I have been sharing rooms and apartments all my life. As a baby with my parents, as I grew up with my sisters and then as I grew up further with my brothers and my grandfather. I don’t remember much about the former but about the latter I remember a few things.
I was terrified of the dark and hence I would clasp my sister’s hand till I fell asleep. Later as I grew out of my fear, I have fond memories of having mosquito killing competitions and singing caricatured songs through the night; they were caricatured not because we were talented song-writers but more because I wouldn’t remember the lyrics of the songs I wanted to sing. Necessity is the mother of invention. Of course some other people might not have enjoyed this as much as we did.
Anyways, I eventually grew up and a day came when the erstwhile young hatchling had to fly out of the nest and so I did. I remember my roommate at ISI then welcomed me with open arms. Those were very strange times. A young 18 year old, just out of home with no clue about the world shares a room with his compatriot. What started with open arms ended with miffed ends and I eventually shifted to single room (or a double room with a single occupant). But to anyone who has stayed in an Indian hostel one should know that you are essentially sharing you room with the entire hostel. These were fun times, many ups and downs and in the end I was happy to get out. That is when I flew to Canada.
The cold lands! I spent 6 years in Vancouver. The first few months in Vancouver were not exactly fun but thanks to my nice roommates and some great friends I managed to get over those dark days. I was sharing an apartment on the 15th floor by the sea shore (the view!!) with 2 Chinese folks Xiaolei and Wei and an American fellow. The Chinese folks were students in electrical engineering department and this was essentially my first introduction to another culture (not saying that India is a huge homogeneous bob). They would often be stuck with some problems in linear algebra and that got the conversation started. In those days I learnt a lot about the Chinese culture which was essentially closed to me back in India. This was also the time when I did not even know how to boil water and my talent showed in various shades, for instance almost burning down the microwave, coating the hot plate with a layer of Indian plastic and starting my own entomological garden. My roommates were kind. This is also when I discovered the wonderful thing called pasta. Boil some pasta, put in some vegetable and add chilli powder and jeera powder and some Indian spices and woaw you have a meal. Xiaolei was truly enamoured by this and I had to invent some elaboration of intermediate steps to make it more credible. He of course took it to another level and added meat to eat. I left eating meat. Anyways we became good friends and spent a decent time hiking the following summer.
The seashore 15 floor apartment turned out too expensive to keep and hence I moved to a cheaper apartment next summer. It was again a four bedroom apartment but two vacant rooms and a friend from Iran, Javad. He was great fellow and I remember many long discussions of ethics, philosophy and such. But the most notable was the kheer incident: People who know me would know that I love cooking and I love sweets. So there was this one day when I was cooking kheer (a rice pudding). Javad often would be in the kitchen in bare minimums, singing the farsi version of Speak softly love (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQBW6G0hSrs) and cooking (of course in my absence). Anyways, so I finished preparing kheer and I asked Javad, “Would you like some kheer?” Suddenly the song stopped and big dark eyes glared at me. “Did my friends say something to you?” I was thoroughly confused and mumbled, “Kheer” pointing to the cooker. This was followed by loud guffaws; it turned out that kheer meant penis in farsi.
This was also the time when I realised that I would not have enough money for PhD applications next term and so I had to look for a cheaper place. Desperate, I moved into the first place I found. A one bedroom apartment where I would be in the living room and finally save some money. It was a shit hole to start with. For the past 6 years (this how long we had the records) this place had been occupied by Indians. I stayed there for about four and half years (by the way it is still occupied by Indians). Anyways, it was this shit hole. The entire place was crawling with disgusting insects and what not. Even the fridge had garbage (to prevent the odour from spreading?). I remember opening a drawer and almost loosing consciousness because of extremely pungent smell (Beat you H2S!). I will not disgust you with lurid details. There I began the arduous task of cleaning the apartment and brightening the interiors. I shared this place with someone in the education department and I don’t remember much more. He left in a years time and I decided to stay at UBC for my PhD. My friend Krishna joined in. It was great having him around and we had long conversations about a great variety of topics. Cooking sessions and commonalities of all kinds formed a basis of a great friendship. It was around then a newcomer Anujit wanted a place for a few days before moving and a good friend Aniruddha also needed some transit time. So they joined in and sadly loved it. Of course this was against the rules but who cares? Well well! They loved it so much that wanted to bunk their new places and stay with us. I realised that 4 people is going to be tough and so played the party pooper showing Aniruddha the door; Anujit was new after all.
