I realised that it has been more than five years, and I’ve never gone into the details of the epic stay at the ‘paying-guest‘ accommodation my Roommate W and I had during our time in India.
Thankfully for us, the stay lasted for only a month. But it was an epic month indeed.
Well, it was my bad. It is truly my bad because I was responsible for moving us to this place. Back then, 19-year-old Phebe was 1) crazy 2) stubborn and 3) will not listen to wise words of others once she has decided on something. To cut the story short, Roommate W and I were paying RS8,000 (SGD267 – adjusted to exchange rates back then) per person each month, back at our guesthouse, and I thought that it was too expensive. This was because we were getting paid RS10,000 (SGD335) – as internship pay at an Indian education company.
It is very possible to survive on RS2,000 (SGD 65) per month in India, but we were Singaporeans and had significantly high living standards. We also had to have KFC once a week at a mall in Gurgaon, therefore, it wasn’t enough.
Hence we decided to move out to a cheaper place, which didn’t come with the perks of a sunny-side-egg breakfast everyday and a ride to office, which our previous slightly more ‘posh’ guesthouse offered.
As fate would have it, we were invited for our company’s retreat at the Westin in Haryana the weekend before changed accommodation.
I can still remember the bed at Westin – it was super comfortable (with 500 thread count bed sheets), the food was super delicious (there were lots of meaty dishes – which was a rare luxury we had in our daily diet.) I had never stayed in a Westin before that, and it was like living in heaven.
But as the irony of life would dictate, we arrived at our new accommodation expecting the worse. And indeed, the situation was bad. Now I must say that to someone else living in India for a long time, the condition of the room may be quite the norm. I’m not sure, but by the standards of two Singaporeans, it was Not The Norm For Us. I don’t consider myself to be a hygiene freak, but this was way beyond my limits.
Here are 15 epic things about my rented accommodation in India:
1. It was freaking HOT!
The room we rented was on the roof. We arrived in the evening and a gust of warm air greeted us as we opened the door. I held on to the naive thought that the room would cool down during the night, but it wasn’t the case, unless we opened the door to let air in. But we didn’t want to do so because of mosquitoes. On our first night, the fan had broken down and we spent the night perspiring. It really sucks to be wiping away beads of perspiration even when you’re in the toilet. ://
What’s worst is that you think you can cool down by having a cold shower. NO. Because the water that comes out from the tap is warm as well.
2. No pillows and bed sheets on the first night
I must say that the Indian couple who rented us the room were terrible hosts – the room came with very dubious looking mattresses with no pillows and no bed sheets. I had to use my sweater as a pillow for the night. To this day, I’m not sure how we survived that very first night.
3. Something on the bed STINGS
I never had trouble getting a good night’s sleep, until that fateful first night. Thinking that it was hot, I made the foolish mistake of not wearing long pants to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling warm and super itchy. I scratched incessantly away at my legs and when morning came – alas, there were five dubious looking bites on my legs. At that moment, Tiger Balm was a balm indeed, to my bites and wounded soul. To address that problem in future nights, I put on insect repellent instead moisturiser before I went to bed.
4. One chair for two people
I was very offended when the landlord and landlady provided only one chair, for two of us. It’s not like their bed was very comfortable to begin with. It also had creepy bugs! On my first night, I spent most of the time standing, and sulking, and retreating to the balcony to think about life.
5. Cooler fan which looked like it hasn’t been used/ cleaned in decades. It was kinda useless as well.
I cannot explain my disgust for the cooler fan. There’s a thick layer of dust on it, and though it’s suppose to be spewing out cold mist, I don’t remember it to be effective at all.
6. Horrible landlord and landlady
We had to pay a month’s rent and another as deposit. After two days into the stay, we decided to cancel our stay and move back to the guesthouse we were staying at. Unfortunately, the landlord insisted that we stay minimally for a month. Hence the month of inconveniences (and torture – just kidding). The landlord took ages to refund us the rent for the other month, and I had to be super aggressive before they gave us back the money. We also found the landlord to be rather creepy when he looked at us. Gross.
