Well, let’s say that Lucy has been on travel and we could not meet for our regular cup of tea. Isn’t it nice when once so easily transfer his own laziness to another imaginary character? Although, in reality nothing changed, but maybe we get a good feeling about ourselves, if its even for a short time, that it was not my laziness that I did not write for a month now. On the other hand, who knows the brains amazing capacity to mold may completely make it a positive feeling. We shall see how that goes. But for now, I am back at Lucy’s apartment for our tea. As she came back from her travel, she brought some new blend’s of tea. Today’s selection of “immune” flavor. I do not remember what was in it, but it was a nice tea. While having tea, I was reminded of how this used to be a culture among my parents. If you call someone at home or you just happened to stop by, it was almost compulsory if not just culturally appropriate to offer tea. This lead to another cultural question about neighbors. Lucy asked, how was the culture around neighbors back at my place. Not an easy question to answer, but let’s see what we find when we take a walk through mental archive.
In general as a culture, I recall that we used to say that a neighbor is not a good neighbor, if she has not been at your place atleast once a week to ask for something. Something can be some tool, a utensil, maybe a chair, an onion or could even be salt or sugar. There must be some reason to come over to just say hello and spend some 5-10 min. Today, with new mindset, it may just feel odd. However, reflecting on that, I would say it was a very powerful social connection. It is said and I can confirm with my own life experience that it is small frequent acts that adds up than a big 1 time act. If anyone understands neural networks and brain function, they can easily see that repetition and frequency keep the memory active. I remember reading a story about a couple who moved from London to Mumbai, India. They were surprised that as they were putting their stuff inside, the neighbor next door came provide a helping hand and later invited them for dinner in the evening. It was initially odd for them, but soon they got used to it. Their initial visit was for a short time, but later they decided to moved to India permanently and this social connection was one of the big factory in their decision making.
Coming to personal life, the childhood I remember, our immediate neighbors were not so friendly. There was always some kind of trouble among them. Ours was anyways a short street with just 4 houses in it. There was a one big family with 3 brothers living in the same house with their own families. They were decent folks, but they moved to another location after some internal family dispute. My parents had more friendly relations with little distant neighbors in the next street than the neighbors next door. However, the situation at my maternal grandma’s was quite different. Every year during summer holidays we used to go there. Her house was at the junction of 2 streets. During he summer, we would foldable beds outside. That was the time of no traffic, with no cars and an occasional scooter may pass by. So, it was quite a kids friendly zone. Kids from the neighbors around would come out and we would play together. The lady next door was my grandma’s best friend. We would always get some candies, when she would over to visit. Similar was the relation with the neighbors in front of us. Everyday, there would be usual gathering of kids and aunts and grandma’s would be keeping eyes on us while having their daily gossip sitting in the shade, while trying to keep blow away the sweat with hand fans. Every day different street vendors would be by; some would sell vegetables, some fruit and some would have only specialty. Specialty could be milk ice cream, steamed corns, mangoes, oranges or jal-jeera or jamuns. The last 2 are summer specialties and really amazing when you have been playing in the hot summer of India.
When, I moved to engineering college, my parents also moved house to another part of the city. I was not home so often, so there was not so much of a possibility to observer daily operations on neighborly activity. Anyways, the place where we moved, there were once again only 3 more houses around us. But, whenever I was home I would notice the regular visits among neighbors. This was definitely a much better situation than before. However, for me at personal level it was not so much due to lack of presence at home. I stayed in hostels during my bachelors and master’s study. There, I had class-mates around, but that I would not count as “neighbors” as far as this article is concerned.
When I completed studies and my first job was in suburbs of New Delhi, in a town called Noida. I stayed in an apartment shared with 2 others, who were actually my classmates from my masters college. After few months I moved to another apartment, where I could in a sense call them my neighbors. I moved to a single room apartment. I had a shared balcony with 2 other people living in the another 2 room apartments on the same floor. As far legal definition goes, we can call them neighbors, but in fact they were my colleagues from the company where we worked together in the same department. One of them after all those years is still a very good friend of mine and we are in regular touch. Now who would believe that, considering one of them is me :). I moved twice in the same city, in different buildings for short time and really had no contact with any neighbor.
