Kamlesh Ahuja of No. 1 Property Dwarka Wale watches impatiently as Dhiren Das stands on the balcony of the first floor apartment inspecting the untended, weed-infested garden on the ground floor.

‘Kamlesh ji, 10 per cent extra. I will transfer the deposit right now. Give me the ground floor too.’

Kamlesh shakes his head. ‘Dhiren ji, Sector 23 area is mixed use. See the kothi [bungalow] in front of us; gym on the ground floor, a family lives on the first. It will be the same here. There might be a boutique, a gym, maybe a bank. I am still talking to people,’ informs Kamlesh. ‘So unless you can rent it for three years . . .’

‘Sir ji, kal ka nahi pata [we don’t know about tomorrow] and you’re talking about a year.’ After a pause, he adds, ‘Kamlesh ji, your one-year rent will be paid in advance.’

Only criminals pay a year’s rent in advance, and it’s his job to look at tenants with humiliating suspicion, so Kamlesh asks, ‘What do you do, Dhiren ji?’

Dhiren’s tall, over 5’10” by Kamlesh’s estimation, clean cut, mid-twenties, engineer-type. But he still could be a fraud. The biggest frauds in the world wear business suits and the robes of god.

‘I’m in cryptocurrency.’

‘What currency?’

‘Sir ji, it’s a blockchain-based decentralized currency system.’


Wahi samajh lo [You can think of it like that].’

To yeh bolo naa [Say that then],’ says Kamlesh irritably.

‘Dhiren ji, did you get your Aadhaar card?’

Dhiren takes it out of his back pocket and hands it to Kamlesh. ‘It’s new,’ notes Kamlesh, turning it around and adding with a laugh, ‘Asli hai naa [It’s real, right]?’

‘I changed my name, didn’t like what my parents gave me.

Do you like your name, Kamlesh ji? Or would you rather be Amitabh? Or Rajesh?’

Kamlesh scowls. ‘Your pita ji [father] must have given it a lot of thought before naming you.’

‘My father never thinks of me,’ says Dhiren. ‘Anyway, you said the landlord had some questions for me? Poochhiye [Ask away].’

‘Do you eat non-veg? Chicken? Mutton? Pork?’

‘I know what non-veg means, Kamlesh ji. How frequently does the landlord drop in to check?’

‘He – ’

‘Is only eating banned or even cooking? What if I cook biryani for my friends but I don’t eat it myself?’

‘Dhiren ji, these are the rules. They are strict about non-veg and alcohol.’

‘And Muslims, you told me.’

‘And Muslims. Their house, their rules,’ asserts Kamlesh irately.

‘Kamlesh ji, you should try my biryani. Keep the leg pieces aside and eat the rice. Trust me, you will give me your entire jaidad [inheritance]. And Kamlesh ji, waise bhi [you know] they won’t come all the way from Pitampura to check what’s in my kadai.’

‘They live in South Delhi, not Pitampura,’ corrects Kamlesh immediately.

Kyun jhooth bol rahe ho [Why are you lying]? A five-storey house, JD Market, right next to the metro,’ corrects Dhiren. ‘It’s on the Internet, Kamlesh ji. Everything is on the Internet these days. The owner’s son has put this house up on Magicbricks, even shared his number to contact him directly.’

Kamlesh always suspected the owner’s elder son to be a know-it-all gaandu [asshole]. He composes himself. ‘Dhiren ji, if you have to eat chicken–mutton, then I will have to show you other properties.’ Dhiren smiles slyly. ‘Kamlesh ji, on the days when you’re with your friends, with a few pegs of Royal Stag sloshing in your stomach, and everyone’s singing Rafi songs, tell me, on those days, are you a vegetarian? Or are chicken lollipops allowed?’

Kamlesh’s face burns as if he has been slapped. He touches both ears and whispers god’s name. ‘I’m pure veg. My wife’s a Jain so I don’t even eat pyaaz [onions] and lassan [garlic] on Tuesdays and Saturdays.’

Kamlesh finds a rising admiration in Dhiren’s eyes, which are large, black and surprisingly expressive for a guy.

‘You’re unlike the others, Kamlesh ji,’ says Dhiren, approvingly. ‘Sharma ji from Best Properties told me I can eat whatever as long as no one gets to know, but you have integrity. I was joking about the biryani. I’m a vegan.’

‘You’re a what?’

‘Vegan, the purest of the pure.’

‘There’s nothing like that.’

‘Kamlesh ji, main batata hoon [I will tell you]. Dekho [See], the worst humans are the Chinese who eat everything. Who will look at anything moving and eat it. Snakes, bats, even earthworms.’

Kamlesh grimaces. ‘I have heard some people from the North-east also eat all of that.’

‘Slightly better are the ones who eat beef, pork, chicken or fish. They will all go to narak [hell] and burn for a thousand years,’ declares Dhiren.

Kamlesh touches his ears and mumbles a soft apology for the innocent cows killed for meat. Dhiren continues. ‘Over them are people like you. You call yourself pure vegetarians, but Kamlesh ji, no offence, there’s nothing pure about you people.’

Kamlesh straightens up. He’s a Brahmin! Generations after generations haven’t touched their own shit. How dare he call him impure?

Dhiren says, ‘And over the pure vegetarians, the purest of them all is us. The vegans.’

‘What do you people eat?’

‘We don’t eat dairy. Or eggs. Or paneer. Anything that comes from milk, we don’t even touch it. Ghee is poison. So are most sweets.’

This is taking religion too far, Kamlesh thinks. Everyone must be allowed to interpret religion in their own way. Why would these vegan people be purer just because they don’t eat paneer and drink milk? Even Lord Krishna had butter. This hierarchy didn’t make sense. Was he really inferior? He would have to ask Pandit ji. But Pandit ji himself serves sweets made of milk.

‘No honey. Or butter. What’s left to eat then?’ Kamlesh asks.

Dhiren makes a face as if saying those words are polluting his pureness. ‘You tell me, how would we feel if our wives were tied up, forced to produce babies, and then had their breasts milked? That’s exactly what we do to cows for their milk.’ Dhiren takes a deep breath and continues. ‘So what does the landlord do? I’m guessing he’s vegetarian, but what else?’

‘Import-export mainly, Dhiren ji. They have a lot of businesses.’

‘Do they steal from this country? Do they pay their taxes? I want to live in an honest man’s house. I can tolerate living in an impure vegetarian’s house, but a thief’s house? I’ll tell you what, send me their income tax returns for the last three years. I will check.’

‘Dhiren ji, I can’t ask – ’

‘I don’t want to pollute myself,’ insists Dhiren. ‘And Kamlesh ji, neither should you pollute yourself any more than you already have by participating in the torture of cows.’

When he says this, Kamlesh finally sees a crack. Kamlesh finally recognises what’s happening here. Property dealing is about reading people, but today he realises he has walked straight into a trap – Dhiren’s playing him. He wants Dhiren to leave, but he remembers the listing on Magicbricks from the owner’s gaandu son.

When I Am With You

Excerpted with permission from When I Am With You, Durjoy Datta, Penguin Books.