Tolerance

Rising Home Values Lead to the Tyranny of Vegetarians in India

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The bedrock belief of liberal democracies is that market economies breed toleration and peace. When people's survival depends on voluntary exchange—buying and selling from each other— they have a greater incentive to ignore their religious, racial and political differences rather than slit each others' throats over them. Over time, a society organized around the trader principle inevitably develops an ethos of cosmopolitan comity —a live and let live attitude—that not just tolerates such differences but thrives on them. One's religion and way of life becomes a matter of personal preference instead of an existential matter needing broader social affirmation.

All of this is by and large true. But by and large is not always and sometimes economic conditions arise that put market power in the hands of either the buyer or the seller. And when that happens in a country like India, it can produce some rather infuriating but hilarious results.  

Real estate prices in India's major metropolitan cities in the last decade have touched stratospheric heights for reasons too numerous to go into here. Suffice it to say that a 2,000 square-foot row house in West Delhi, hardly the poshest area of the city, is rumored to be worth Rs. 10 crore— about $2 million dollars, a many-thousand-fold increase over the original price.

The upshot is that the rental market is very much a landlord's market here. And the landlords tend to be older, prudish Hindus who love what the gales of modernization are doing to their home values – but hate what they are doing to their traditional mores. Hence many of them have decided to wield their market power to take a stand for piety, tradition and vegetarianism. They have taken it upon themselves to make all kinds of lifestyle demands of potential tenants, especially younger, single ones whose Western and decadent ways they believe are leading the nation straight into kalyug—the age of vice. The Times of India recently had a hilarious account of the kinds of questions that that landlords are asking renters these days.

Cheryl, a 26-year-old single woman, for example, was queried whether she watched porn films. "I didn't even understand his question at first," the 26-year-old told TOI. "Because the word he used was 'XXX' . The creep. How could he even ask a young woman that?"

Cheryl is not alone in her agony and embarrassment, the TOI reports:

Such landlord woes abound throughout the country. Even as cross-country tenants on the look-out for jobs and avenues are getting younger—some barely through with their teens—the landlords, often static and caught in a time warp, haven't warmed up to changing ethos and new value systems.

The questions asked (Do you smoke, drink, party, pray, womanise , eat meat other than chicken?); stereotypes ingrained (If you are an atheist, why the hell should I give you a piece of my sacred abode?); conditions mandated (No guests of the opposite sex after 8 pm, you understand?); and promises extracted (Please, never dry your underwear in the balcony) are often obnoxious, sometimes weird—culminating in situations that would be funny if only the joke was not on the tenants.

Like the time when luck ran out on Mithilesh Sahani and he was caught smuggling in some eggs for what promised to be a "normal" breakfast for the non-vegetarian after a long time. His landlord had at the time of the first interview asked him "Eggs?" And Sahani had replied "No, sir, can't stand the smell." So it was a serious breach of trust.

Eggs have landed Gaurav Singh in trouble, too. "But it was all my grocer's fault," he now says, smiling. "Black polythene bags were out of stock in that shop and so the eggs were put in a transparent bag. That's when my landlord in Ahmedabad, anti-eggs ever since he was born, saw me. I was out of the house in two days."

What the landlords don't realize, says Singh, is that while he has remained in his small Borivili (in Mumbai) or Vastrapur (in Ahmedabad) apartment for 60 years, his tenants come from a different world, a place where one can't really afford to have strictly insular views on practically anything. "The youth's mantra for survival these days is 'Chillax, sab chalta hai' ," says Singh. "You can't always expect a much older person to understand that. We have to negotiate that terrain."

But the youth who can't assume Singh's zen-like calm should fret not. There is relief in sight from this tyranny of piety. Even as we speak, individual landlords are losing their market power as commercial developers scoop up their homes and build multi-story apartment buildings that they are happily renting to anyone with a financial surplus, their moral deficit be damned.

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  1. Funny, in many Western countries being a vegetarian generally puts you in the liberal camp, in India being vegetarian make you the conservative.

    1. Being a conservative means conserving traditional practices. Those traditions vary from place to place.

      1. It lost that meaning in the US some time ago, with the definitions essentially frozen in their 1932 meanings.

  2. Thank you, come again!

    1. I was mildly surprised at how many people thought it was shockingly crazy to offer stuff like curry or Phad Thai to kids. For one thing, it’s LA. I would hardly assume the kids are all white. Also, do “normal” white kids really subsist on nothing but Wonder Bread and mac n’ cheese? Would they really never have encountered some of the most basic and common “ethnic” foods around, versions of which have been food court/takeout staples for decades now? Plus, depending on how spicy it was, some vegetables in sauce and some noodles with vegetables/meat aren’t really all that exotic, are they? (All this food policing/concern trolling about Healthy Eating is a load, and I’m sure LA public schools did things just as stupidly as can be, but the shock over the food choices just struck me as odd.)

