When i was growing up, there came a point in time when i wished there was no neighbour around me - they were so pesky and annoying. Their current affairs was so up-to-date - what rank you got, what food you ate, how thick and healthy was your hair on the head,how many new dresses and pairs of shoes you had, which guy you were seen with and yada-yada. They also resorted to amusing tactics of isolating you out if you didn't accept their seniority and supremacy- they will steal your plants, break your planters or steal clips from the clothes-line and the occasional but cowardly pelting of stones and breaking of windows..Mind you, this has nothing to do with what culture they belong to or their economic standards.Whatever the case, neighbours were the least important in my scheme of things.I preferred friends and family.
And when you settle away from home in a new city, your roomies and colleagues at work who become friends become your lifeline. You have similar fears and strengths before going your own ways. The occasional filtering also happens when you realise a certain roomie and his/her priorities don't gel with yours and you have a choice of letting go, nastily or gracefully. There will be moments when you will feel betrayed,cheated and disgusted - the sense of closure is nowhere. There are no neighbours to run to - you run out of something, or you're in the middle of a mess - you turn to your roomie/friend/colleague to bail you out! They are your actual neighbours within a house or system, if you may. There is clearly no marked space.
When i moved to the US after our wedding, we were in a nice gated community, half of whose occupants i never saw or met.In such a lovely neighbourhood, making friends is tough.I made friends at the bank, the library and the bakery-cum-bistro down Castro Street. Most true-blue Americans that i've come across will work Mon-Fri - work defines their identity. Small talk happens over a drink on a Friday evening and mostly before 9pm. Weekends are fiercely guarded to catch up on sleep, bicycling, trekking in one of the national parks or as mundane as picking up groceries or mall-hopping. Even pot-luck lunches are so timed!Yes, you do say the clipped 'Hi there!' when you're at the pool or taking a walk down the park. But there are no conversations beyond that. I stopped feeling strange - in the US, time is a huge premium.Oh yes, you do have plenty of friends but they live miles away.
Back in India, we lived in a bungalow where you had no choice of a neighbour but your landlord. However well-meaning and sincere our efforts, the visits were formal and the exchange of pleasantries, few and far between. No fret. We had neighbours but the insulated kinds.So, friends were the saviours again.
Here in the new city, we have neighbours within inches and meters. The first day, when we moved in and were monitoring the movers and packers with the unpacking, our next-door neighbour was walking to the lift for her dental appointment. They knocked our door in the evening - offered us potable water for the kid's milk and also, asked us to look them up for any help. That was really sweet! I tried to hide my cynicism - i am usually the cynical types.The next day, i knocked for old newspapers to line the shelves.
Within days, her 4-year old daughter and our son have become best buddies - he eats half his meals there and we have stopped keeping track of whose toys and slippers are lying in which house.It's a new feeling - i actually have a neighbour! I told my husband - hey, we actually have a neighbour who talks and keeps tab about your well-being. They helped us with practically everything - milk, newspaper, bottled water, maids, cooks, car-cleaning, internet, phone - you name it. Both the husband and the wife are thorough responsible professionals at a very reputed MNC. Their daughter is sent to daycare after school. So the kids get to play only after 6 or 7 in the evening for an hour but it's the most awaited ritual in the whole day. And, we, mothers, laugh our stresses away over a cup of tea.
We've shared meals and every festival until now is incomplete if we have not sent a home-made sweetdish across.I have gone out shopping and felt a soul-connect while bargaining deals or choosing an outfit.She's become a good friend, more than a neighbour - we do complain to each other about our respective husband's pet peeves over food or socks and stand by each other in sickness too.
They didn't get a chance to bond with the previous tenant for whatever reasons - apparently, both the husband and the wife were working professionals. But i would not take that as the reason, working people are not that bad and stay-at-home moms are not that boring.
But yeah, a good neighbour is a blessing. When i will be away, they volunteered to look after my plants. They are already sad they won't see Arjun for such a long time. We had a lovely dinner last evening - a happy send-off for me!