Marriage certificate, please! No place to live in sin in 'modern' Mumbai

Rohini Chatterji August 13, 2015 10:20:42 IST
Marriage certificate, please! No place to live in sin in 'modern' Mumbai

"I don't think people should have problems looking for a house in Mumbai. I know several people who live with their significant others,” declared a product manager at an infotech company. He lives in Bandra, with his girlfriend and when he was house hunting, he did not face any obstacles in terms of landlords who objected to his partner living with him even though they're not married."Our house owner did not have any problems,"  he said. "He was chilled out and did not care about who was living in his house as long as he got the rent on time."

That sounds about right for Mumbai, which proudly declares itself India's most progressive city. Film maker Yash Chopra had once said, "Mumbai's infectious. Once you start living in Mumbai, working in Mumbai, I don't think you can live anywhere else." If your experiences are like our product manager friend, then the city is indeed one of dreams. Unfortunately, his is not the norm.

For many couples in Mumbai, the decision to move in together is as much a matter of convenience as of long-term commitment. "We had been together for a long time and living with each other seemed more convenient in terms of finances since rents are so high in the city," said Rashmi, who moved to Mumbai for work and now calls the city her home. "But we could not find one person who would trust us because living together is still a taboo."

Finally, Rashmi and her boyfriend resorted to lying and told prospective landlords that they were married. "We had even decided to get a fake marriage certificate, just in case. Thankfully, we did not need it in the end."

Rashmi's story reveals a glaring problem in an otherwise progressive Mumbai: moral policing. Be it friends of the opposite sex visiting single people in their rented apartments or unmarried couples looking for houses, Mumbai seems to be in the process of turning the tide upon its liberalism. Increasingly, it's starting to sound like a tier-two city, where the house owners are scared of what people will say.

For tenants — particularly those in their early 20s and 30s — this is frustrating. As Rashmi put it, "As long as I am paying the rent on time, not destroying your flat, I don't see why they should be concerned about who I live with and what I do."

Rashmi's experiences and sentiments are echoed by many flat-seekers in Mumbai. Sara Singh (name changed) too felt hassled by landlords when she wanted to move in with her boyfriend and another colleague. "The landlord wanted a letter from my mother," she said. "He did not trust me living with two boys. So I had to make him speak to my mother, and only after she assured him that she was aware of the whole situation did he let us move in. She even used to come down to Mumbai every once in a while so that the landlord and the society people did not get suspicious."

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While the Supreme Court of India had said in July, "In the present modern time live-in relationship has become an acceptable norm. It is not a crime," the idea has not tricked down to the Mumbai landlords.

The phobia in house owners of unmarried couples cohabiting in their flats can be extreme. Meera (name changed) and her husband were asked to provide their marriage certificate because the landlord didn't think they looked married. "After we spoke to the landlord, he told the broker in a 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' manner to ask us for our marriage certificate. It was mainly because I was not wearing sindoor or a mangalsutra," recalled Meera who is actually married.

She asked the landlord why it was needed. "He told me 'building ke liye chahiye (the committee of the building needs it)'. We later found out it was all hocum. He just wanted to be sure that we were married."

House owners, however, claim that the regulations of housing societies keeps them from letting out flats to unmarried couples.

Leena Patrao, who has leased her home in Santacruz to two single working girls and has a 'no boys' rule, said, "I don't want to get involved in anyone's personal lives, but it is the rule of the housing society that we have to follow." When asked if she would rent her home to an unmarried couple, Patrao said, "I won't because while I have no personal problems with people living together, society in India still does not permit it. Abroad they live together and have children also, but in India it is still not accepted."

Fortunately, not all house owners are like Patrao. If you're lucky, you'll find a landlord who helps you evade the conservatives. Neha was lucky to find one such house owner.

"When the landlady and I first had a chat, I had told her I my family would visit a lot," said Neha. " When I told her that my boyfriend, who travels a lot would be staying with me sometimes, she said she was all right with it. She asked me not to tell this to the society guys because she had faced problems with them before."

It's quite a contrast from Meera's experience and geography may be a possible explanation. The flat Meera was considering was in Harbour Line, which is closer to south Mumbai. Neha lives in the suburb of Andheri. The latter is home to a vast number of young people who come from other parts of the country and it's very common for people to need flatmates in order to afford the rent.

Yet even in Andheri, it took Neha a while to find her no-hassle landlady. "I was earlier supposed to move into a house in Versova," said Neha. "The apartment was nice, but she told me friends can't come over. Ultimately I did not take it up."

The stories make us wonder where is the Mumbai in which films like Wake Up Sid and O Kadhal Kanmani were set. While Bollywood makes finding a sprawling, well decorated apartments at the drop of a hat — with friends and boyfriends moving in and out without a hitch —  look like cake walk, the reality is that the city is still not ready to accept that a couple can want to live with each other without marrying.

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