The world is divided into two classes of people, at dedicated cross-purposes with each other. From time to time, attempts have been made to identify these two adversarial camps: men and women; haves and have-nots; North and South; centralists and federalists; conservatives and liberals; believers and nonbelievers; Modibhakts and Congresswalas.
All these are mere pimples on the skin of separatist identity. There is only one fundamental schism which divides humankind, an unbridgeable Grand Canyon that cuts through all considerations of colour, creed, caste, cash flow, gender and political persuasion to cleave the human race into two irreconcilable entities: landlords and tenants.
The genesis of this ancient enmity can be traced to a four-way optical illusion: the way the tenant sees himself; the way the tenant sees the landlord; the way the landlord sees himself; the way the landlord sees the tenant.
The way the tenant sees himself: Direct descendant of Francis of Assisi, via Albert Schweitzer. Model of gentleness, patience, universal brotherhood and self-sacrifice. Having taken the vow of poverty, has surrendered all his worldly wealth—such little as there was to begin with—to the Rent Control Office since the Party of second Part refused to accept it, claiming, in an unparalleled display of rapacious avarice, that it was not enough for this cement straitjacket that the Party of the second Part laughably refers to as a dwelling abode.
However, a firm adherent to the principle of peaceful coexistence, the tenant puts up with all this, even paying out of his own pocket for day-to-day maintenance, like procuring plastic bucket to catch drips from the hole in the roof. And in a spirit of good neighbourliness plays MTV at full volume at 11 at night so that all within a vicinity of 2 km need not undergo the expense of acquiring their own TV sets. All this and more the tenant does, in the knowledge that the meek shall inherit the tenancy rights of the earth, in perpetuity and for ever and ever, amen.
The way the tenant sees the landlord: Direct descendant of Attila the Hun, via Dawood Ibrahim. Not satisfied with having extorted rent from present tenant’s great-grandfather, now not only wants to extract further rent from present tenant but wants to do so at the enhanced rate of `5 a month. Favourite hobby: extracting blood out of a stone. Routinely harasses tenant’s visiting friends and relatives, like the other day began to question why tenant’s cousin brother’s wife’s nephew-in-law had been living with tenant for the past seven years.
The way the landlord sees himself: Direct descendant of the Fairy Godmother, via the World Bank. Always ready, willing and able to come to the succour of the wretched and homeless of the earth, hereinafter referred to as the Parties of the second Part, who consistently betray the landlord’s faith in them. A mere 24 months’ security deposit, plus three years’ rent in advance? C’mon, you want charity, go to a dharamshala. Will the Parties of the second Part never learn there’s no such thing as a free slum? Look how much it takes to provide a mod-con like running water, for instance. First you’ve got to knock a hole in the roof. Then you’ve got to wait for the monsoon to come. And if it’s late, who get’s the blame? The landlord, that’s who.
The way the landlord sees the tenant: Direct descendant of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, via Hizbul Mujahideen. A thoroughly subversive element who if given an inch will promptly take a 99-year lease, with option to renew. Believes that occupation is nine-tenths of the law, and who cares about the other one-tenth anyway. Forever seeking to raise bilateral issues at third-party forums like Rent Tribunals, etc. Always trying to sneak foreign elements into the disputed territory through the back door, like alleged cousin brother’s wife’s nephew-in-law who is actually PG hailing from Sriperumbudur.
The Party of the second Part, in occupation of a fourth-floor barsati, raised a hue and cry because the landlord took away the staircase. The landlord’s pointing out that the Party of the second Part did not pay rent for the staircase and as such had no legal right to it proved of no avail. Finally, the landlord magnanimously allowed the Party of the second Part to make transitory use of the intervening air—for which also no rent was paid—between the fourth floor and the ground and jump. To help in the descent the landlord even offered a rope—with instructions on how to knot it round the neck to break the fall.
Writer, columnist and author of several books