      1. Over time, a society organized around the trader principle inevitably develops an ethos of cosmopolitan comity ?a live and let live attitude?that not just tolerates such differences but thrives on them.

        It sounds good, but how do you square this claim with the development of the increasingly intolerant bureaucratic state in the US and Europe?

        1. Because the bureaucratic state is based on the opposite of trading — it is based on theft and coercion.

          So, because not everyone realizes what is the source of their prosperous lifestyle, many people trade freely and are relatively tolerant in their personal life, but then vote into office politicians determined to enact policies to undo all those good things.

          1. True enough. The nostrum that a commercially sophisticated society will inevitably be one that is tolerant of how people live their lives needs a little refining, then, if such societies give rise to intolerant state organs.

        1. Morning Links hates West Coasters. And maybe my childhood love of curry and Phad Thai was partly to do with the fact that anything other than my mother’s cooking sounded appealing. (Love you, mum!)

          1. If they are going to feed them ethnic food, then why not poutine?

          2. Mum

            I bet your mum kept the washroom spotless, didn’t she? You fucking subhumans of the North.

        2. Oh, and I have a fun quinoa anecdote. I was clowning with the man friend at a grocery store and said something like: “I believe it’s pronouced ‘kwin-oh-a'” (excuse my crappy phonetic spelling) in my most pretentious voice. And someone even more pretentious, but for real, made a point of loudly correcting me. I stifled a giggle and solemnly nodded and thanked her, wide-eyed, for the dazzling new knowledge of a gross food.

          1. When I was a kid, I went to Peru for a week. I remember really enjoying the quinoa they had there. Maybe you need to be in a culture that’s been cooking it for 1000 years for it to not taste like shit.

      2. “I was mildly surprised at how many people thought it was shockingly crazy to offer stuff like curry or Phad Thai to kids.”

        You’re thinking of normal, good curry or pad thai. Keep in mind that the kids were being served school cafeteria “creative” food. In my experience, school cafeterias were capable of making hamburgers, or spaghetti & meatballs, or pizza into unappetizing substances. I can only shudder in horror thinking of what they could have done to curry.

  3. Over time, a society organized around the trader principle inevitably develops an ethos of cosmopolitan comity ?a live and let live attitude?that not just tolerates such differences but thrives on them.

    It sounds good, but how do you square this claim with the development of the increasingly intolerant bureaucratic state in the US and Europe?

    1. It’s all because we aren’t allowed to freely gambol about, gathering pad thai and vegetable curry from the trees where it grows.

    2. The US and Europe are organized around morality – whether left or right leaning.

  4. No guests of the opposite sex after 8 pm, you understand?)/i>

    Just like Bosom Buddies!

    1. I wonder what a landlord would do if they caught a tenant eating steak tartare with a member of the opposite sex at 8:30 PM whilst waiting for their underpants to line-dry.

  5. “individual landlords are losing their market power as commercial developers scoop up their homes and build multi-story apartment buildings that they are happily renting to anyone”

    I remember Manhattan used to work that way. These old guys in India haven’t figured out how to get the zoning board to freeze their neighborhood in time forever.

  6. Even as we speak, individual landlords are losing their market power as commercial developers scoop up their homes and build multi-story apartment buildings that they are happily renting to anyone with a financial surplus, their moral deficit be damned.

    But… what about the years long permitting for the zoning variance, and the set-aside for affordable housing, and the neighborhood protesting at all the meetings that allowing multi-family construction will ruin the character of the neighborhood and drive down home values??? Not to mention that these are probably historic structures, and there has to be an study done by the preservationists to decide if the houses should be allowed to be torn down or altered in any way.

  7. Landlord, am I free to gambol whilst eating eggs?

  8. And the landlords tend to be older, prudish Hindus who love what the gales of modernization are doing to their home values ? but hate what they are doing to their traditional mores.

    I guess this can happen with any philosophy, even secular ones. In my area, towns are zoning neighborhoods for age restricted housing. Tenants there are allowed to have eggs, but only if the eggs aren’t fertilized.

  9. In a way, it’s a paen to the virtues of private property, actually. Private property means yes you too can impose conditions on what your residents eat, and thereby wield regulatory power that the state can only dream of. It’s not necessarily a virtue that these properties are getting bought up in what is clearly a real-estate bubble either.

    This whole issue of non-market power cuts both ways. We like to argue that the market will trend towards *our* moral standards – liberal tolerance, but not everyone agrees that our particularly western liberal values are an ideal to aspire to. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that property rights can assist in the enforcement of social norms of any culture.

  10. Everyone has a right to choose neighbourhood,staff and tenants of their own choice. Rather many co.s dont accept all type of clients too. So above article is in a bad taste. Though some landlords went overboard but has writer even written abt what kind of difficulties landlords have under gone???? Many landlords prefer to keep their premises under lock and key as these kinds of articles have made society,police and courts against landlords.

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