I realised how lost at sea I was when a faulty wire burnt out in our flat's adapter box. I was alone at home that week, because my partner was out of town, but it wasn't that which daunted me. I'm used to doing things on my own, but having lived with a man for the past three years, I got sort of into the habit of being on a team of two, us against the world, always someone to complain to when things at home are going awry. You get used to comfort so much faster than discomfort.
The faulty wire was just one in a series of small household disasters that had been hitting me that week. Due to move house in two weeks, we had gotten into the habit of not thinking very much about our current flat, treating it as a transient, temporary space. It was as if the flat sensed that and, in retaliation, decided to fold in upon itself just the two weeks my partner decided to go away. The Jat agitation affected my water, and even though I tried to have a shower before the multi-peopled families in the rest of the building, often I was too late. Add to this a day-long power cut which wasn't a power cut at all, and some random bureaucracy by BSES and you have one very harried person.
It was then that I turned to my next door neighbour. Super capable and with the advantage of being a much more proactive person than I, she let me sit on her sofa and pour out my tales of woe while supplying me with the number of the best electrician I've met in my time in Delhi. (And like an ill-fated romance, oh for us to meet just as I'm leaving your locality!)
I was all praise for this new handyman in my life to my mother when she came along with me to the BSES office the next morning, and it was then, mid-sentence, that I realised my whole Delhi Defence Mechanism (DDM).
We all have one—just substitute the city in which you've lived alone as a single woman. My DDM was one that had also served me well in Bombay—and I suspect would have worked anywhere in the world I lived. For such a strong, independent woman of the 21st century, as I like to think of myself, my whole modus operandi was to be helpless and have someone “save” me. This worked not only on handymen, where you look sad and scared and lost, in the hopes that they won't rip you off (and, truth be told, it's a 50/50 thing) but also with autorickshaw drivers, men in government offices and the other end of call centre lines and even on co-passengers on the train. It's ridiculous how well it works, and it's also ridiculous that 13 years after I first left my parents house to live on my own, I am just realising it now.
There are two kinds of women who live alone in India. The first type is most of the women I know. They're capable and can change a tyre as well as a bulb, are on easy, first-name basis with the plumber and the watchman and seem to have no fear even in the face of household disasters. Then there's the second category, into which I fall: slightly scatty, changing handymen as soon as one comes along with a cheaper price, dependent on household help and the kindness of strangers. Type one usually winds up mothering type two, which is a dangerous trap for both to fall into. For type one, this is bad because they'll often feel resentful, but will be unable to withdraw their help without feeling guilty and for type two, because with no one telling you how to figure stuff out, you're far more overwhelmed by common accidents than you have a right to be as an adult woman.
I've noticed it though. I'm addressing it. I'm looking it right in the eyes. And since that one week of disasters, I began to—step-by-step—get more hands on about things than I normally would. As a result, I'm far less stressed because things are within my control. It's still irritating when things fall apart, and I'm still too non-confrontational to do anything but accept the first quote I get, but I feel... different. I feel grown up.