Saturday, December 05, 2009

Home sweet home

So my apartment is what I affectionately refer to as "bug central station", which is what it is because there are no screens on the windows or doors. It's also kind of dingy looking, and definitely needs a fresh coat of paint. Leaking water has caused the paint to discolor (a lot) and previous residents have spilled things, written things, and generally left walls in serious need of new paint.

June bug
A june bug that found its way into my apartment and was beating itself to death by running repeatedly into the wall.

The place is cheap, and I've asked my landlord if he'd be willing to paint the walls, but he didn't exactly jump on the idea. The rent is Rs.1000/month plus an extra Rs. 50 for the water bill, and the electric is paid separately, but adds up to about Rs. 150 every 3 months. So for about Rs.1100, which varies between about $20 and $25/per month depending on the exchange rate, I have one living room/bedroom, a kitchen, shower and toilet.

Even if it were a fancier place (and I have lived in some), with fresher coats of paint... most places in Tamil Nadu do not have screens. Most locals don't have screens, and windows are not built with screens in mind. So even if it were a nicer place, it'd still be bug central.

It would also be nice if there was a door between the kitchen and bathroom, and even between the bedroom and kitchen/bathroom... but those things are not absolutely necessary. The toilet has a door, but the shower has no door, no curtain. It is separated from the kitchen by a partition wall, with a wide doorway. I hang a curtain between the main room and the kitchen/bathroom, on the rare occasion that I have guests, so that the kitchen becomes a changing room, and they can shower in privacy.

To me this is perfectly functional. It's definitely not beautiful. Though I think the coat of paint is really the main aesthetic issue. The floor is an ugly sort of tile, reminiscent of the hallway floor in my elementary school, with bits of rock embedded in a brown matrix. But it is easy to clean, doesn't show the dirt and dust which naturally comes in the windows, and stays pretty cool even in the hottest part of the year.

My room
My room

When my friend visited from the US last year, she said "Wow, Gwen, you're really roughing it." But I guess I don't see that as the case. It's a house, it's solid, with a roof over my head, and indoor plumbing. Many people here in Tamil Nadu live in thatched/plastered huts, with dirt floors, that they frequently plaster with a wash of cow dung, or sometimes lime plaster. They have outdoor toilets, and outdoor bathing areas. These are frequently screened off by means of more thatched walls, and sometimes not roofed over. Some places, until recently were not wired for electricity. Now THAT would be roughing it.

Camping, sleeping inside a cramped tent, on hard ground, and having to walk in the woods to go to the bathroom, that's also roughing it.

Maybe it's my own attitude adjustment... my own lowering of expectations. But I don't consider my home to be "roughing it". Yes, it is lacking some conveniences. It would be nice to have a "geyser", which is what they call a hot water heater for the shower. It would be nice to have screens on the windows, and fresh paint on the walls. But none of those things are really necessary.

For hot water for bathing (only really needed in December anyway when it gets a bit chilly - and by chilly I mean 65) I use an electric coil heater, which is immersed in a bucket of water, and I take a "bucket bath" instead of a shower. The rest of the year the water is pleasant enough, whether it's hot in the middle of the day (as the water tank on the roof gets hot from the sun) or cools over night, it's just fine for me.

It might be nice to have a western style toilet too, but that's mainly because it's more difficult to read while squatting...

All these things are adjustments I made before coming to this apartment, so living with a squat toilet, no instant hot water, or screens on the windows, those were all things I'd already experienced.

The kitchen

When I came to Thanjavur in January, it was hard to find a place, and I wanted to get to work immediately. I wanted to get down to the business of what I came to do. So I didn't want to spend weeks searching for an apartment. I'm sure if I had, I probably could have found something perhaps cleaner, or more aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps a western toilet or water heater. But at the time, I had gone from a hotel which was expensive, to a hostel with 10 beds in a room, equally dingy, and without privacy, and I hadn't found anything else for a while. I was thrilled to find a place of my own. However small and dingy-looking, it has everything I need.

If I were going to stay in Thanjavur longer, I'd search again for a nicer place. But I'm not. I'm leaving for fieldwork in January, and I'm hoping to spend only two or three more months here after that. For that, it's simply not worth the trouble of searching, or the trouble of packing everything up and moving.

Baby lizard running away
Lizards are my friends. There are probably a dozen or more living in my apartment, and they eat all the insects, especially mosquitoes.

This is the entire set of photos on Flickr. Be warned it contains pictures of a very large cockroach... victim to my instant cockroach killing spray.


Shagun said...

You're braver than I am! >_< I don't think my aunt's place in Delhi had window screens either, but nothing ever seemed to fly in...
Maybe you already know, but try burning camphor? Mosquitoes really hate it and it leaves a nice smell in the air.

Gwen said...

I use the Good Knight/All Out plug in diffuser of mosquito repelling stuff. It works pretty well. There are occasionally one or two mosquitoes, but they usually don't last, between the diffuser, the lizards and the spiders. :D

It's really all the OTHER kinds of bugs that I have, some of which I am incapable of identifying, that occasionally get annoying.

But really, it's not that bad.

Heather said...

"grappam puchi" was one of the first (and only) words I learned in the short time in TN... but the more I think about it, you're right (of course) in that you're not really "roughing it" in perhaps the way it seemed to me initially. You're definitely my hero when it comes to the reality of living and working in India! I'm really starting to look forward to coming back for a short visit and try this again. Glad that you're doing well!