STANDING ALONE



It was about 7 PM this evening. I was returning from the dentist with my daughter. She was happy that her braces were off and I was relieved that I would not have to nag her again about carefully brushing her teeth . We had decided that we could have cereal for breakfast tomorrow so I would not have to race against time making the regular dosa, idli etc. On the whole, it was a happy evening and all I was looking forward to was getting dinner over with and hitting the sack! But then things do not always go as they are planned! 

Just as we approached our gate, I found something strange. There was a car parked right against our gate- which meant that I could not even reach my gate. My first guess was that it must be a customer from the vegetable shop opposite. So I stormed in there demanding whose car it was. Meanwhile the watchman from the flat next door came running to me saying that the vehicle belonged to a visitor at flat no xxx in their building. I sent the daughter to their house to verify this piece of information. Just as she was getting into their building the owner of the car – a smartly dressed young man and his aged father came out. I asked the young man why he had parked outside our gate. All he said was “Sorry” !! I wish I could express in words what I felt at that moment!! Any way I told him that he could not get  away with an apology and I was going to call the police. He then told me by way of an explanation that he could not park inside the next building because their watchman was not allowing it. So what did he do? Parked at the gate outside the independent house next door where there was no watchman, not caring that he had parked so close to the gate that the occupants could not even walk in or out of the house!

Meanwhile, my raised voice brought the hosts downstairs. They apologized and I could not do anything but allow this duo to drive away!! 

This my friends, has been our plight –residents of an old independent house on a main road flanked on all sides by flats – most of whom have committed building violations resulting in their top story windows touching the fronds of the trees inside our compound! Our neighbors in these flats are constantly complaining to us about coconuts that fall down from our trees  and dent their parked cars. I wish I could do something about it. But it is almost impossible to find a coconut plucker in a city!!! 

There was a very unpleasant situation in January this year when one of the occupants of the flat behind our house brought a coconut plucker and asked me to use his services to remove the fronds. I agreed to do it (at my cost). However when the chap cut the fronds he refused to remove them. Since it was my mistake in the sense I had not negotiated the deal properly before agreeing to let him climb the tree, I agreed to have my maid remove the ones that had fallen inside our compound. But soon, I found the watchman of the flat on whose complaint we had done the cutting of the fronds, throwing in the fronds that had fallen on their side into our compound! He refused to clear them away from his side and his employers, the residents of the flat said that he was right in his refusal because it was not part of his job description to remove fallen coconut fronds from trees inside our compound!!! They accused me of having trees that were a “hazard” to their vehicles and windows and that if I did not cut them the least I could do was not to “inconvenience them or their employees”!! To say, I was shocked would be an understatement! The unfairness of it all still hurts! The house where we live is 52 years old. The trees were planted around that time. The flat is less than 10 years old! 

We also have recurring problem with a garbage bin outside our house. The domestic help from these flats do not bother to throw the garbage inside the bin and most of the time, it is littered on the  pavement outside our house resulting in garbage flying inside! I have had a lot of arguments with these women but I guess when their employers lack civic sense then you cannot expect uneducated  people to have it! 

Our road, has just two independent houses- all the rest are apartment complexes. People tell me how lucky I am to live in such spacious surroundings. But only I know what I am dealing with! While selfish neighbors lacking in civic sense is one part of the problem, another is the constant stream of intruders. 

I was shocked one morning as I returned from my walk to find a strange woman with a dog prowling inside my property. When I asked her who she was she told  me by way of an explanation that she had come inside to pick up mangoes that had fallen from our trees!! I cannot even believe that someone could use that as an excuse ! I told her that as she was entering my compound without my permission she was an intruder and since she was picking up mangoes fallen from my trees inside my compound she was a thief!!! She ignored me completely and continued to pick up the fallen mangoes until I had to tell her that I would call the police if she did not listen to me!! Many people may think I am making a fuss about nothing but folks it is not a question of some fallen mangoes. It was the arrogance of her belief that she could get away with it!! If she had asked for the mangoes I would have gladly given them to her. School kids often throw stones during the mango season trying to hit mangoes, I generally ignore them but I sometimes ask them to come inside and pick up the fallen mangoes or even give away some fallen mangoes that I may have collected earlier.

People outside India may not even understand what I am talking about. They may wonder why I am ventilating like this instead of just complaining to the police. But you know our system here. There are no stringent laws for trespassing, illegal parking or poor garbage disposal practices. People will do these things as long as they think they can get away with it! And get away, they do because we are just one family against some 40 odd families around us. We do not have a watch man outside our gates yet. Soon, we may have to – not because we fear for our safety but because we have to protect ourselves from the awful habits of our neighbors and their visitors! 

