After a few other enquiries the landlord had provisionally agreed to rent the house to me. “May I know your father’s name?” he finally asked. He wanted this piece of information for filling in the contract form.
I gave him my father’s name. He then asked for my ‘permanent address’.
This was a tough one. If I had a permanent address, I would have liked to live there, in spite of my love for Chandigarh. In America they have coined a term for the likes of me that can go in formal documents: ‘of no fixed address’, it says and there the matter ends. But here in India I could lose even my temporary address if I did not invent a permanent one. As the landlord waited for an answer, he told me that he had deliberately kept the house vacant for one year. I did not wish to lose the house and gave a friend’s house in Ludhiana as my permanent address, and that was that. The landlord drove away leaving the house to me.
As I came out a little later I saw the postman cycle past my gate. I took no notice of him because I did not expect any mail so soon. But a little way up the road three or four rickshawalas from U.P. were carefully watching the postman’s movements.
As I was to discover later, these people had set up a colony of sorts in the open space behind my house. They cooked and slept in the open with rickshaws parked all around them. The open spaces along the roads had been designed by Le Corbusier as parks and gardens to drown the noise and smell of traffic but are now being used to put up commercial buildings.
“Were you expecting any letters?” I asked the rickshawalas.
“Yes, we were”, replied one of them.
“Does the postman hand over your letters to you?”
“No, he puts them in the box there”, he said pointing to the mailbox of my house.
“But you are not living there,” I said, feeling a little irritated.
“Well, nobody is. This house has been unoccupied for a long time. So we gave this as our address to the people back home. All our letters, money order receipts, etc, come on this address. The postman drops them in the mailbox thinking that we are living here. We take these out as soon as his back is turned. What are we to do? We have no address in Chandigarh.”
“These people, too, had found a permanent address”, I said to myself.