Agent X's houses of horrors

SOMEONE SOMEWHERE in Chennai is looking for a house, even as you read this. And home hunting can be a quite an eye-opener of an experience in the city, especially if you are a newcomer looking for a roof to stay under. It could be an emotional journey for many, with a few laughs thrown in for the balance.

It's a journey that eight out of ten times starts from the Sunday Classifieds section and charts its way through slushy streets, littered lanes and haunted houses, courtesy, the friendly neighbourhood Mr. Agent who reaches out to you, almost inevitably.

Mr. Agent gets down to business right from the minute you've registered with him and paid Rs. 200 towards "Inspection Fees". Thereon starts a roller coaster of a hunt — strictly only for the brave and the strong at heart.

Stop One. Mr. Agent takes us to a decently big looking house. A friend, a city slicker from the capital, seemed to be reasonably satisfied about the area— a quiet residential colony in T.Nagar. After a quick PC (polite conversation) with the house owner, the agent takes a detour to the backyard of the house and our Delhiite is in for a shock as he sees the size of the room — half the size of an MTC bus with no windows, and a common bathroom outside smaller than an auto rickshaw. Rs.1600 for it, we are told.

Mr. Agent sensing the disappointment on the face of the Delhiite, promises another place that's bigger. Ten minutes later, we are in the heart of the city again — G.N.Chetty Road. It's pretty dark in the evening and Stop Two generates an eerie feeling straight out of a Manoj Night Shymalan flick. It was a three-storied set-up where bachelors stay, we hear.

As we climb up the dark stairway, there's always a feeling of being followed. "Is it some kind of a mortuary," the friend jocularly remarks to rid the tension on his face. Cut to: An old worn out board that says `Operation Theatre'. Pretty close guess that was, after all. It just took us another moment to realise where we were — at a hospital converted into `mansion'. The agent opens the room and we see hospital beds inside. We turn around.

The Delhiite friend who had come for treatment to the city is gone!

After hours of convincing, we pull out the Delhiite friend to check out Stop Three. It's a four-bedroom house — four little rooms actually. "Hmmm. So I'll bring my family here as well," our Delhiite jokes. Agent instantly pulls out his mobile and talks to the owner. "Saar, he's bringing his family also... Wokay... wokay... Saar," he cuts the line, turns to the Delhiite and says, "Okay Saar, no problem ... you can bring your family also".

Stop Four. There are two options as the team on a house hunting expedition makes its way through more slums. "Ground floor and First floor available Saar". Ground Floor area turns out to be suspiciously dingy. The first floor seems haunted. "Looks like some kind of a sidey shady house," the friend whispers trying to amuse himself again. "Yes, Saar. You like it," Mr. Agent asks. This time, all except Mr. Agent do the disappearing act.

Agent calls continuously for the next two days on the mobile to show us more options, but the Delhiite friend is too terrified.

Three days later, we call to check on the friend only to find out that he's moved to the Hyatt Residency! The Hyatt in Chennai, we wonder. The friend invites us over. "It's in West Mambalam. The rent here is Rs. 2,500 per month. It's pretty decent. Come through Station Road, the bazaar area and ask for it," he says.

A few hours later, we make our way and ask for the Hyatt. Making our way through the litter strewn war zone of a street, we find the Hyatt... only that this one is a `mansion' spelt H-a-y-a-t-h!

It happens only in Chennai, right?

By Sudhish Kamath

Graphics by Varghese Kallada

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