I grew up in a neighborhood where small independent houses, stood majestically, nestled amid a canopy of Avenue trees, the fresh morning air pregnant with the pungent aroma of blooming flowers, a pleasant scenario which always gave one a heady feeling of having stepped into a heaven. Separated by a chain fence from neighboring houses, we didn’t have any difficulty in communicating with our neighbors. We had neighbors who were nephews and nieces of ruling ministers of those times, as well as those serving the police department but none of them exhibited their show of pomp or power during their period of stay. Thus our Sunday’s tasty Vengaya sambar and potato roast were exchanged for their fluffy mouth watering vegetable biryanis —a day we all waited in great anticipation with an insatiable appetite. The henna leaves from the trees in our garden, were turned into beautiful intrinsic designs on our palms by the artistic Muslim women next door. Most of the movies we watched, were on free passes offered by our next door police neighbors. Thus we lived in a wonderful community bereft of jealousy or envy, the likes of it which I could never find again! After marriage, due to shifting of residences in to deep interiors of India, it was a completely shocking change for me, be it culture, language or customs. The neighbors, most of them married women with kids, talked to me in an adult language, punctuated by their naughty body language and boisterous laughter, which was far beyond my comprehension, due to my age and language barrier. Though I was invited for Satyyanarayana Pooja, an event which was performed frequently in most houses, I never relished the invite. What should have been a spiritual occasion to invoke Gods blessings, in fact, turned out to be a casual meeting between ladies for mindless gossiping, mostly related to latest household acquisitions or surreptitious exchange of news, about newly marrieds being in the family way, a frequent embarrassing question always put forward to me by the women. Even if I was down with a slight fever, the entire group of women would turn up at my house with fruits, soup, kichdi etc, in anticipation of some sweet news of the stork visit! Despite the fact that I was speaking Butler English which none could understand, the ladies always revered me for my convent English, calling me convent didi! After a few years of shifting places, I was back to my dear old chennai, but with a lot more maturity enhanced by my few years of experience of living in rural towns. The first rental house neighbor was a Telugu family, who hardly spoke a word of Tamil. But it was my friendly nature which broke the language barrier. When they casually borrowed a cup of coffe powder, sugar , curd etc initially terming it as an emergency, I happily obliged them. But then when it turned to be a daily occurrence with none of the borrowed items being returned, I became wiser. When asked about the issue politely, they would instantly transform into a dementia patient, sporting a vacant look, and look like someone lost in the crowd! I had a hand sewing machine, with which I used to alter my blouses, petticoats etc. Sitting in the drawing room I would carry out the occasional mending of my clothes. One day seeing this, my neighbor wanted to help me out with her oversized blouse, which I readily obliged. But the next day I was shocked to see them knocking my door with an oversized bundle of clothes, which I felt was one on the way to the laundry. My heart skipped a beat when they proudly announced that the bundle was in fact clothes they wanted me to mend. They left my premises with a polite message to take my own time. When I realized how my helping nature was taken for granted by people who totally lacked even an iota of civility, I returned the clothes with an apology that my sewing machine was under repair which would take more time. Sure there were broken hearts and broken relationships, which never bonded till the time of my leaving the place. When I shifted to my own apartment, which was one on the third floor, I had young couples, mostly working in banks, as neighbors who used their home just as a stop over between their working hours. Right from collecting their registered post, couriers, and laundry, I also had the additional responsibility of overseeing the work of their cleaners, taking charge of their house keys and handing it over to their FIL, BIL etc in their absence. A year after my settling down in my new flat, a new Telugu couple occupied the flat opposite to me. Not knowing Tamil was no deterrent in communicating, because the lady spoke fluent English. With her DH going on long tours due to his job, she had plenty of spare time to chat. She had a cute two year old son, absolutely mischievous, ready to pull out anything he laid his hands on. This lady would just leave her kid under my care at my home, with a promise that she would finish her household chores within a few minutes and then take him back. But when minutes turned into hours, my lovely pastime turned into an infinite frustration. Lifting the child, who was a chunky one weighing like a junior Md Ali, was sure enough to sap my energy levels. But hey, there was a positive side to this part of daily routine. Yes, there was no need to go to the gym and sweat it out lifting weights and tone my sagging arms! When the occasional help turned in to a forced labor, I decided to call it quits citing my failing health conditions, I slowly got out of an unnecessary obligation which sure ensured me some reprieve but also caused serious heartburns, with an invisible coldness creeping into our warm communication! Grinding idli batter, taking my neighbors MIL to doctor, looking after the house during her hospitalization, be it a marriage or a funeral, I was always there for my neighbors, lending a helping hand. There were neighbors who kept their TV volume at the highest, from morning to night, watching those screaming serials, not bothering about the disturbances they caused to their neighbors. Even a polite plea to reduce the volume levels went unheard because they were stone deaf! Amid all this annoying experiences I had to deal with my neighbors, there came a frustrating experience, a serious issue, where I had to seek the help of my neighbors. When my DD got an international scholarship for higher studies, getting a Tatkal passport within 15 days, was just like experiencing a real James Bond film in reality, with the time ticking away, and nobody from the higher hierarchy ready to pitch in to attest her identity, because she was a minor. When 2 days were just left for the last day of submitting the documents, a distant neighbor to whom I poured out my woes, immediately took my hand and said “ I will help you”. And help she did which paved a solid way towards a bright future for my DD, and it was that day that my trust in humanity returned! Shifting of residences, and personal commitments have rendered me an absolute incommunicado, but an occasional peep through the obituary columns, sometimes leaves me sad, for there staring at me, are some smiling faces of my close neighbors, with whom I had the some of the best relationships. I offer a silent prayer, and move on to my routine activities, my mind numbed with a hurricane of sad thoughts and emotions!