclave and Punjabi Saudagar in Mayur Vihar. They are given only to “educated, liberal and secular Muslims”. That’s why we were readily offered a house in Abul Fazal.
We shifted from Dwarka. Living among the community has its pros and cons. Like it or not, you get into a sophisticated ghetto. When people know that you live in Abul ‘Phajal’ Apartment, their jaws drop. Some just can’t avoid muttering “ohhh Mussalman!” Abul Fazal Apartment is branded as a “Mini Pakistan”.
Cut to last year’s World Cup cricket matches.
Abul Fazal Apartment with 99 per cent Muslims put up a huge plasma screen to watch the World Cup semi-finals against Pakistan and the finals. Drummers were brought in, women and children painted Tricolours on faces.
At every Indian six or boundary, the drummer beat his drum, kids and big boys danced the bhangra and women would shout ‘wooow!’ . To a Pakistani six, the residents would shout, “Out, out!”
Residents of nearby Anekant and City housing gathered at our place, surprised and also happy at Muslims making merry at Indian cricketers’ triumph.
After India won the World Cup, laddoos and soft drinks were distributed at the society’s expense.