Friday, February 27, 2004

Neighbourhood Watch

They say that eyes are the windows to the world. That they might well be, but the windows in our apartments are my eyes to the world. At least my world!

One evening, couple of weeks ago, we discovered that none of our channels were working. I have become quite addicted to the word games and quiz programmes and the post-dinner movie on one of the 5 channels. More worrisome than that- was it a problem with our TV?. Oh bother...what a problem we'd face having to fix it.

Rang N who lives in another area. Her TV was working fine. Timidly knocked on my neighbour's door – my first door to door interaction with any neighbour (beyond the ‘bonjour’ one has to mouth in corridors) and asked if there was a problem with his tele. Ofcourse I quite forgot my carefully rehearsed questions and could only manage – votre tele, ├ža marche? No it too had a problem. Perhaps the problem lay with the extrerior antenna.

Downstairs, there lives a lady, (her flat faces ours) who watches TV late into the night 7/7. We can see the lights from her TV blinking through the chinks in the window shutters. Then I checked her windows. Completely dark. That confirms it. Its not our TV. But the antenna! Sure enough, all channels came back next day!!

It’s surprising how much one gets to learn about one’s neighbours without having ever to interact with them.

The old man in the house next to ours...retired. Loves pottering around his garden, tending it with a wide variety of sophisticated and expensive looking gardening tools.

The lazy couple in the next building - maybe twice or thrice a year, develop this sudden burst of energy and mow their lawn and then leave it untended for the remainder of the year. Perhaps guilt pangs from the neat lawns next door!

The very nice elderly retired couple on the second floor on our opposite end - the ones who Always smile and reply to my occasional queries (what is that building where children play on Sundays? Can I used dried thyme in ratatouile?) have their children and grandchildren over for dinners on their terrace on hot summer nights. Winter means the chairs are wrapped up in plastic and the table is turned upside down and weighed down by a pot.

The enormous pair of boots on the window ledge on the 2nd floor must belong to the very tall young man I meet occasionally! Very meticulous. Often Keeps poireaux on the outer ledge of his window - perhaps to keep them fresh!

Before I came face to face with them, I knew that there were two boys in our building. Their mother would often shout at them which could be heard through their open attic windows!

The young couple downstairs, despite their two cars, are motor bike enthusiasts and take more care of their bike than the cars.

It was the same in Kolkata. When we moved into our newly constructed apartment building, we must have caused a lot of irritation to our neighbours by blocking their view and reducing their privacy. Our immediate neighbour had a fancy roof top cabin in pale blue with dark blue glass and it had somehow got broken by some one chucking bricks at them from our building. They complained loudly about it and has been ever since, dubbed by us as 'Kanch bhengey debo'. In the last 11 yrs that we have been there, we have always referred to them by that name. KBD are having a party. Some in their family is getting married etc.

The Next building is 'babu's' house...babu being the plump young son of a couple with a very clean roof top...babu's father would personally wash the roof and water their huge potted plant collection every evening. Well Babu is now a young man and last month, there was a shamiana on his roof and then we heard the conch shell blowing and ullu dhoni...babu it seems has got himself a wife!

On the other end, is a patriotic family (they hoist the Indian tri-colour every 15th august) with a sporty daughter (she works out on the roof).

Owners of the next house are seriously religious. They have all night kirtans. Holi is approaching when we see the children in the cream house dropping balloons filled with water on unsuspecting passers by below…

I don’t know what sort of an impression the above might be making; I don’t actually spend my time peering outside the windows. These references I have drawn by what little I can hear while I am cooking or cleaning or while pulling up or down the window blinds!

I haven’t see the insides of their homes, don’t think I ever will…don’t particularly want to. But yet, these little encounters are important for me. Little insignificant details, which makes me feel like I am getting to know this place a bit more, am getting a little more settled here, my home at the moment.

Glossary Bengali Words
Kanch bhengey debo - Will break the glass
Ullu dhoni – ululations (usually at Bengali religious ceremonies especially during marriages)
Kirtans – religious songs
Holi – Hindu festival of colours

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