Sudhagee is an editor and a communications consultant and it shows in her writing. Her blog My Favourite Things is a ‘little bit of ‘that’ and a little bit of ‘this’ and everything in between,’ as she says. What I love about her writing is the way she turns the mundane things into something interesting and makes you want to see, touch and experience them. Read her Museum Treasure series and you will understand what I am trying to say. Her narration of things, whether a nostalgic event or a chance encounter is simple and deliciously interesting as is her perception and insight when she talks about other serious issues. I look forward to her comments on my posts for this very reason!
In this guest post Sudha poses a question on rights when parties on both sides are right (pun intended).
It is about 3.30 in the afternoon, and a postprandial silence hangs heavily in a residential building somewhere in Mumbai. Apart from the sounds of an occasional passing vehicle, there is peace and quiet. All is well in this building.
But not for long.
The sound of a basketball being bounced off the ground is the first indication of change. One of the building children has come out to play in the common area of the building. He dribbles the basketball, tentatively at first and then more confidently as he finds his rhythm. The sound of the basketball seems to galvanise the other children of the building and within minutes they are all out of their houses ready to join the game. Soon the building is resounding with the sounds of the children playing and the basketball being repeatedly thumped against a wall.
Suddenly, the doors of one of the ground floor flats of the building opens and 85-year-old Miss D totters out brandishing her walking stick and shouting at the children: “How many times do I have to tell you not to bounce the ball off that wall? My bedroom is there and I get a headache hearing it go thump, thump, thump. Go and play somewhere else.”
One of the children says, “Who are you to tell us where to play? This is our society too.”
Miss D is taken aback and a little shocked at the rudeness. “Of course, it is your society too. But is this the time to play? It is only 4.00 in the afternoon and people are sleeping. There are many old people like me here who need to rest in the afternoon. You can come and play after 5.30 in the evening.”
Another child says, “Who are you to tell us when to play? We will play when we feel like.”
“Yes, we will play when we feel like, and where we feel like,” the other children chorus loudly.
By now, Miss D has been joined by her 75-year-old brother, Mr. D, who has also been woken up from his afternoon nap. “What is happening here? Why is there so much noise? Come on, all of you go home now. No one should be play with a ball here in the afternoon.”
Just then one of the children, who is upset with the basketball game being interrupted vents his frustration by kicking at the ball. The ball bounces off the wall and hits Miss D who almost falls down. The Ds, who now have possession of the basketball and threaten to destroy it. This sets off a fresh round of shouting and screaming by the children, and soon their mothers are also out of their homes joining in.
Welcome to my building or housing society, dear reader, where such incidents and clashes are—though not an everyday occurrence—fairly common. Ours is a small society, a ground plus 2 storied building with 16 flat owners and 48 residents, including 10 children and 8 senior citizens. One would think that such a small society would be able to solve issues such as the one described above, but actually the reverse is true. It is not for lack of trying—we have actually had a couple of General Body meetings just to discuss this issue—but we have just not been able to reach any consensus.
Consensus for what I think is a simple and clear-cut solution—fix playtimes for children on weekdays and weekends and during vacations in the common area, timings that would not inconvenience the elderly residents. In this way the elderly would not get disturbed and the children would still get to play. When I suggested this, it created an uproar among those residents with children: how can children’s play be curtailed, play is the only stress buster for them, it would be cruel to set timings for something that is so spontaneous, blah, blah blah. Then the outrage got personal. One of the society members, a mother of 2 children, told me, “What do you know about children? You don’t have any.”
“This is not about having children or not having children!” I said. “This is about taking the entire society’s needs into consideration. My suggestion did not say that children should not or could not play; it is only about play in the common area and that the afternoon nap of the elderly should not be disturbed.”
But that is not how the residents viewed it. Another resident, an academician by profession and a father of two children, said that children had the right to play as enshrined by the UN, and nothing should violate those rights. Not to be outdone, the Ds cited the rights of the elderly as enshrined by the UN. After that, the discussions degenerated into a rights versus rights issue, and which rights should get precedence. Things got so bad afterwards that the “two groups” would not talk to one another.
Five years have passed this issue erupted into a full-blown dispute in my building. Five years in which some of the children have grown up and some children have entered the playing group. Five years in which the society lost some of its elderly residents and gained a few more—both the Ds have passed away, as have two other elderly residents, including my father. Five years in which a simple issue is still simmering in our society. Five years in which one repeatedly got told that those who had problems with children playing were free to sell their flats and go and live elsewhere or shift to an old age home where there would be no children. Five years in which the children of the building have unconsciously picked up the language and attitude of their parents to such an extent that they are openly rude to the elderly residents of the building or those who they feel do not support their cause.
Today most of the elderly residents of my building have learnt to adjust in different ways. In my case, friends and family know that they should not call us on the phone from about 4 to 8 in the evening. Since we live on the ground floor and our flat windows open into the common area, we can’t carry on a conversation over the sounds of the children playing. An elderly neighbour, Mrs. P., gets palpitations from the sudden bursts of shouting from the children as well as the thump thump of the basketball. These days she prefers not to stay in her flat for long stretches, opting instead to stay with relatives from time to time. Yet another elderly resident, Mrs. S., unplugs her hearing aid in the afternoon so that she can have an uninterrupted nap. This also meant that when her husband fell in the bathroom one afternoon and called for help, she could not hear him. The neighbours could also not hear him over the sounds of the children at play. The poor man lay in the bathroom for nearly an hour before Mrs. S. discovered him!
Five years on the rights versus rights issue is still going strong, and I am still not clear why. I am also not clear as to why my society residents cannot work out a solution, and why it has become an ego issue or a rights vs. rights one. When I was discussing this post with some colleagues at work, I was surprised to find that this issue is not confined to my building alone; other housing societies are also dealing with similar problems. But what puzzles and disturbs me the most why does it have to be a children versus the elderly issue in the first place at all.
Perhaps you can tell me why?