Commercial Tenants

Fear will always be a tenant in your mind

but don’t make it your landlord.

Since we sold the backyard measuring about 1200 sq. ft., in addition to building a compound we had to build a toilet and shift the water and sewage lines to the main line from the back of the house to the front.

My father was employed with Military Engineering Services (MES) and he brought a couple of masons – Kannan and Muthu who were full-time workers at MES. Of the two, Kannan, who must have been in his late twenties, was more enterprising. When I explained him our requirements, he said he would organize everything – procurement of materials, construction, carpentry and electrification. He said that it would be better to get a Plumbing Contractor who had good relationships with the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) because we needed permission for road-cutting to connect the water and sewage lines to the respective main lines. The main road was always busy, so we had to additionally obtain police permission. I identified one Thulasiraj of Aruna Plumbing Works, who had an office in Ulsoor Market. After surveying the site he said he would take care of all the plumbing work including road-cutting permission. The whole project was completed in about three weeks costing us a little more than three thousand rupees. In the process, I became familiar with construction-related activities and befriended Kannan (mason cum self-proclaimed contractor), Thulasiraj (plumbing contractor), Doraiswamy (carpenter) and Babu (electrician).

Being vegetarians, it was important that our residential tenants were also vegetarians. All the tenants we had – four of them during 1957–71 – were vegetarians. Nearly for a year and a half there were no tenants. My father was still in service and the four of us were busy with our academics.

For a few months my maternal uncle Ramanujam, who was a senior official at the Department of Education, stayed with us because he was transferred from Mysore to Bangalore. I had a great time during his stay because four of us (my father, my maternal uncle, my younger brother and I) used to play card games in the night for a couple of hours after dinner. This helped me to break the monotony of engineering studies. During his short stay, there were occasions when some teachers visited him in the evenings or during the weekend to share their grievances regarding non-payment of salaries or transfers. I have been a witness to a few of these meetings (because he and I shared the front room) and have seen my uncle listening carefully and assuring them that he would look in to their grievances. He has truly been a Karma Yogi.

We had a neighbour by name Ramachandran, who worked for Bangalore Telephones as a clerk and also managed Job Typing Services as a part-time business from his home. In late 1972, he approached me to find out whether I would be interested in letting out one of the two road-facing rooms of our ancestral house for commercial purpose. Vargheese, a retired Indian Air Force staff, who owned a shoe shop in the neighbourhood wanted to shift to a bigger space nearby to retain his existing clientele. I had just then finished my ninth semester of engineering course and was having a break. I thought it may be better to let out one room for commercial purpose, so that we could get the same rent that we were getting by renting a portion of the house (three rooms with a bathroom and toilet).

When I discussed this matter with my family elders, they said, “You are the one to manage the house in the future, so use your discretion and take a call!” Some of my relatives discouraged me, since commercial tenants  may not vacate the place easily once the business is set, and even if they vacate, they might demand exorbitant sums as compensation for loss of business.

I went ahead and discussed with Vargheese the terms and conditions. I told him, “My father is the sole earning member of our family and the four of us are still students. My father doesn’t have any savings. The monthly rent can be one hundred rupees but you must pay an advance of five thousand rupees (the normal practice in Bangalore is ten months’ rent) to meet the cost of modifications and obtaining a licence from the Bangalore City Corporation (BCC) to convert a residential premises to a commercial one.” Surprisingly, he agreed immediately and gave a token advance of Rs.1,001/-.

Our immediate neighbour was a Maharashtrian brahmana family. The youngest of the four sons, Krishnamurthy, was a draughtsman working in BCC. He was privately designing building plans. I approached him to help me out in designing the required structure for converting the room into a shop since a rolling shutter had to be installed. I also requested him to help me in getting the license from BCC. He agreed to do both. I used the services of Kannan of MES to do the necessary modifications. By the end of January 1973, Vargheese opened his show-room – Escorts Shoe Company.

I completed my engineering course by June 1973 and was employed with a private company, Avalon Products as Design Engineer-Trainee. In September, once again Ramachandran approached me, this time along with one Paul Mundackkal who was from Madras. After preliminary introductions, Paul said that he was managing a construction business as well as distributorship of Toshiba Anand Battery. He further said that his second son Sojan Paul, aged about twenty years, could not continue his education due to health-related issues. Hence, he wanted to establish a Departmental Store for him as a means to earn his livelihood. He was wondering whether I was willing to let out the other road-facing room.

Although I had been using that room, by then I had completed my studies and I felt it may be better to let it out. After all, we had five more rooms. Paul agreed to my proposal of a monthly rent of a hundred and twenty-five rupees and an advance of eight thousand rupees.  I once again took the help of Krishnamurthy to get the plan approved from BCC and Kannan for the necessary modifications. DELITE Departmental Stores was inaugurated in early November 1973.

Thus, after living without any outsiders in our home for nearly two years, we had two commercial tenants and both were Kerala Christians. In thirteen years time, the monthly rent that we received by letting out two road-facing rooms for commercial purpose was three times more than the rent that we had received by letting the whole house or portion of the house during 1957- 1971!

In January 1974, I received the appointment letter from Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) for the position of Assistant Executive Engineer. I fulfilled the formalities of resigning from Avalon Products and the compliance requirements to join ITI – medical checkup, obtaining character certificate from First Class Magistrate, etc. I joined ITI on the fourth of March 1974 without realizing that the two shops that I had let out would go on to become a major turning point in my life.

April  15, 2021 | Ravi 42