I have always held the belief that good education resulting in good jobs will bring the Muslim community on par with other progressive communities. So I ensured that I made the best use of all opportunities that came my way to excel in academics and career. My husband, a top B-school pass out, concurs with me. While my optimism refuses to die, my latest venture – hunting for a house closer to my new workplace at Lower Parel – has left me disillusioned.
For weeks, I have been meeting property dealers who blatantly tell me that Muslims are not allowed to live in most buildings. I wanted to rent a flat in the Prabhadevi-Dadar-Worli-Lower Parel belt, but I was told by the brokers that I am a persona non grata in these localities because I am a Muslim.
A standard conversation with a dealer would start with a voice brimming with excitement, going out of the way to entertain me. My decent budget would add a heightened fervor to their tone. And then, much to their disappointment, I would tell them my name - Naziya - which in most cases brought the discussion to an abrupt end. "We will get back to you," is what I hear next.
In several cases, the property dealers, who are either too keen to earn their share or have second thoughts about Naziya, insist on knowing my full name which clears all their doubts. One naive dealer asked: "And your husband? Is he also Muslim?". My response in the affirmative left the poor guy helpless. "Then you will you have to restrict your search to certain areas of Mahim. Let me see if I can help you," he said.
By now I have become immune to this bias and accepted it as the ground reality. I myself tell the dealer: "I am Muslim... please check with the owner/society if I am allowed in."
One of my friends, who shares my faith and has been in a similar situation, has a different take on the issue. He confronts me by saying: "Would a Muslim ever rent out his house to someone who drinks (alcohol) and eats pork?" He said in one particular case, the landlord changed her decision and agreed to rent her premises to him when he assured her that a Hindu maid cooks for him.
Based on my experiences, I believe that most people, who probably do not want me as their neighbour, would be extremely sweet to me when I meet them as a journalist. Incidentally, I had absolutely no problem hiring a place in Gurgaon, but I am shocked that in 'cosmopolitan' Mumbai, there is so much prejudice. I wonder what have we achieved over the years if a large section of our population is still struggling with identity crisis. Will we (Indians) ever be able to come to terms with the complex mosaic of caste and community and learn to trust each other wholeheartedly? My heart says we will. Perhaps that is the reason why my hunt for a house is still on.
(The writer is a dna special correspondent, who recently shifted base from New Delhi to Mumbai).