I’ll start with the bad. As many fellows could attest, finding decent housing in major Indian cities can be tough. One must take several factors into account – budget, distance to work, transportation, condition, safety, etcetera. Not only do you need to find an apartment that fits your criteria, you must meet the owner’s, the community’s, and the flat’s criteria as well. Gabrielle (the other Hyderabad fellow) and I have been in Hyderabad for three weeks now and have viewed nearly 30 flats, so we are beginning to understand this delicate relationship.
We have had our share of letdowns with people not wanting to rent to foreigners, owners hanging up the phone when they learn that we are not a family, and having to return to a flat to collect our deposit when we lost it for these reasons. We have walked into buildings with high hopes that the flat would be the one, only to discover that the toilet was not functional, the flat was being renovated, or that sometimes people might throw trash down the airshaft that runs through the apartment (don’t worry – someone comes to the apartment weekly to clean out said airshaft). We have found perfect apartments, only to be informed by all of our contacts that police raids occur every other day in the neighborhood.
The trajectory of a day of apartment hunting has been entirely unpredictable. We have begun days with the intention of seeing one or two apartments, only to return eight hours and eight apartment viewings later. Oppositely, we have started with ambitious intentions to see dozens of apartments, only to arrive at the first apartment and be held up for the next several hours. On one occasion, a friend of a friend’s uncle insisted on giving us a tour of his health clinic after showing us his flat, which involved sharing family photos, introducing us to patients, and having us for coffee. After our clinic visit, the doctor insisted on driving us around the city and carefully measuring the distance between various neighborhoods and our respective offices. We ended our trek on the patio of his gorgeous home with breath-taking views of the city and meeting his wife.
While visiting, the doctor’s wife mentioned that she had seen several white people in the neighborhood and suggested that we knock on one of their doors to see if they knew of any apartments. The idea was the start of an amusing search around the neighborhood. The doctor’s wife led the charge and asked boys playing cricket in the street if they knew where the white people lived. Conveniently, one of the boys knew and brought us to an apartment building where we then asked a girl out front for further directions. She also knew where the white people lived and led us directly to their door. The doctor’s wife knocked and sure enough, there stood a white man. “These girls are looking for an apartment”, the wife stated. As Gabrielle later described, it felt like our parents were dropping us off at college and introducing us to our new dorm mates.
For every disappointment, we have experienced a set of open arms. While our day with the doctor was unexpected and a bit strange, it is a prime example of the generosity we have been shown. I cannot count the number of friends of friends that have not just agreed to keep their eyes open, but have made it their personal mission to find us a place, or the number of coffees and teas, dinner invitations, and car rides around the city we have been offered. In our search, we have had to ask for help and rely on the generosity of complete strangers. Not knowing the language or how best to navigate a rental system foreign to us, we have been forced to relinquish some of our nonexistent control that we are so used to maintaining, and allow others to lead the way. In addition to making friends, I can think of no better way to learn about the city that we will call home for the next 10 months. Through owners, brokers, and friends, we have heard numerous accounts of the city, and have frequented what feels like every corner of the city. Consequently, we have formed our first notions of our new home. While the hunt has been frustrating at times, I have enjoyed the adventure, and feel incredibly grateful for the insight I have gained and the friendships I have formed.