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      Volume 10 |Issue 34 | September 09, 2011 |


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Neighbours for Better or Worse

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Urban living is full of challenges. It means dealing with all sorts of uncertainties on a daily basis: Will there be water for the rest of the shower? Will there be power when the football game of the year is aired? Will one reach school/work before noon? Among all these anxieties is another age-old worry: What are the neighbours going to do next? Will they be watching us with binoculours when we do Indian Idol imitations? Will they give back the cricket ball or just be mean and say they never saw it? Will they go bonkers over a little coconut (from our tree) that came close but actually didn't, hit the mistress of the house, on the head? Will that crotchety old Boo Radley type shoot the dog because it just expressed its angst at his silly, pest of a cat?

In the good old days when most people lived in close-knit neighbourhoods, it was a given that people who lived next to each other, just had to get along. It was plain logical and the only way to survive. Every family member, even the household pet, had a friend in the neighbourhood to share their sorrows and joys. Exchange of homemade delicacies, going next door for a cup of sugar or to watch 'Shokal Shondhya' on TV, planning a neighbourly meena bazaar, being part of the next door wedding, birthday or mourning together a neighbour's death - there were so many ways to being a good neighbour.

Another basic rule of neighbourly behaviour was for richer, bigger neighbours to look after the smaller, less affluent ones next door. This would generally mean not shooting at the neighbour when he/she was in your front lawn, sharing a park or even a pond if it was in a common part of the neighbourhood, getting rid of the barbed wire boundary walls and so on. Sadly the reality these days, is quite the opposite, with the mansion owners setting their Doberman on you when you tried to retrieve your laundry from their garden, broken glass lining on the walls to prevent any intrusion and exclusive swimming pools that you may only ogle at from your rusty window. Big neighbours look at little neighbours with disdain, scoffing at their attempts to improve their lot, brushing away their measly requests.

In many neighbourhoods people don't even know who lives in the next apartment, let alone the next building. They meet in lifts, avoid eye contact and go their separate ways without so much as a nod of acknowledgement. Indifference and isolation are the twin gifts of growing urbanisation.

But perhaps the silent apathetic kinds are better than the neighbours from hell. This breed will screech at their household help, children or spouse just when you are getting ready to tuck into the blanket and read that scintillating novel. They will turn up the stereo at brain exploding levels at midnight on a weeknight. They will arbitrarily cut up your favourite Krishnachura tree that made the mistake of drooping towards their backyard; the leaves, they say, are making a mess. They will steal henna leaves or mangoes from your garden while you watch in stunned silence and then flatly deny everything when you confront them.

They will complain about everything - your children (too loud), your dog (too much barking), your household help (for throwing garbage on their verandah), your clothes (for floating into their terrace, again). As far as they are concerned you are the neighbour from hell. Come to think of it, they could have a point.

On the other side of the spectrum are the neighbours who think they are the experts at neighbourliness when actually they are just plain nosy. These are the kind who keep log books for all movement – living or nonliving – from and to your apartment. Various members of the busybody family will take turns to keep tabs on you and your family. They know exactly when you are having a dinner to which they are not invited, hence the embarrassing appearance. They know when you have fought with your spouse (Bhai looked so down when he stormed out of the apartment, everything OK Bhabi?).

They know also when your relative from Rajshahi has sent a crate of mangoes, the lengra variety. How can we not, the fragrance is all over the building, say they.

There is nothing much to do except share those delectable fruits. After all that's the neighbourly thing to do.


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