7. Super dirty toilet
I’m not a stickler when it comes to cleanliness, but the toilet we had was terrible on so many different levels. Firstly, the toilet seat did not fit well, and looked like it was going to fall off any minute. The older Indian toilets come with a mental plate at the back where water can come out. I made a mental note to sit as far away from that as possible. Secondly, the toilet floor was permanently dirty with brown stains on it. When sitting down on the toilet, I’ll find a strategic location to place my feet, such that they don’t come into contact with the dirtier parts of the floor.
When basic functions like shitting and peeing becomes a hassle, you know it’s time to move.
8. Tap with a super small stream of water
I remembered trying to brush my teeth in the morning, and had to place my mouth right at the tap to get some water in order to gargle. My shower-time was extended by an additional eight minutes because I had to wait for sufficient water to come by before washing off the soap.
9. When the tap goes dry.. and there’s a blackout at the same time.
Yeah, this happened to me once. I was in a middle of taking a shower at night. Night showers are the best because the water is cooler. Just as luck would have it.. water from the tap trickled to a stop, and soon the lights went out. It must have been close to the tail end of our stay because I remembered remaining quite calm and being resigned to fate. After two minutes, the lights came back on again… But the water never did so I ended up bathing from a bucket.
10. Feeling cooked and trapped – you can’t open the door for fresh air because the mossies would come in, and yet it’s freaking hot!
Yeah, that really summed up the dilemma we had. I’m not sure if it was the sauna-like conditions and the perspiration, but I lost a lot of weight after that one-month stay..
But as with everything in life, there are redeeming factors..
11. A lovely balcony to watch the night sky
The room was hot, but the balcony was quite amazing. In the day, you could see children from neighbouring houses fly kites. At night, the city sky is almost glowing, somewhat lighted up by the buzz from neighbouring Delhi. The balcony was my escape. From the heat in the room, from all the physical inadequacies that I’ve faced and also from loneliness.
12. I learnt to travel like a local
It was at this rented accommodation did I learn to get to Delhi from Gurgoan via a shared taxi. Previously, we got there by taxi, which was rather expensive (RS600 (SGD20) for a half day trip). With the shared taxi, I got to Delhi for RS20 (SGD0.70), and that meant more frequent trips to Delhi.
13. The maid from Bihar
The story of the maid from Bihar is deserving of a post on its own. As you may know, Bihar is one of India’s poorest states and the maid from Bihar was only 11 years old when we met her. And she was engaged to be married. To a shopkeeper back home. It’s a story which saddens me, even until today.
14. Shantaram to save my soul
As the rented accommodation of ours did not have an internet connection, I spent most of my free time reading. And Shantaram was the book that could take my mind of the heat, the dust and the itchiness. I teared countless of times, not only because of what was said in the book, but also because it felt so real. Everything the book described about India, the chaos, the mess, the heart and the smiles… it felt so real..
15. Being thankful for the simplest things in life
I remembered the first few moments, taking a dump after we moved back. It was a mixture of emotions – of relief, of comfort and of joy. It was a significant moment for me. I believed I teared a little.
Would I ever want to stay in such a shitty place, ever again? Nope.
Did I enjoy my stay? Nope.
Would I like to go back? Hell, no!
But in all honesty, I have derived lots of meaning from my one-month long stay. Yes, it was uncomfortable and unnecessarily taxing on the body, mind and soul, but it was one stay in an accommodation that I could never forget.
On the roof where children fly their kites, and at night, where I used to watch in envy, the flickering TV screen of a family in the next house just across the street.
It was a stay to remember.
* * *
I guess there are 1001 negative things that could happen in our lives. Setbacks of different kinds. But I think what matters is to see past the pain, and laugh over the silly mistakes that you’ve made, and say, hey, it was hell of an experience.
Phebe would like to thank Roommate W for forgiving her. We are still friends as I’ll like to believe. : )
If you’re foreigner working in India the PAN card might be useful. Click on https://www.pan-card.org.in/ for more information.