ALL THINGS CONSIDERED – Mitra Phukan
The two bedroom/hall/kitchen set, or 2-BHK, had fallen vacant. The young man who had rented the place had left a few months after the pandemic had started, deciding not to renew the lease, at least at this time. He was working from home, anyway, and it was all the same, in these electronically connected times, if he lived in Bangalore, or back in Mysore, with his parents, at least till this situation normalised.
The landlord and his wife, who lived in another flat nearby, needed to get back to their hometown in Assam. A parent was ill, and needed looking after. They decided to get an agent to find a tenant for their vacant flat, and left, leaving their contact details and various requirements with the man.
In no time at all, suitable tenants were found. A young working couple, who had been living in a 1-BHK so far, but needed another bedroom and a larger set-up. Discussions were held, telephonically, of course, between the landlady and the prospective tenant. Both parties liked each other, the price was right, and papers were couriered, and signed. Finally, and quite smoothly, it was all done. Bank transfers for the advance amount were transacted, and the pair was ready to move in within a few days.
“In no time at all, suitable tenants were found. A young working couple, who had been living in a 1-BHK so far, but needed another bedroom and a larger set-up. Discussions were held, telephonically, of course, between the landlady and the prospective tenant. Both parties liked each other, the price was right, and papers were couriered, and signed.”
The landlady, checking their bank account, and finding the advance paid, called the tenant, the man. “I just wanted to confirm that the money has come in, thank you so much.”
“We’ve got the movers coming in on Saturday, we’ll be probably shifting on Sunday, Ma’am,” said the young man. He sounded pleasant, and was very deferential to his landlady, because she was so much older. “My mother’s coming over, we do need that extra bedroom.”
“That’s nice,” said the landlady. “Okay then, let me know if you have any problem. And I do hope you and your wife will be happy in the place...”
“Oh,” said the voice diffidently from the other end. “Thank you... I am sure we will be...” his voice trailed off.
That, thought the landlady in distant Assam, was that. Settled and fixed, quite painlessly, to a sweet and decent couple. Once they were back in Bangalore, they would go over, and meet the pair.
The lady was a little surprised, therefore, to get a call early next morning from the tenant. Was there a problem already? She thought, a little worried.
The boy’s voice sounded even more hesitant and diffident. “So sorry, Ma’am, to disturb you, but I thought I should let you know before we move in...”
“What is it?”
“You see, Meghna and I, we’re not married. But we’ve been living together for three years now. Will that be a problem? I hope not, but ... we thought it best to put matters straight to you when we realised yesterday that you had assumed we were married.”
The landlady was taken aback. “Oh, I’m...” she said, flustered. Not because she had any problems with their live-in status, because she did not. But because she had, completely inadvertently, caused these sweet young people unnecessary stress with her thoughtless assumption that they were married. She usually never did that, but somehow yesterday, it had slipped out. The “W” word. Wife. Spouse. She should have said “Partner”, of course, the word for a couple, whether they were married or not, in a heterosexual relationship or not, transgenders or not, whether they were LGBTQ+ or not, of different religions or not, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or not, vegetarians or beef eaters, or not...
“I’m so very sorry,” she said apologetically. “Of course, it makes no difference... I just assumed, I know I shouldn’t have, that since your mother is coming for a visit, you would be, you know...”
“Oh she has come before too. We have a nice sofa-cum-bed in the drawing room, we would shift there, she would get the bedroom. It’s the single bathroom that’s the problem. It’s nice to have two bathrooms, especially now that we’re going back to offline work in the office, and mornings are a rush...”
“Ah, of course,” said the landlady, embarrassed. Why had she assumed that the mother would be scandalised at the young people’s live-in status? Why couldn’t a parent, probably somebody her own age, be quite okay with her son living in with a girl? Why had she assumed that the couple would need to cover up, be cagey and secretive and hypocritical about it? She was reacting in ways predictable to her age, she thought, annoyed with herself, as though she lived cocooned in a space that rejected all change in the society around her. She hoped she was not turning into some intolerant harridan, always finding fault with “the way young people lived.”
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated. “I hope your mother will be staying long enough for us to meet her when we return? In a few weeks... In any case, we’ll go to see you once we’re back...”
“Of course, Ma’am, you will want to see how we’ve done up your house, won’t you?” said the young man. His voice was less hesitant now, he seemed to be smiling, even.
“I wonder if the other people in the apartment complex will mind,” said the landlady later, relating the incident, somewhat shamefully, to her husband.
The man stopped laughing and said, thoughtfully, “All Things Considered, I don’t think so, at all. They’re not at all the nosey neighbour types. And in any case, we ourselves don’t know if any of the couples living there are legally married, or not. Who cares? They’re all so nice, all decent people, what does it matter, as long as they’re happy, and their families are okay with it?”
Mitra Phukan is a novelist, short-story writer, translator and trained Shastriya Sangeet vocalist.