House Hunting in Bhubaneswar (II)

By Sandeep Sahu

Having announced to the snooping landlord that I would be checking out the next day, I was determined not to return without finding a new accommodation, but did not know where to find one. Early next morning, I went to the Vani Vihar campus and was sitting at my favourite place in front of Gopabandhu Chhatrabas, also known as the first hostel, thinking about where to begin the search when Sura, the bara-piaji vendor, came out with a solution. Purna, the bearded pump man of the university, was looking for a tenant for the two-room quarters allotted to him in the campus, Sura told me. My hopes soared since I knew Purna, who lived in his village near Hanspal on the outskirts of the city and used to commute to work on his bicycle.

Just as Sura had told me, Purna arrived at about 10 for his customary cup of tea. Sura told him about my problem and the old man readily agreed to lend me his house on rent, but with a rider: his son would stay in the outer room whenever he had to spend the night in town. This was hardly a deterrent for someone in as desperate need of a house as me – especially because of the foolhardy announcement made in a moment of anger the previous night. At Rs 130 a month, the rent was not prohibitive either because it would be shared with my friend. I could scarcely believe my luck. After all, I had got a house in next to no time – and that too inside the campus that had been home to me for the past three years. Purna showed me the house, took the advance and gave me the key. By noon, I and my roommate were back at the hell-hole packing our belongings. By 3 pm, we had checked into our new abode!

The next time I needed a house, it wasn’t this easy. It was December, 1987. Having fixed my marriage at short notice, I was frantically searching for a house when an acquaintance told me about a house in Baramaunda Housing Board Colony which, in the time since I visited last, had become a proper colony. I located the house and found a man living with his family on the first floor. He told me the owner lived in Cuttack. With the marriage – which, by the way, was a ‘friends only’ affair because of stiff opposition from both the families – fixed for the next day, I wondered if going to the Millennium City would be worth the trouble. What if I fail to meet the house owner for some reason? What if he refuses to rent out the house to me or has already promised it to someone else? What if he agrees to give me the house but only at the beginning of the next month? A host of questions tormented me. In those pre-mobile phone days, travelling to Cuttack was the only option since there was no question of finding out the answers to these queries on the phone. In the end, I decided to take a chance and set off with a friend on his Yezdi bike.

It was a stunningly beautiful woman who opened the door after I rang the bell. I introduced myself, told her about my purpose and enquired if the house owner was in. “He has just gone to get some vegetables. But please come in. It won’t be long,” she said graciously, her voice as sweet as her face was. I and my friend went in and had just about perched ourselves on the sofa when the woman asked; “Tea or coffee?” I politely asked her not to bother but gave in when she persisted. “A cup of tea would be just fine,” I said.

Also Read: House-hunting in Bhubaneswar (I)

We were sipping the tea when the man of the house arrived, two bagfuls of vegetables in his two hands. Our gracious host told him about the purpose of our visit before I took over. I had weaved a story on the way to Cuttack to persuade him to give me his house on rent since I knew he would never agree if I told him I was a bachelor. “Sir, I got married six months back. My wife worked in a private company in Baripada. She has now got a job in a government corporation here and will have to join on Monday. I am staying with a friend. I would be extremely grateful if you agree to lend me your Baramunda house on rent,” I said, trying to be as polite and convincing as possible.  “What do you do?” he asked without responding to my entreaty. “I work in Sambad,” I said meekly, quite aware of the fact that people were wary of having journalists as tenants those days. “Okay. I am going to Bhubaneswar on Monday. We shall talk about it then,” he said. My heart sank. I felt like the ground slipping away from beneath my feet, but still made one last attempt to persuade him. “Sir, please try to understand my plight. My wife is arriving tomorrow (Sunday). So, I need the house immediately,” I pleaded. “That’s okay. But..” he said, clearly unable to decide if he could trust a complete stranger and give him the house without making necessary enquiries.

It was here that his wife came to my rescue. “Why don’t you agree? Would he have come all the way from Bhubaneswar if it was not that urgent?” she reasoned. Finding her husband still not fully convinced, she said something that finally did the trick. “What else do you want to know? He has told you all that you need to know. That he is a journalist. That his wife will be joining in a government corporation. There is no reason to doubt him. After all, face is the index of man (the italicized part was actually said in English!),” my saviour said. Her husband then said what I was dying to hear all this while. “Okay then. I will come tomorrow morning and hand over the key to you.” I offered him an advance but he politely declined.

Sure enough, he arrived the next morning, took the advance rent for a month and then gave me the key to what would be my home for the next six years, the place where I began my conjugal life, my daughter was born and my professional career zoomed. It was six years of unadulterated joy and absolute bliss.

Till this day, I bow my head in gratitude to the woman who bailed me out of a difficult situation with her unforgettable one-liner.