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Mitali Saran: The beat of your own drums

Or, why homeless musicians are a thing

Mitali Saran  |  New Delhi 

Mitali Saran

When I was seven, my mother found me at the kitchen table weeping with anxiety because I couldn’t see how I’d ever be able to pay rent. She laughed and said that everything would work out. But my dark foreboding came horribly true. At 44, I’m still at her kitchen table, and she isn’t laughing anymore. We have lived happily together for years, in a compact that has called for only a little accommodation of each other and even less logistical dependence. We have survived all kinds of delicate interpersonal situations, including a steady chorus of people strongly encouraging her to throw me out — a suggestion that she put aside with some wistfulness. But we have finally reached an intractable place that requires a shakeup. The problem is my drum set. It’s not going with her sofas. I know, right? I tucked the thing so far into a corner of the living room that you need to use an ouija board to catch as much as a glimpse of its softly glowing metal and the handsome shine of its black-painted wood. It’s completely silent as long as I don’t play it, which I don’t while she’s in the house. Not going with her sofas — pfffft! She can be so unreasonable — especially since she is responsible for my buying the thing. That’s right, she’s the one who forwarded me the email from someone who was selling an old but excellent kit, in pristine condition, for the price of three or four posh martinis. Her accompanying message read: “In case someone in your music circle is interested.” How was I supposed to know that that person would be me? Fate is a wondrous, numinous thingyjig that we should trust and respect. So anyway, I’m house hunting.

Turns out nobody wants to rent a flat to an Indian. “Don’t worry, uncle,” the broker told one landlord on the phone, “she’s Indian, but she’s like a foreigner only.” This admirably acute and very annoying statement is what got us in the front door everywhere we went. One rheumy-eyed nonagenarian landlord smiled and smiled and said I could have the flat for whatever I wanted to pay for it, and he would fix it up any which way, and please when was I moving in. I was about to hand him Rs 10,000 and fetch my suitcase, when the broker murmured, “You’ll have to speak to aunty also.” Aunty turned out to have a much more investigative streak. You will live alone? Yes. You have friends? Yes. Girl friends? Friends of both kinds. They will visit? Yes. They will spend the night? Yes, sometimes. Her smile faded — and we hadn’t even gotten to the drums. That elderly couple would have been dreamy landlords in that they would never have detected the sound of the drums. I mentally bid farewell to that utterly charming, breezy, leafy flat. The broker was apologetic. “These days,” he said, “boys go to girls’ houses and girls go to boys’ houses, but what to do, she is from another time.” Listen, I replied, I’m not going to lie, and I won’t be questioned after I move in, so don’t bother showing me anyplace where the proprietor will have a problem. I’m a single Indian woman, I have unpredictable hours and overnight guests, I’m stubborn as a mule, and I like practising the drums. How hard can this be? So far, the only person who desperately wants to house me on my terms is the broker, but I’m having fun looking. I figure there’s nothing like having your own kitchen table at which to sit and weep over paying the rent. Mitali Saran is a Delhi-based writer mitali.saran@gmail.com

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First Published: Fri, September 02 2016. 21:11 IST
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