After 2 years, I moved to another side of New Delhi, a city called Gurgaon. I moved to a house where the owner was renting one floor of his house. Their were houses around that house, but I had no idea who they are and what do they do. I do not even remember what the owner was doing. Just a couple months later, I moved to Toronto, Canada for work. I took an independent apartment in a low rise building on the very edge of downtown Toronto. There were 3 floors, but during my stay of 10 months, I had almost no interaction with my any of them. Now, it sounds amazing to me when I am writing it, as it was in Toronto that for the first time I came across in my life with people who would share a smile whenever you pass them. It was the case even, if you are stranger. I was so confused, when I first saw it. I was simply walking on a street when someone passed by. We looked towards each other and she smiled. I was perplexed. I looked back thinking maybe someone behind me is familiar to her. Nobody and she was already on her way. Few minutes later another man passed by and same thing again. Then I started to notice other people and they were all doing the same. At first it felt like monotonous and automatic reaction of their culture. But, soon I realized that most of them are not just smiling a business smile, that fades away immediately after purpose is done. Their smile would linger on their faces even when they pass beyond the person they greeted. Soon, I was hooked to it and it was a wonderful experience sharing smiles with random people walking across many streets and alleys of downtown Toronto. Yet, strangely, I did not know my neighbors.
I moved back to Gurgaon again. This time I happened to get a floor in 3 story building, where I was the only occupant. I was mostly working from home at that time. So apart from some people I would see when I go to have dinner or lunch based on available time, I won’t see many people anyways. As the life I had it, I decided to move again and soon I was looking for apartment in and around another city, Chandigarh. I rented a floor in the house, which was build for a 1 bedroom apartment. At the ground floor owner of the house was living. He was retired now and renting was a good additional income now with opening on new IT center close by. I stayed there for about 6 months and did not have any interaction with any neighbor once again. With no neighbor interaction, my next destination was Basel, Switzerland. Maybe something will change there.
I came to Basel, without knowing much about it. I had never heard of this city before. Still, when I came to this city, the very first day I felt that it would be a good time here. Little, I knew that assignment for 1 year would be extended enough times to make a 5+ years of stay in Basel. I made many friends there had lots of interactions. It brought back sports in my life again. All those activities happened, but as far as the neighbors are concerned, no change happened there. The only time, I remember I had an interaction with someone in the building was, when I forgot key to my apartment and I had to call someone ( apparently my mobile phone was also inside). 5 years I lived in the same apartment, yet no neighbor interaction. This is the longest stay of my life anywhere ( other than with parents as kids). Still no luck with neighbors. All those years flew by and before I knew, there was once more a trigger to move. This trigger brought me to Munich, Germany. I took an apartment very close to main railway station. It was not a noisy place, but still very active close by. 9 months of my stay in Munich, but not even a single interaction with a neighbor.
Is this the neighbor we expect to have?
Looking back, it seems like I just did not have any luck with neighbors. It is said, “Life is something than happens when we are busy doing other things”. Pretty much so, the life happened and I left my work life and started a new on the move, volunteering life. In this phase, there were no neighbors anyways, so not much expectation of having a neighborly conversation. After this active an interesting phase of my life, I came to my current city Zadar, Croatia. It is hard to believe that it’s already 3 years that I am living here. It is not that all the other places, I was looking for neighbors. That thought just never occurred to me, till Lucy pointed it out. Who knew that all of that missing-neighbor phase would come to end in Zadar. This is the first place where I have ever lived, that a neighbor can come to me to ask to help setup his new TV or help figure out his new mobile phone. The first time even that a neighbor knocked on my door to ask a help to setup a washing machine. For the first time, I have a chance to help my neighbor ( an old lady) to carry her heavy bag of groceries to 5th floor. It is for the first time that I came back from a month long travel to India, that a neighbor asked me, “Where was I, they were worried that they had not seem me some time!”.
These are all different people, who with time with different reasons to came to live in this building. From geographical viewpoint, I am the one stranger here. Still, when they see me, they stop, share a smile and small talk with me. They do not feel awkward to come to me and ask for help. They do not look at me wit ha puzzled look, if I offer a helping hand. In exchange of that small effort on my part, they offer me their trust, their smiles, their vulnerability, their acceptance of their limitations and sometimes I do get a soft drink or olives. I am still waiting for a lemon cookies though (Which I hope if my neighbor read this article, may take some time to prepare). To come back to the definition of a good neighbor I describe earlier, I had the opportunity to get couple of onions on a Sunday late evening.
Now, I do put these interactions in a very special and limited context of neighbors. But, I think these are those small interactions that makes us social. These small interactions helps to learn how to interact with people. It allows us to realize that have people around us who can help us in small things. It helps to relax in a way not trying to be perfect all the time to remember all things that we need to have at home. These interactions are those small steps that help us develop the ability to ask for help. It helps us to develop that capability as a part of our nature rather than a failure on our part. I think, these are those small interactions that helps us become, what we proudly call us “human”.
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