And there in comes a time I am not proud of, it is probably the only thing in my life that I regret. I was irritable for many reasons back then and I treated Anujit very poorly, being a rigid and a beastly roommate, eventually having him leave. Krishna had already left for India, still in the doldrums regarding what to do next. I am glad that Anujit is so forgiving to be still a great friend. Anyways, he was replaced by Marc:
Marc with all his curiosities is a great friend. He went through some very difficult (academic) times and I tried to lighten things at home, introducing him to what I knew of the great Indian cuisine. He in turn introduced me to the wonders of baking and often great mathematics. Gradually he really took to Indian cooking but lacked some patience. Once he was hungry and the cooker was taking too long too open. So he took off the whistle on the top by force and oh behold! He had a halo on the top of his head. No, no don’t worry! He, the cooker and the daal were all fine but there was a circle of turmeric on the ceiling.
Marc left and I was joined in by another dear friend Ankur who stayed in till the end of my stay in Vancouver. I realised here what a difference to life a like-minded person make. Far beyond me in many respects, Ankur brought some sanity to the apartment, taught me how to cook and many other things. I felt sad as I left!
Haven’t you, o man in your 20s considered this before? I did and in the process found why Calvin’s father indeed never shared an apartment with several scantily clad female roommates. Searching for apartments in Tel Aviv wasn’t easy and by the end of things I was quite desperate and took up the first place that I could find in my budget. I was very low on money back then and had to save up enough for my trip to United states in a few months time. Well! The owner was very nice, the apartment was top-notch and I was sharing it with a pretty Israeli woman. What could be better? My friends, of course, had a field day and I, for one, thought of this as a great opportunity to learn some Hebrew if nothing else; the woman did not know any English. But instead I learnt quite quickly what happens to the best laid plans.
First day in the apartment, the lady asked for a light for her smoke. I had none and I suggested the stove. Soon the smell of weed filled the apartment and she gave me a lesson via google translate in Israeli nationalism, why people with no grasp of Hebrew had no place in Israel. Then we argued about whether or not we needed a sofa; I was there for 4 months and there was no way I was going to shell out a dime. The apartment needed professional cleaning as well and being low on money I told her that I will pay for it next month. Next day I left for Jerusalem. It was early in the morning and as soon as I entered the kitchen I was viciously attacked by a bee and had to flee immediately. Well! Too bad. Next week when I was back I hear these loud complaints and she points out a rotten banana on the top of the fridge. I apologised and then she changed tac and started asking for the money for the cleaner. I reminded her that it was supposed to be the next month but she was adamant. In came her team of translators who tried to force me. Of course I am not your run-of-the-mill-kind; sadly neither was she!
Every night she would strut in at 3 in the night with horrible music, high heels and other female friends (who stayed over for the entire period of stay). This would of course wake me up, I would walk to her room, curse (which she sadly did not understand) and get her to shut up. But by then I would have lost my sleep. There I would lie on my bed, wide awake waiting for the morning. What can you do lying in your bed? No, no, no! That is not what I meant… So I would lie there, slowly my anger would subside and I would start thinking about things in life, philosophy and eventually return to my love, mathematics. But of course, I would not switch on the lights for that would completely kill the chances of sleep. Lying there I think I arrived at some brilliant (for me) mathematical ideas which might be useful later. Unintended consequences, huh? Touché!
Lesson: All roommates have a ‘use’! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4CEk47P8-k
Well I did not have much sleep for the four months and my clothes perennially stank of weed. I tried to return the favour by my horrible flute playing, guitar works, singing and the wonderfully sharp Indian cooking (Cough all the way to hell, you *****!). I sadly did not get much work done as a consequence and learnt grudgingly the pitfalls of a desperate measure. I also learnt that despite being flexible, I just can’t live with anyone and everyone; I too have some boundaries.
Well now providence has delivered me from the lady’s clutches and I am warm and comfortable warm in the cold US town of Providence, bracing myself for the roommate to arrive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8ZrN_pizyQ