I have found some of the most unfriendly people living around me. They rarely acknowledge us or anyone from the neighborhood when we run into each other in the grocery or vegetable shops nearby.  I do not ever see their children playing with each other either!! Actually, I rarely see any children playing around here ( they are too busy attending, tuition chess / key board class, carnatic music classes etc )so I guess I  do not have enough data to make a generalization. But on the few occasions that kids from the neighborhood came to play with our daughter when she was little, they refused to eat any snacks that we offered. My husband tells me that it was always like that around these parts. The reason being ours is a Christian family in a predominantly Tam Brahm neighborhood!! Can you imagine ,people used to avail the professional services of my late mother in law who was a doctor without paying her anything claiming neighborhood bonding but when it came to accepting her hospitality they would baulk at it !! Irony of ironies!! 

Today, the architecture may have changed from independent houses to flats, but the attitude remains the same!! And how can it vary, when the social composition remains the same? Chennai residents would be familiar with rental ads which say “Vegetarians only” which is a code word for “Brahmins only” (I wonder if Bengali Brahmins and Saraswat Brahmins would qualify considering that they are flesh eating twice borns). My neighbors used to look at me as though I am some alien from outer space – the Tam Brahm woman who is married to a Christian who probably cooks meat in her kitchen ( there used to be veiled enquiries about that in my early years of marriage). She is usually in westerns, wears  limited gold jewellery, often does not bother to use a “bindi”/ “pottu” (“Has she converted ?” ) I have grown immune to those stares now. 

 I compare them to my mother – a fairly orthodox Tam Brahm lady who used to welcome all my friends home feeding them and who used to painstakingly note down recipes of the food sent in by Bengali, Oriya , Bihari neighbors because all of us loved the “exotic” fare!! She used to spend much of  her free time  in their kitchens trying get a first hand demo. The fact that many of these kitchens were also spaces that were used to cook non vegetarian food never bothered my strictly vegetarian mom!  It was so different from the situation here -my mother in law used to buy snacks from “Grand sweets and snacks” during Christmas to give out to the neighbors because “they will not eat what is cooked in our house”! So they ate the “Kai murrukus” , “Thenkuzal” etc  rather than the plum cakes and the achappams/vettaiappams which my mother in law used to make for Christmas. I used to wonder why she bothered giving them anything at all!!

I cannot imagine how these folks manage when they go abroad? And they leave the country in hordes!! I guess they behave like this even when they are abroad, making themselves unpopular. But I am sure they will not dare to strew garbage or park illegally or trespass into houses there!! That is reserved purely for the  mother land!!

These people living around often ask me “When are you giving your property to a flat promoter?” or “ When you give your flat for development to a flat promoter please inform us, we would like to buy a flat here” ! My blood boils when I hear this. For starters, given their relationship with us, they have no right to ask what is a very personal property issue and secondly, do they think we are idiots that if and when we do develop our house into a flat complex we would invite them to buy flats here so we would be marginalized in our own house? 

Today is supposedly the 347th birthday of this city which has such wonderful non inclusive  residents. Can you blame me if I do not join in the general euphoria and celebratory messages that are being passed around?

Comments

  1. I have lived majority of my life so far in USA. I have formed this opinion through personal experience and hearing anecdotes from people like you. Most of them are:

    Cheats.
    Bigots.
    No regard for other people’s property.
    Nosy.
    Want money move from your pocket to their pocket without doing anything.
    Want things/services for free all the time.

    If I were you, I would buy 2 pit bulls and make them roam freely in my property.

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  2. One more thing I forgot. Do these people know that Grand Sweets is not owned and operated by Brahmins? In fact, it is owned by a well known non-vegetarian restaurant chain.

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  3. Seven decades ago I was a young chit of 12 years and there was a Nair shop close to my house.He sold tea and masal vadai from 5am in the morning.The aroma fillled my nose whenever I passed through.Nair with a limp was a friendly guy and knew me well.I yearned for them.Still I could not summon enough guts to have his vada and tea.He himsellf would not sell me.Those were foolish days.Much water has flown under the bridge and old notions have given away to liberal and right ideas.Still in rural sides there are divisive customs that one detests.

    Your problem is unique.You are numerically at a disadvantage and can do nothing.Even 'tresppassers not allowed' board would be stolen.My daughter grew a parijatham and nandhyvattai flower plants in the small ground behind my ground floor apartment for gathering flowers for her puja.They started yielding huge quantity.By 6am the plants would be bereft of a single flower with everyone making use of what was available free.Flowers plucked for god is no stealth!!
    While i empathise with you ,I could not but smile at your little frustrations.A well written piece.

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  4. Great one Meera. One can feel your pain

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  5. Your post speaks of your frustration and wound from your painful experiences with the neighbors. I am really shocked at the attitude of not accepting goodies made during Christmas in the kitchen. Does this kind of discrimination still exist? We always celebrated Diwali, Eid, Christmas with equal joy in our neighborhood as children and THANKFULLY continue to do so...

