There are times in life when we are astounded by what happens, which is diametrically opposite to our expectations. We put on pretentious air to bypass the inevitable encounter with our neighbours lest they should unmask the anonymity, which we secretly enjoy. Evading those prying eyes at all times becomes agenda for some of us. Yet, when the bugle of emergency calls, neighbours are the ones who act in adversity safeguarding our interests.
I visited my native place Faridabad after many years. The place where I spent twenty-five years of my life right from infancy to youth. Yesteryears filled with trials and tribulations, of my parents to educate us, earn a decent living, endless struggle to carve a niche for ourselves, crying and rejoicing together, living zillions of moments in silence and clamour under one roof built by my parents’ flew past my eyes like a flash.
I was to spend nearly six months pre and post pregnancy with my family. My stay became an enjoyable vacation, a rare privilege in years, as I had always been busy chasing dreams; never really had the ‘time to stand and stare.’ Therefore, this break came as an opportunity to unwind myself with a cup of steaming herbal tree under the shrubs planted by my mother, filled with heart-to-heart conversations, thrown in every now and then.
One such conversation with my father led us to discuss our old neighbour to whom I shall refer as G. I happened to notice my father happily talking to him one day. To my surprise, he even shook hands with him. G was infamous for being a selfish person in our locality. A retired government official now, his attitude was as defunct as was his job. I remember stories of his nil contribution towards Society Repair Fund would always be afloat.
I recollected one such instance when during the annual maintenance of our area’s broken road, private contractors had left broken bricks, unaligned patches, tar smeared edges, unattended concrete and heaps of mud on the road. It was a nuisance for all the inhabitants to pass through it daily.
My father along with a few others decided to pool in fund so that debris on the main road could be cleared. Everyone in the locality, therefore, was to contribute Rs 50 to get the work done. When G’s turn came to pitch in, he said, “the area in front of my house is perfectly fine. It doesn’t need any repair. You may go ahead.” Nonetheless, the repair was done for all from the collected fund.
A few years later, I was witness to yet another instance when a speeding bike had hit G on his return from evening walk. His legs were bruised badly and his bottoms were ripped from sides; footwear had flung to the other side of the road, and his spectacle glass flashed a big crack with a broken rim. My father was the first person to rush and lift him up from the utter state of mess he was in. By then a few neighbours also came to help him.
After an hour of squabbling and blame-game ‘You should have seen the road while crossing’ to ‘I will call the police’ ceasefire was finally restored at the behest of my father who acted as a mediator thinking G belonged to our neighbourhood and any police intervention would be uncalled for. The biker was even made to apologise and the issue was put to rest.
A few days later, G was seen hurling abuses at his immediate neighbour who occupied the flat above his. The core matter was that a toddler of the family, who lived above, had left a pool of pee on G’s terrace. There started a feud in which both the neighbours participated with full vigour. Ladies of the house were at the forefront calling names and brandishing knives, slippers, and iron rods at each other. G, who usually threatened to call cops did prove true to his word that day.
“His son pees on my balcony. Arrest his father for having zero civic sense,” G complained to the police. Again with the intervention of my father who signed as a witness and a guarantor, the fight subsided.
None of the neighbours came out. In fact, watched the drama in rapt attention unfolding from their balcony. A few who did come out were later scolded by their wives. “Why do you stick your nose in other people’s matter,” were the whispers doing the round.
Thinking of all these incidents, I was, therefore, shocked to see G flashing a smile and greeting my father the morning I arrived. Even the family who lived right above his flat was also the proud recipient of G’s generous smile.
Hardly had I digested these developments, when I noticed a burn mark on my father’s left toe.