Friday, April 28, 2006

mending wall

I opened the door to go out for a walk and there was this lady, right in front of me, looking confused. Out of curiosity I asked her about who it was that she was looking for.

"Alka Arora," she said.Immediately, almost unthinkingly, I blurted out, " I am sorry. No Aroras live here." As an afterthought I added, "Maybe you can check the names put up on the ground floor." A lurking fear that I was wrong, rather than courtesy, made me follow her to the list of metallic names put up at the entrance. And there in all its glory, reflecting light upon my sheepish face, was the name plate of Mr. Samir Arora. To the lady's credit she only gave me a wry smile. I deserved it! For putting my foot in my mouth. And for not knowing my next door neighbour.

This is so unlike how I've been brought up. From where I come from neighbours are people whom you not just know but are good friends with. Not just the sugar or salt asking types but genuinely friendly. If you had nothing to do, go to your neighbour's house. The kids of both households play and their mothers gossip about neighbourhood affairs. Sometimes even the fathers join in and discuss politics or sports.

And here I am living in this apartment for 10 months without knowing my next door neighbour. I know who all live in the apartment and can point them out in a group of people but I can't associate names with their faces. I had obviously seen Alka Arora except that I didnt actually know that she was Alka Arora.

In my defence I'll say that bachelors, living on rent, are not regarded upon too compassionately. Maybe if I was living here with my family we (my ngbrs and I) would've got along. I mean remembered names, at least. Bachelors have this reputation of being boisterous,wild and predatory and hence best avoided. Like in the movies where the good-for-nothing loafer dreams of eloping with the 'khandani rayeez' 20 something beauty with nothing but an empty wallet. Our parents have seen such shitty movies way much more to fall for it in real life? Add to this the fact that we - bachelors - hardly stay at one place long enough to induce mutual bonhomie. So you've an ideal concoction for next door strangers whose only moments of 'intimacy' are those half a second acknowledgements when they pass each other on the way in/out to/of the lift.

I'm reminded of Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall' (from my ICSE days)

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.


And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

I've promised myself I'll try to show more initiative in neighbourhood matters. I've thought of a couple of things too. Like assure Mr. Singh her daughter is not the only one in his family whom I love. Or even go out asking for some sugar from Mrs. Shetty and strike up a conversation. Until then though if you are looking for someone in my apartment better check the name plates.


Anonymous said...

hey! who is Mr. Singh? :)

I loved this article... we really need to make that extra effort to know our neighbours better not just for borrowing candles or sugar but also to feel home away from home.

satyajit said...

he's the khadoos secretary of our building