In every city, the poshness of your address is determined by your location to the nearest water body. Like Paris, or Delhi, or Bombay. Sadly, it is my fate to never be on the right side of the water. From East Delhi to East Bombay, I am resigned to always give my address with the slight defensiveness that comes over all of us with not-so-hip addresses, but who rub shoulders regularly with super hip people.
I fled East Delhi as soon as I could, moving in to the South, to an address that was not only acceptable, but also on everyone's way, so no one could roll their eyes at me and say, "Duuude, man, not your house, you live too far away." Okay, so my houses in South Delhi were in the ghettos of posh colonies, with very low rents because of their addresses and yet close enough to everything. But by living in the ghettos, us young single women, we had a certain factor of cool, my last house was always abuzz with activity, people loved to come by and just sit around, despite the four floor Mt Everest style walk-up you had to do to get in. In Bombay, the ghettos of the nice addresses are here, in the East, and crippled by the awesome rents and so on, also faced with a choice of being either here, in a fairly central East suburb or staying in the West and moving way down the line, we opted for this. There is no escaping my non-posh address now, though I am rather fond of it, it's a lovely neighbourhood.
What's not so lovely are my neighbours.
Who lives in the East? Middle class families, that's who. Middle class families who regard me as I walk by at night trying to find an auto, drawing their daughters closer to them so I will not pollute their tender minds. Middle class panwaris who shake their head bordering on rudeness when I ask for my brand of cigarette. Middle class shopkeepers who aren't used to single people, and the ordering of just milk or just coffee, and so won't deliver unless you've placed a mammoth order and hang up right after saying so. I met one set of my neighbours once--we live in a building full of old people and what they must think of all the comings and goings is something I don't even want to imagine--and the wife was combing out her hair, and the husband was all jovial. I had gone to ask for the cable guy's phone number, but they sat me down, gave me tea and watched as I nervously shifted in my shorts, no doubt still wearing half the kajal I had on from the day before.
I don't know actually how to classify my family. My parents weren't exactly middle class, in fact, I used to think it was a term of insult, the way they said, "That's so middle class." But they weren't, aren't, moneyed either. We were comfortable, they had parties strangely similar to the ones I have now, and like me they had rich friends and poor friends and no one really talked about like Family Values and all that jazz. In fact, my mom even had two Naxal friends, who lived a life of poverty with pride, then they had a daughter and joined everyone else. Except for the fact that they didn't have a car--they bought an auto instead.
So my parents and their friends shrugged off definition about where exactly they belonged on the social scale. But I find increasingly, in my generation, more and more people who actually give a fuck about where you're from and where you live and how to classify you than I've ever noticed before. Is this some peculiar form of rebellion? Pick everything your parents didn't? Or do these young people really care about what side of the train tracks I live on?
Addresses are so important. Someone told me before I moved to Bombay, "Oh, you know, there no one cares where you live." And I thought oh fantastic, because that's one of the things I don't like about Delhi. (I had friends because even though I lived in the East, I fit a certain amount of guidelines making me a South Delhi type--the right education, the right accent, the right looks even.) But it's not true. Here, that's the second question you get asked as well, immediately after, "What do you do?" And you can see them making social maps, whether it's worth being friends with you at all, whether you'll fit in with their lives. Here too, I see them puzzling over whether or not to "add" me, because I have a non-posh address, sure, BUT I live alone, which gives me ten thousand coolness points in a city where most people, even at the age of thirty are still living with their parents.
Sigh. Does anything beat the angst of being cool in a non-cool neighbourhood? It's awesome angst though, even searching for the right ATM yesterday was like a little expedition.