I have always believed that it is easier being friendly compared to being friends with neighbours. What I mean by friendliness is the readiness to offer a smile, feel free to offer and ask for help when needed, and generally being concerned without being intrusive. It is easy to be such a neighbour. I have lived by this theory and have never been disappointed or come to woe, for I have seen close neighbours turn into bitter foes with the feud carrying on for generations. Suffice to say that in all the years of moving houses, I have made just two close friends who were also neighbours.
I can’t help but remember the time when my younger one used to be helped by a kind neighbour who gave him the keys and waited for him to enter the house and bolt the door. His elder brother came an hour later from his school. Another one had sat with my older one, when he was ill and I had a very unavoidable urgent meeting at work. No, neither of them became the close friends I mentioned earlier, but were perfect neighbours.
Swank apartments with five star facilities rarely encourage such bonhomie. For one, the members are too busy with their lives to look at others around them and for another, they scarcely depend on their neighbours for any kind of support or succor. They barely nod to each other even if they share the same lift every day and are closer to their virtual friends on social media. ‘I don’t even know who my neighbours are!’ is the statement proudly bandied about. Only the older generation congregates either in the garden or the club house for a chat and some company. It is a rare sight to find children playing, fighting and having fun in the open spaces of the society. Like their other activities, even games are regulated and fitted in a schedule, overseen by anxious parents and grandparents – even maids.
I recently had the chance to observe the heartwarming bond between neighbours, when the housing society I live in, celebrated Republic Day. Many of the residents residents had moved in when the society had come into being in the late 90s, and have seen each other’s children grow up from babies to young adults. They have shared the joys of weddings, the grief of funerals, the celebration of a child’s success and more.
I have not attended such social functions especially after the kids grew up and left home, but this time I decided to take part in the programmes that were scheduled through the day. I was happy to find that I was enjoying myself as I had never done in such a function, even during my young mom days. So what was different? After all, national days are celebrated routinely by most housing societies, be it in Delhi, Mumbai or any other city – ranging from the simple flag hoisting followed by the national anthem/national song — to the flashy ones with local politicians presiding over the function and accompanied by lavish snacks and lunch.
Significantly, I have often found an undrawn line between the owners and tenants in a society, with the latter finding themselves on the periphery. This of course never mattered in days of old when houses were rented out for years, decades….in fact sometimes so long that one even forgot who the owner and who the tenant was. Back then neighbourhood celebrations were more of a joint effort, with enthusiastic participation from everyone including the little ones, who busily ran errands for the elders! Perhaps this celebration took me back to those good old days and so felt special.
Here too, there was the feel of a large, very large joint family – since there were over a hundred families. The flag was hoisted by the two senior most members of the society – the lady in her nine-yards sari draped in the Maharashtrian style and the octogenarian gentleman who is our next-door neighbour. The patriotic songs that followed the national anthem were marked more by enthusiasm and volume than tone or melody, as young and old added their voices to the medley. The best part was that no one minded and everyone enjoyed them.
It was a pleasant discovery, or should I say, rediscovery of neighbourliness and community feeling?
My neighbour is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and everyone in the society is not only aware of it, but so solicitous about her health that they let her get a chair in the game of musical chairs, in which she gamely participated; the boy who has recently completed his medical course was lustily cheered; the young flautist got a big round of applause for making a mark in the local art festival…Everyone was happy for the children – no matter whose they were — and that made me feel nice and warm.
The cultural programme in the evening was one of gay abandon. An elderly gentleman, well into his 70s happily crooned a Shammi Kapoor number from his college days, not missing a note or beat. Children danced and sang and acted with relish. They were soon joined by others – the young and the old and the very old. Everything had been planned and executed by the youngsters themselves with a little help from the elders.
Imagine this scene:
Three young boys, all in the age-group of 12-14 are on the stage. The aforementioned flautist, flanked by a tabla player and a mridangam player. They play flawlessly, first together and then solo. When one plays solo, the other two look on, with pride and affection and with smiles splitting their young faces intermittently. They could have been playing at a concert to a knowledgeable audience for all the seriousness with which they play, instead of to an indulgent one comprising of their families and neighbours. We all clap and cheer the trio as they pick up the mood and play enthusiastically. My neighbour, who sits next to me, is nodding her head and enthusing over the talented children on the stage, as if they were her own.
And me? I couldn’t remember being so happy at a community celebration and couldn’t stop smiling.
So what if I can’t make a long term friend from among my neighbours? I am mighty glad to live among warm people who smile readily and offer or ask for any help with an open heart. I am even more happy to know that such friendly neighbourhoods still exist. Are you lucky to live in one?
Homepage pic. credit: Swati Maheshwari