Neighbourly niceties

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

31 comments

  1. Nice post zephyr! The fast pace of life in metros & emerging metros has redefined the way of living. I always felt that people who live in big societies don’t have time to mingle with their neighbours but looking at your experience I think things are changing for good. Friendly neighbours do really add to the quality and raise the happiness quotient to a quite an astonishing level. Just imagine if you have a grumpy faced and cribbing neighbour (god forbid such situation) you are done! Fortunately where I am staying is small society but gd neighbours. Nice to see u happy !!

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    1. What I have seen here is not what is happening in all such highrises. Even here, there are many young families, who are reticent about mingling with the old-timers, but on such occasions, it is heartening to see everyone participating with gusto. It is not just about coming together to share lunch or dinner organised by the society. As for cribbing and grumpy neighbours, I have had those aplenty too 🙂

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  2. Like you, I have moved places..two different rented homes where I spent significant growing up years of my life…and we are family friends with them even now. I think it also depends on the place and people. The first apartment complex I lived in the U.S…I made some friends..I can go and crash in their place any day even if I haven’t spoken to them in years. Where as when I moved to Folsom, I hardly made friends. Partly because we left early in the morning to work and came after dark and shut our doors. Also, if you stay at home there is a tendency to make more friends when you take the kids to play or check the mail. I didn’t make any friends even when I was staying at home….I was just blogging and reading 😛
    Now, in Dallas Rushi had made friends quickly and he is happy. I have got few nice neighbors who I can borrow an Onion or a potato for emergency or ask someone to pick me a gallon of milk when it snows. And you know I help them in the same way too…so it kinda balances…being the introvert S is, any neighbors, friends, gatherings would happen because of me or the kids. 🙂
    btw, glad to read this post and that you had a very entertaining time where you enjoyed yourself 🙂

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  3. I’ll be honest.

    if I wanted to (made an effort to), I could surely find some friendly neighbors. But I haven’t made the effort for years because I didn’t want people to come to my home. It sounds terrible, I know- and in a way it is terrible. But I had valid reasons for wanting to keep myself isolated from neighbors. And now… it seems too late to change. Yet, a part of me envies you. I too yearn to be a part of a group… to give and take and share. Perhaps people like me, who live on the margins of society, are better off in our isolation.

    That is why the virtual world is so precious to me. There is no possibility of intrusion here. 🙂

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    1. I can understand why you feel like that. I had had the same problem living in the small town, Jabalpur, right? I had even done a post on this aspect of small towns. We had left after a few years to settle down in the metros, which afford a sort of anonymity. My idea of a good neighbour/being a good neighbour is being friendly, ready to be of help when needed and not intruding in any way. This place is very much like my childhood community, sans the familiarity, which had been natural half a century back 🙂

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  4. grondmaster · · Reply

    Having spent twenty years in the same complex, with others having been there as long, if not longer, there certainly is a camaraderie between neighbours. Being a comparatively smaller complex (just 200-odd homes as compared to the 1000+ in other gated communities) we don’t have as large programmes as the ones you mentioned, but the ones that we do are enthusiastic enough.

    I wanted to talk more about the camaraderie – but you already have and I’d just be giving similar anecdotes, not offering any new perspectives.

    It’s just that sometimes, when the bonds are strong enough, that friendliness stays put even after you move out. We’re still friendly with an old neighbour whom we had befriended over 3 generations before we moved out. They are still at the same place, and we do drop in every now and then. They too drop by whenever they want to, we’re still walking distance from each other. I practically grew up in their house, and now am acting as an older brother since their kids were born, and so on… you may get the idea.

    Another perspective: You may feel confident in leaving your keys with your neighbours to lend when someone is locked out of the house or the maid visits when you’re at work, but would you go to a movie with them? Would you go have a night out on the town with them? Many may answer no, many would say yes. It all depends on how open you yourself are – you know that the friends that you have made are very precious, and finding similar interests amongst neighbours may be difficult. The gay abandon that you enjoy amongst friends may not be possible with the guardedness and political correctness that you perhaps tend to employ amongst neighbours.

