Mixed living
Annam Suresh

All-male and all-female hostels and PGs are all old hat now. More and more young
professionals are staying in liberated, mixed accommodations, where they can
live and interact without the baggage of gender barriers

Mixed accommodations not only cut costs but also provide busy youngsters the opportunity to bond in an atmosphere beyond the office
Mixed accommodations not only cut costs but also provide busy youngsters
the opportunity to bond in an atmosphere beyond the office

SUDHA lived with three male colleagues in an apartment in Delhi for a year. Today, she lives in Hyderabad with two young men. Prerna shared a house with several men and a woman — the number of men kept changing. Aruna and four men stayed together for nearly two years.

Chitra, Premila, Rahul, Manoj, Abhishek, Sandeep and Shekhar lived together for three years. Now, Premila is the only girl since Chitra married her colleague Sridhar.

Looks like a bunch of adolescents living a psychedelic life, engaged in decadent activities, right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These are all young professionals working away from home, and consider their dwellings no different from all-male or all-woman lodgings. With multinationals, especially software companies, BPOs and FMCGs recruiting youngsters in large numbers, this is the new lodging arrangement that has fast caught on. Paying guest accommodations, working people’s hostels and messes — all are pass`E9. Mixed chummery is the new buzzword among the urban young professionals leaving home to live and work away from home. During the Raj, a chummery referred to the quarters of unmarried British officers. Nowadays, it denotes the mixed accommodation shared by young boys and girls.

Regulated buddy pads

Most of these residences are company-owned and supervised chummeries and for those on the lookout for stories of sordid orgies, there is only stark disappointment. Many multinational companies have taken to providing mixed chummeries not only to cut costs but also provide busy youngsters the opportunity to bond in an atmosphere beyond the office and learn to relate as persons than as male or female colleagues.

Mixed chummery is the new buzzword among the urban young
Mixed chummery is the new buzzword
among the urban young

S. K. Behra, HRD manager with a multinational, says that such an arrangement helps young boys and girls to mingle without awkwardness and to understand that there can be friendships without sexual or romantic overtones. It actually helps pre-empt sexual harassment at the workplace, he adds.

"For most of us this is a first. But coming from the same organisation, and knowing that any untoward activity will be seriously dealt with by our otherwise conservative employers, most roommates behave responsibly," says Amit Raheja, who works for an international software firm in Bengaluru. His family knew he was in a mixed chummery and so he has had no problems.

For his colleague, Shilpa, it was much harder. "My parents were very opposed to this arrangement and would tell me every day to move into a different place since I was sullying the family name. I will soon be moving into another flat with three other girls to salvage my reputation and family ties!" she says. But things are changing slowly. Till a few years ago, girls staying alone were the butt of all sorts of rumours. But rapidly changing social norms have made mixed chummeries possible. Most young people are comfortable with each other. However, their equations with the family, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and service providers such as the grocer, the dhobi, the cook etc traverse a wide range of adaptability —from the openly accepting to the hesitantly tolerant to the rigidly opposed.

"This is actually ridiculous. If people want to do shady things, they will do it anyway, even if they didn’t stay together. People who stay at home, or in hostels can all enter ‘prohibited territory’ if they want. In fact, it is actually a little difficult in a chummery, with so many people around," says Shilpa.

Neha stayed in a in a chummery-cum-guesthouse in Hyderabad when she worked with an MNC, "At that time, there were six of us in the chummery, three girls and three boys. The guesthouse-cum-chummery was owned by the MNC and there was no alternative to this arrangement," recalls Neha

A win-win situation

In Archana’s case, the rooming suited her fine. "For about four or five months, I was the only woman sharing the guesthouse with about six men. I did not have to share a room or a bathroom as long as I was the only female." However, once another woman employee came, she had to share her room and bathroom. In the case of Ashish, all four were working in the same organisation.

The apartment had four bedrooms and three bathrooms. One of the rooms had a separate entrance and attached bathroom. So, the guys let Sudha have it. Since she worked nights and returned in the wee hours, she let herself in without disturbing the others. "Ashish and Abhishek were only sons and found it wonderful to have a female in the house. I was also younger than the others and missed my home and family, never having stayed away. So, the guys went out of the way to be nice," she says.

In many organisations, the chummery is a transitional arrangement — restricted to probation periods. This is also the closest to campus life after students leave professional colleges and many feel this makes the transition from a student phase to an independent adult life easier.

Archana, for instance, had a choice. "I chose to stay in the company chummery. I was single and felt staying in a buddy pad (as chummeries are often referred to) would help reduce loneliness and boredom. It also helped cut the costs of food and rent, which were paid for by the company," says.

Bhaskar and Shirish were already sharing an apartment when Shweta found a job in the same city and asked them to fix an accommodation for her. "We suggested that she simply move in with us and see if it worked out." Luckily it did, especially since Shweta’s parents knew and trusted Bhaskar and his family knew Shweta. "Besides, the fact that they were not romantically attached to one another made it easier for us and the families," adds Shweta.

