Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Househunting, Delhi style

My yogic bliss, posted about last, did not come easily. Prior to that was many weeks of soul-destroying househunting, which saw me shed kilos as I hauled myself up numerous sets of stairs in the midday, 40+ heat, to view yet another unspeakable wreck of a flat.

Househunting in Delhi - perhaps in all of India - is not for the fainthearted. It is also very different to househunting in Melbourne or Sydney. There, you make a shortlist of potentials off a website and go to the open houses, usually on a weekend. Prices are rarely negotiable, only depending upon the market. Here, you engage a wily, shifty broker to drive you from place to place. When you decide on an apartment you have tea with the owner and are expected to haggle their price down. Your usually slick broker stays strangely silent during this process; his fee is up to one month's rent, so it is in his interests for the price to be on the higher side.

I hooked up with a bunch of brokers. I told them my price limit. They promptly showed me places double that, and told me, "it's all negotiable, madam."

All up, we saw about 30 places; many of them unsuitable because of our insistence upon things like, oh I don't know, having the fridge in the kitchen, or a bathroom we could actuallly fit inside.

Here are some highlights:

This place had the strangest layout: four rooms, all leading into each other. The asking price? 55K (rs) per month:

This place was actually in our price range, in a decent area, and was fully furnished. Bingo. Until we saw the kitchen:

What's that strange greenish tinge? Why, that's natural light filtered through this poor excuse for a ceiling:

This one looks pretty great, doesn't it? Spacious, good kitchen, overlooking a park....

Then I went outside and saw next door:

"It's no problem, madam," said the owner and the broker. "It's a very well-respected doctor. And look, there are no builders there even now!"

The fact that it was midday on a weekday did not fill me with hope that this was a project nearing its end stages.

The next place the same broker took me to was here:

It was brand new and as slick and sleek as an apartment out of Entourage. I was mentally arranging our furniture and about to ask to meet the landlord when I glanced out of a side window. There, I saw an empty space that had been dug out, preparing for foundations. Another building site. When I pointed it out to the brokers they looked at their shoes and were silent. They did not even bother to redress the issue by pointing out the marble flooring.

This final one is my favourite: it's how I imagine Saddam's underground lair might have looked like. And yes, that is a gold sofa:

Sadly I was unable, because there were too many people hanging about, to take photos of the flat that was undoubtedly inspired by Gaza: complete with wires hanging from crumbling cement walls and a bombed-out looking car across the road.

Delhi yoga isn't for wusses

Settled. Finally. After six weeks of being an itinerant, I am now happily ensconced in my top-floor flat in Delhi. It hasn't been without its struggles though: getting a gas bottle was a whole world of pain that remains too raw to write about; temperatures hover around the mid-40s (although the rains came today!) and trying to negotiate with rickshawallahs in pidgin Bambaiya Hindi is far less fun to experience than to watch.

Now, however, things have settled. I can finally cook - hurrah! We can turn off the ACs and open up all the windows and let the post-rain air drift through! We have a driver - albeit a temporary loan - who is extraordinarily helpful, and not just in terms of driving us around. He also speaks English - a lot. On day one I heard about his family, his family's sleeping arrangements, the cost of school fees and his decision to name his baby son Harry - after Prince Harry. "Because my son too is a prince."

I have also started yoga again after a long break. My preference is for Iyengar yoga, because I like messing around with all the props and hanging upside down from the ropes, but I ruled out the local Iyengar studio because they charge a whopping 1000 rupees ($A33) per casual class - "but only 700 rupees if you're not a foreigner, madam."

So I managed to get into a beginner's course at the nearby Sivananda Yoga centre, which runs for two weeks. At the start I had to sign a code of conduct stating, amongst other points:

- I must not wear tight or revealing clothing
- I must not carry a mobile phone into the class
- I must not bring water into the class

Sod that, I thought. When it's 40 degrees Celsius outside it is inhuman to disallow water when you are engaging in physical activity in a room with no air conditioning. So from the outset I opted to be a rulebreaker.

I also broke another rule by wearing a top with a baggy neckline to the first class. The European man in front of me politely looked elsewhere during the downward dog pose rather than down my thoroughly exposed top.

Now, halfway through week two, I can say that I am really enjoying the yoga. I'm not a good yoga practitioner: I am twitchy and incapable of sitting still, instead of meditating I look at everyone else and wonder about their lives, and am not spiritual in any way. I like yoga for exercise and relaxation, and to help open up my diaphragm and vocal chords, but I don't view it as some kind of pathway to spiritual fulfillment.

Sivananda yoga is not really strenuous; the first half an hour is taken up with breathing exercises, followed by a number of slow sun salutes, followed by various other poses, interspersed and ending with long periods of relaxation. Of course, in the heat, anything more would be far too taxing. It is perfect for this weather and the strong focus on the breath has already made a difference.

Yogamaster is a one, though. He is this wiry, petite man who could be any age between 25 and 45. During the breathing, he sings: "Inhaaaale! Ex-haaale!" over and over, getting increasingly nasal. When he gives the last syllable of "Ex-haaale!" a steep upward inflection, you know you're moving on to something new.

Yogamaster is also strict. I got told off three times today. The first time, because I slackened off during sun salutes. Second, because I rolled out of the shoulder stand earlier than everyone else. I tried to explain that my thyroid gland was way overstimulated but he was having none of it. And thirdly, because he'd noted my melting ice-cube of a water bottle and informed me that only room temperature water, if any, was permissible.

Still, after my efforts later on in headstand, I think I redeemed myself.

I haven't been this bossed around at yoga since I tried bikram in Melbourne and they restrained me from leaving the room, and later told me I shouldn't fan myself in class "because it just reminds the others of how hot they are."

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Still here!

I've been neglecting this blog dreadfully: something I shall redress once I am settled. For, you see, I have moved again. Now I am Delhi, after J got a job here with a company too good to refuse. We've been here about three weeks and tomorrow, with luck, finally move out of the guesthouse and into a place of our own.

I haven't really been that inclined to go out and about here, unlike Bombay. That's mainly because it's about a thousand degrees outside and each breath feels like you're sucking in a desert. It's stupid because Humayun's Tomb and other ancient delights are scattered all around the area I've been staying in. I feel I should hand in my 'intrepid and adventurous' card some days.

But really, after eight months of living unsettled-like, I'm really looking forward to having a proper abode. Somewhere I can hang the art I bought in Kerala, some of J's photos, and sit and write, with new gauzy white curtains fluttering in the breeze. I'm particularly looking forward to cooking, and after weeks of eating out almost constantly and gastronomic misadventures like yak meat, I simply cannot wait to cook.

Yak meat? Yes I ate yak meat, while on a trek in the Himalayas. Trek? Yes, and I'm alive to tell the tale. Hung with Tenzing Norgay's son.

But more on that in a later post, when I'm settled on my new sofa under the fluttering curtain.