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    1. Even I have such friends — the ones I had mentioned at the outset. It has been nearly 20 years since I left one neighbourhood and we are still in touch. For me, it is more of telecons than visiting, since we live in different cities and even when we lived in the same city, the distances were too much.

      To answer your questions, as I have already said in my post, it is easier being friendly than friends with neighbours, since we might not share the same interests. that is why, when we live in the same place for years, we grown upon each other and begin treating one another like family, indulging our weaknesses and bolstering our strengths. And I have only gone for movies with one of my close friends, and roamed the markets with the other. For the rest, I am comfortable leaving my keys with a neighbour. In fact, here, I left them the very next week after moving in and making an extra set of keys!

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  5. That’s very beautiful..
    I lived with few colleagues in a gated community in Pune for a year, we guys never had any real friends in our society but we were met with a smile from several people whom we knew only as people living in same society, with whom we may have had a little chat someday or played some time with their kid. It feels so nice to know people around are actually not so distant and unconcerned but they tend to be very friendly and helpful too..
    I realized then that the world is as good as we are, if only we want it to be so.

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    1. Neighbours who have a ready smile are wonderful and will be surely helpful when we need them. While we talk of gated communities, we have to make a difference between the posh and the normal ones. The residents in the former types rarely need a neighbour’s help if ever. It is we, the lesser mortals who do and so as you say, we make it as good as want it to be 🙂

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  6. I think those days are over when neighbourers were part of family. They used to drop in any time of the day, chit chat, gossip, laugh with heart & share etables made at home. Now, neighbourers are strangers and honestly we even do not know their names. They are lucky who in this age are having friendly neighbourers.

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    1. Visting even close relatives without first informing them is unheard of today, leave alone drop in unannounced! We have gone from one end to the other of the neighbourliness spectrum. I am lucky because I am only a tenant and yet I don’t feel like a stranger here.

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  7. I have been living in a condominium with 350 apartments.
    We are lucky..Each resident stands up for the other.

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  8. I lived in a gated community. I have seen some of my friends’ children born in front of my eyes. There are some who had lent me a helping hand with my own kids, still do. When I take an evening walk, my husband and I do not hesitate to look out for little kids who play unsupervised sometimes even scolding them. And when Sid got injured while playing a few years back, a friend of mine immediately took him to the hospital while another one sent food. What more can I say? Of course, we have nasty fights as well just like it is in any family. But I do love it here and mostly because of the wonderful souls around. We also celebrate all festivals and national holidays with gusto irrespective of region or religion. I completely attest to what you say. And I am so happy that you have found good folks where you stay.

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    1. I can imagine you scolding errant children of the colony 🙂 It is people like you that make a warm neighbourhood, Rachna! As long as the fights blow over and not become family feuds running for generations, it is fine. I feel comfortable in this place and the people are the most important reason for it.

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  9. I have lived in gated communities for the last 25 years. I remember my son cut his leg and it was my neighbour who carried him to a doctor in his new car. Later I came to know that his car seats were soiled due to the bleeding but he never mentioned. Several such incidents. Community living can be fun during festivals as you mentioned. However, not everyone is sensitive enough. Right now, even as I type, the three year old above my floor is driving his motorized play scooter and my head is hurting real bad.:)

    Glad to know you are enjoying Mumbai Zephyr.

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    1. I have lived in such communities too and the examples I have given are from such neighbourhoods. Today, it is not such a common thing to find a neighbour sitting with a sick child or carrying him in his car to the doctor. Not to say that they don’t happen, but such instances are getting fewer and far between, not least because we hesitate to knock on the door of a young couple who are bustling to or from work, busily chatting on their mobiles or with the headphone firmly stuck in their ears.

      I have grown up and lived in Maharashtra and Mumbai is especially close to my heart 🙂

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  10. As usual you have this way of writing that makes me feel so warm and fuzzy all over. One thing in Bombay I miss is the absence of great neighbours. We have nice ones on our floor, but no bonding as we had back home. But I guess it comes with the fact that no one is at our house the whole day long…I guess that makes a difference too 🙂

    I wish I had you as my neighbour 🙂

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    1. Bonding is hard in this day and age, but having friendly neighbours makes up for it. I think you should be happy that they are nice neighbours. I would love to be your neighbour too, especially with R around 😀

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  11. I would love to shift to your complex, Zephyr! In our new complex, no one smiles. I had visited on my own with my husband to 4 houses! They reluctantly spoke to us and no one has visited our house even after 6 months. They smile at us reluctantly when we meet near the lifts! My old Hosur housing board flat days are gone!