Ashish and his two male colleagues were already sharing an apartment. They had all been friends since childhood in Bengaluru and staying together seemed the natural thing to do. Vishal, who stayed with Ashish and Abhishek, introduced Sudha, who eventually moved in with them. "It seemed very natural since by then Sudha had become one of us anyway. So, it was just like having another friend sharing the accommodation."

Initial shock

Sudha recalls how startled she was when her colleague Vishal asked her to move into his flat. "Was Vishal being helpful, or were these guys making a shady proposition? What will I tell my people?" she had wondered. The two other occupants — Ashish and Abhishek — were also her friends. Though hesitant and a little apprehensive at the arrangement, Sudha decided to accept the offer and moved in with the three young men. "In retrospect, it is one of the best things that happened in my life. I acquired great friends and learnt to live with men as persons," she says.

Parents’ concern

"We were all initially very uncomfortable and mighty apprehensive — it was a first for all of us. At first, none of us even told our parents. But my parents called every day and I couldn’t keep it from my mom for more than a day, especially since she is the sort who can read my thoughts and smell my breath across a thousand miles. I had expected a volcano to erupt, but my mother was surprisingly cool with me. I realised that my folks were such wonderful, understanding and reasonable people," she says.

Conflict zones

Thge issues of money, sharing of chores, personal stuff like clothes and cosmetics, visitors, telephone, television, bathroom usage, staff — such as maid, dhobi etc are best sorted out with some basic ground rules in place. For Ashish, sharing the workload was complicated. Visitors were sometimes awkward since some did not know how to react to a lady living with three guys. Eventually, of course, they learnt to respect her as a friend, but occasionally, a first-timer would gawk. "With mixed accommodation, one had to think twice before getting out of the toilet unless properly dressed. Money could be another issue — with guys it’s very easy to just ask, but one feels a little awkward with girls."

The new-found freedom to stay in mixed accommodation has its own sets of pluses and minuses that are different for different people. For example, Bhaskar feels the house is much cleaner — both guys and girls make an effort to keep it that way since nobody wants undies/intimate stuff lying around.

Given a choice, Ashish feels he would probably be more comfortable staying in a guys-only arrangement since he feels not all girls can be easy to deal with. Bhaskar feels gender is irrelevant, it depends on the individuals, "If I like the persons and all are willing to bend a bit to accommodate the others, it doesn’t really matter whether the roomies are guys or girls." Archana, too, feels the bonding decides it all, not the gender.

Neha also warns that while there may be no major conflicts, one should be prepared for unusual stuff like someone wanting to play cricket in the drawing room at 3 am while someone else wants to sleep.

"Actually come to think of it, if the people who make up the chummery are good sensible people, then it doesn’t matter at all whether they are of the same sex or not. And if they are not good sensible people, then even being of the same sex is no guarantee that things will be fine," she says. Touché.

The good and the bad

Mixed chummeries can be fun and rewarding if one keeps a few basic points in mind:

z If you are doing it out of choice, make sure everybody knows and likes one another before moving in. (This option may not be available in a company-run establishment). You don’t want awkward encounters in the middle of a rainy night.

z Discuss do’s and don’ts before moving in together so there are no conflicts later and everyone knows what’s okay and not okay for others.

The mixed buddy pad is the closest to campus life after students leave  college and it makes the transition from the student phase to an independent adult life easier
The mixed buddy pad is the closest to campus life after students leave college and it makes the transition from the student phase to an independent adult life easier

z Make sure issues of guests, sharing of chores, expenses, handling staff, payment of common bills like rent, power, etc are discussed. Also, usage of common facilities like the phone, television, kitchen and household gadgets (washing machine, fridge) etc are set down clearly.

z Make sure each one has a separate set of keys and everyone knows whom to contact in case one is locked out. If different people have different working hours, work out an amicable schedule for use of bathroom/kitchen etc.

z While sharing of clothes, shoes, etc is a part of the rooming camaraderie, respect boundaries.

z In company-run chummeries, such rules can be stuck on the doors so that even new inmate gets to know these rules.

z Keep your family in the know of things, so that there are no awkward surprises. Keep a safe distance, at least initially. Body language and physical contact can be interpreted differently by different people. What is considered an innocent significant pat might be understood by another to be an expression of special affection.

z Do no wear offending or provocative clothes.

z Avoid getting romantically involved with any of the roommates. If you do, make sure it does not spoil the overall camaraderie, else find another accommodation or partner.

z Money is holy cow. Avoid borrowing or lending unless absolutely necessary and clear the dues at the earliest.

z Treat guests with respect, even if you have just had a major scrape with the roomie hosting them.

z Caution and consideration can make mixed chumming an unforgettable experience. A must try!