Our neighbour’s daughter-in-law has Cancer. They found a lump a few months ago and they decided to cut it out and treat with chemo and all that stuff. I don’t know the ins and outs. My neighbour is an old woman and her social skills need working on, but she’s nice enough. I don’t think she knows how to express herself so that people understand her. She told me it was very sad that her daughter-in-law was ill because now it means that she’ll have to deal with the maids herself, when previously her daughter-in-law did it and managed it so well. Obviously she’s going through more than that but she can’t open up to a virtual stranger about the fear and dread and sleeplessness she’s experiencing on behalf of her son and her grandson. 

We live in our tiny worlds, these four walls that separate us from one tragedy to the next. I have no idea about these people, about the woman across the corridor and her newborn or the woman who tutors in the flat opposite. What dramas must they be experiencing? I’ve only met them all once and that was to gauge their opinion about the ‘muzac’ the building authorities decided to play at full volume through the PA system every morning. I’m a very grumpy person without sleep and the previous night I had very little sleep! So the theme from Titanic playing over and over again (a whining instrumental version) just grated on my nerves. I needed to find out what the neighbours thought and they were ok with it, actually. It was only me who had a problem. It didn’t occur to me that they probably had much bigger, troubling issues to tackle, like whether their newborn would sleep enough in the day to allow them enough time to prepare dinner and take a shower. Or whether their grandson’s mother would live to see her own grandchildren.

We’ve lost the art of being neighbourly. I’m the worst for it. I hide away in my room, typing and reading and judging. I wish I was brave enough to meet the people who live only a few feet away. I wish I could be bothered to visit and offer help. But everytime I pluck up the courage to do that, I’m met with suspicion and the firm assurance that ‘no…everything is absolutely fine.’ Relationships and trust need to be built  over time, not through a disingenuous one off query of concern. 

But we need to ask ourselves…do we want be involved through all the heartache and dirty diapers? We’ve experienced enough of that already, right? But the bigger question is, in order to live a life that means something do we NEED to be involved through the heartache and the dirty diapers of our neighbours? I think perhaps we do.

Otherwise what’s the point?



4 thoughts on “Neighbours

  1. Well, this is something I think often and have noticed when ever I have visited India these days. When I was growing up, we knew the entire street we lived in, but now I go home, my parents who still live there don’t know most of the immideate neighbours, forget the entire street, yeap my street wasn’t as crowded before, it would make some difference I think. But I wonder, what else has changed! Have people got so busy in their own little world that they think, if they stopped for a hello, their world would loose all rhythm of daily routine, if they took a moment to observe the faces they pass by everyday, they will get caught up in some one else’s problems!

    I remember me laughing at our mothers chatting away for hours by the gate because they did not have five minutes to come inside or being annoyed at my nosy neighbours who always knew what I was doing wrong but there still was a sense of belonging there. I felt I was part of that neighborhood. It felt good to know that people knew when I was doing well, I knew what they were upto so we were never without topics to talk for those brief few steps we would take together while passing by. We still catch up when we stumble into each other now during my ‘flying’ visits.

    Well having said that, I don’t know most of my neighbours here in UK now. Yes, I utter ‘hello’ when I pass them by, that even strangers do sometimes here, I drop in occasionally to ask/give for something and have to still explain that I am their neighbor from # ___ but mostly I don’t know what to talk to them! except may be the weather and I have exhausted that possibility long time ago. I don’t know what’s common between us to pick up conversation on! Though I see my 3 year old has no such issues, he will chat away even with the passing delivery man longer than I do!
    I think I would not struggle for topics if I was in India, but would my neighbours have time for a chat with me then? Does the sense of belonging affect your relationships to this extent? Or is it our presumptions and anticipations?

    • I’ll talk about my father again. He’s much like a 3 year old in that he has no inhibitions. He pretty much forces people to acknowledge him and befriend him. It works and he’s made a lot of people’s lives better for it. I, on the other hand find that difficult…what could i possibly contribute to someone else’s life who seems quite content as they are? But we never know…and I suppose we have no right to expect or assume…just holding out your hand in friendship may or may not lead to something extraordinary, if nothing else it allows another to see that the world is not such a bad place, after all. 🙂

  2. I don’t know any of my neighbors except of 3 families and don’t suffer much 🙂 they neither give me troubles or get me involved in their own issues, that’s why I find them as perfect neighbors. Before when I was little we lived in other place where neighbors would knock the door and come inside without invitation just to look around – at out furniture, new fridge, new DVD system etc. That was annoying. I’m kinda glad those times has gone.

    • Different strokes for different folks,I guess. I grew up knowing my neighbours. My next door neighbour’s daughter was my best friend until they moved to far, far away. We were lucky it was a community in that there was always someone there to help, or who knew what to do if there was a problem. We had credit at the shop over the road and we would be scolded by the adults who saw us misbehaving. This was in a less affluent part of the city in the UK.

      Later we moved to a more affluent area and my father made it a point to get to know the 80 year old who lived next door. In the end, she valued his friendship and looked forward to our occasional visits until the day she passed away. Till this day her granddaughter, who inherited her house puts out my parents’ wheely-bin for the garbage collector every week.

      But I understand why some people would just like to keep to themselves. Especially when surrounded by nuisance neighbours.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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