Three years later, I moved to London. I was no longer a poor Indian graduate student (PIGS for short). I was married, I was looking for a two-bedroom house, and rent was not the most important criterion.
I began by looking at houses with a realtor. This would have been painless, if I had been shorter, or South-east London`s house-agents hadn`t all driven tiny cars. After several trips in the rear seats of Mini Coopers and Volkswagen Beetles, I decided to strike out on my own.
I placed an ad on a website (not Sify!) and began to receive e-mails offering me furnished flats at low rents. Most e-mails had a few things in common. The first was that they were badly written-- full of typos and grammatical mistakes. The second was that the flat owner claimed to be outside London and demanded proof that I was serious about seeing the flat.
As my e-mail correspondence with the owners progressed, a more sinister common factor emerged. No less than three landlords mentioned airily in their emails that they found it hard to be in London as they had had deaths in the family.
One of the emails went `.. am curently (sic) in liverpool (sic), with my kids, there (sic) mother is dead, so I just have to be with them ,the apartment is well furnished and neat (all in one sentence? Sick!).`
Another potential landlady offered me an apartment off Baker Street, near London`s Regent`s Park, at a reasonable rent. Curious, I asked whether I could view the flat. Her response began with a tirade about a couple that had seen the flat, liked it, and then admitted that they didn`t have the money. This was followed by a mellowing in the tone of the e-mail, where she said she had traveled all the way down to London from Cambridge where she lived with her son, since her husband had died.
At this point I was concerned that I was Typhoid Mary, spreading death and destruction amongst London`s absentee landlords. But the landlady`s next e-mail clarified the situation. She agreed to let me see the flat on the condition that I proved I had money for the deposit. This proof could not be old bank statements, employment letters or pay-slips. It had to be a transfer of the deposit from me to anyone I wanted (not her), all I needed to do was send her the receipt.
Either the Baker Street landlady was performing a cunning variation of a scam involving dodgy money transfers, or she was genuinely a widow with a flat to rent, and I was a product of today`s suspicious and cynical environment. I didn`t get back to her, so we`ll never know. I sometimes dream of what life would have been like in a flat near 221B Baker Street.
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