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    1. You are welcome, Sandhya 🙂 People tend to think it a waste of time to mingle with neighbours. Most of the time we meet on the landing, the lift, the lobby and so on and stand and chat a while. Visiting homes is considered gauche, these days, I think 🙂 It might take some time for you to ‘break-in’ into the new place since the others must have already been living there for some time, right? Don’t lose heart.

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  12. I am currently reading The Art Of Happiness in a Troubled World by Howard Cutler and HH Dalai Lama. I was very intrigued by the title of this book because I am constantly thinking about the hopelessness that has gripped us due to all the problems that have taken over the world. Believe it or not, but the book convinced me in one of the first few chapters about how important it is to have a friendly neighbourhood to have a more peaceful world. It’s a powerful thought and may sound very disconnected in the context of world peace but the book had me at it.

    Hence, this post itself is a contribution to world peace if it’s able to inspire the readers to go out and make friends with those who are in their closest physical proximity! 🙂

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    1. You said it Swati. Since neighbours are in the closest physical proximity, it is a blessing to have good neighbours. I have had mixed expiriences…khatta-meetha. But nice overall.
      And love this book.

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    2. Wow! My post, a contribution to world peace in whatever little way it does? That sure feels good 🙂 I would love to read that book after you finish it, ok? What Dalai Lama says makes perfect sense because the world outside our family starts with our immediate neighbours/hood. So a peaceful and friendly neighbourhood when extrapolated becomes a friendly society/localoty/city/country/world, right?

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  13. Years back in our colony we used to celebrate the new Year’s day with gusto along with dinner and several games extending to 1 am.Most of the young children had grown up and went to other cities or abroad leaving old parents .The presence of youngsters makes the difference.
    Good you are in an active and warm ambiance

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    1. That is only as far as celebrations go, KP. We don’t need the presence of children to be friendly with our neighbours. We have an elderly couple as our neighbours and they look forward to small gestures from us with joy and appreciation. We feel good to have them around too and neither of us have small children in the house 🙂 The key is to find something in common with a neighbour and then build on it or if not, at least make an effort to be open and friendly.

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  14. I live in one of the swanky apartment complexes and I discovered I had neighbours when there was an emergency evacuation in our building. I think it’s partly our fault. Like you mentioned, we prefer the comfort of our virtual worlds, too busy to look around us.

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    1. Often too, such apartment complexes lay unspoken stress on one’s material standing including the labels one wore, the cars one drove and the number of maids one had. That precludes warm interaction. Why bother when we have so many friends online, right? Trying to break the ice with a neighbour takes some effort and we are loathe to make it.

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  15. I remember my neighbor aunty coming in from the back door to get some sugar because there were unexpected guests and my mom passing on some chaklis too for them. Such bonhomie is difficult to find now. We are more comfortable with online friends.
    As I see updates, pictures, news, recipes debated on and discussed at public portals I wonder do the same people know that much of their real time friends or neighbors. But I am glad that you live in such a nice society. It is alright if you don not make lontime friends. At least you have people who smile at you

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    1. This happened in village homes too. If guests dropped in at late hours, a secret message will make the rounds and soon food would appear miraculously from several houses 🙂 We are increasingly becoming a morose society which believes in too much privacy with the danger of isolation. I guess it is easy being friends with online people because one need not be physically present and so avoid any personal interaction which is harder. I smile away at everyone and get smiles back. It helps that it is an old society with members living here since a long time. New tenants sometimes act uppity, but only need some push to mix. I guess I am lucky.

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  16. first of all so happy to see you:)..
    And yes in my last building we used to have the same type of feeling, but presently its quite different, no celebrations, everyone busy with one’s own work.

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    1. Thank you Renu. It feels good to be missed by friends 🙂 There might be exceptions but overall the camaraderie of yesteryears is definitely less if not entirely absent these days. It is in older societies where people have continued living that this can be seen.

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