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  6. @ SG you are spot on about our community!!! And yes, I know about Grand Sweets and their ownership but tell that to the Mama and Maamis around!!

    @ KP Parijatam has this unique feature that it does not benefit those in whose house it is planted - remember the story of Rukmini and Satyabhama? And KP, agreed that we in a minority but things have not changed much from your childhood. Just that it is better camouflaged now !

    @ Ani, come to Chennai and live in our neighborhood. There are many other things that would shock you!! I guess what I am missing is the colony culture that I grew up in where we celebrated all festivals like family!

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  7. @ Rekha, welcome to my blog. This is your first comment on line. I cherish it!!

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  8. well i do accept the fact that, the tam brahms do not accept stuffs given from a non vegetarian family.may be this goes well with the older generation. one sad fact is the discrimination does not exist only with the tam brahms.
    I have a christian aunt who stays opposite to my home. And when ever we give her sweets during some functions the first question she asks me is did u keep it to ur god as 'prasad"? if so we will not have it??? i keep wondering ur god??? what does that mean?and the irony is she is a teacher. so she teaches these discrimination to the students???
    and i grew up in a colony where we celebrated all the functions together and the played with all the children together. ur problem is very true but blaming the whole city is not fair. Just my suggestion.

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  9. well i do accept the fact that, the tam brahms do not accept stuffs given from a non vegetarian family.may be this goes well with the older generation. one sad fact is the discrimination does not exist only with the tam brahms.
    I have a christian aunt who stays opposite to my home. And when ever we give her sweets during some functions the first question she asks me is did u keep it to ur god as 'prasad"? if so we will not have it??? i keep wondering ur god??? what does that mean?and the irony is she is a teacher. so she teaches these discrimination to the students???
    and i grew up in a colony where we celebrated all the functions together and the played with all the children together. ur problem is very true but blaming the whole city is not fair. Just my suggestion.

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  10. Sahitya, welcome to my blog. Thanks for your comment. Tam Brahms are just and example. There are others like your aunt next door. The issue is not about Tam Brahms- the issue is about the judgmental attitude and intolerance that seem to cling on to many people in this city. Therefore I am beginning to wonder if there is something about this place that may be responsible?.

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  11. Oh my! I am so sorry to hear of your woes. I know what you mean when you talk about unfriendly neighbours - coming from Kolkata where I lived in an independent house to a flat in Mumbai and Bangalore, I have experienced how people in flats are just alienated from each other and have no clue about even basic information about people living next door...it isn't so in Kolkata....

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  12. Ha ha , cross border violations! Why should one go to the border areas in Kashmir?

    Tough and fuming lady you are and I do not blame you. They , the residents around would be seeing you as a dragon with fire and smoke bellowing out of the mouth and nostrils.

    Civic sense. That is the key phrase and the total lack of it.

    This attitude is typical of Indians be they Mallus, Tamils or a Mrathi for instance.

    Bite the bullet and coexist or fume and fret.
    Another choice, though energy sapping is what you do. I endorse you.
    But perhaps, I'd think of going away to a quilter place some where . Yet then, how often and how far will one run away from the maddening uncivil crowd?

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  13. Anil, exactly my thoughts!!! Issues among neighbors need to be sorted out in a way that is acceptable to both. However when one neighbor is a weak one then it is nothing short of bullying! I cannot imagine how I became the dragon but I have! I do not like what I have become. But I guess that is what life is all about - our circumstances make us into the person that we are!!

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  14. I am sorry to hear about your experiences,I really do not know what is the solution of this problem except the change in attitude of your neighbours which I hardly expect to happen. Its pathetic to see such inconsiderate people create unnecessary problem for others..

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  15. I completely empathize with your stand Meera. No one has the right to trespass into your garden without your permission. I do not understand how they think they could get away with it. Atleast for the sake of this, you could probably hire a watchman for sometime, til people get accustomed to what is common sense. And regarding the coconut shells falling, I live in an independent house too, and ensure that they are regularly plucked, but when they happen to fall suddenly, nothing can be done about it. Blame the engineers who violated the minimum space between the compound and the building. Feel really bad that you are in such a pathetic neighborhood. I've been here all my life and I've realized that people's attitude is changing for the better. But things like this, highly unacceptable as they are, brings down the entire name of our city!

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  16. Ashwini, thank you for empathizing. I guess as another independent home owner you are best placed to understand the problem! About the coconuts, there used to be time when coconut pluckers used to come regularly in these parts searching for trees to pluck but it is no longer the case. And even if they do I guess it happens when we may not be at home ( as both my husband and myself work). Building violations happen more when the flats adjoin open spaces like ours. Had ours also been a flat with a window overlooking the space that has been encroached the issue might have been different! Chennai I hear is changing but it is not happening as fast as it ought to - but places in Thiruvanmiyur and OMR as well as Velachery are more cosmopolitan when compared to the traditional part where I stay.

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