Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Neighbours

February 15, 2017
V., Bangalore

The mad girl next door has started screaming again. It is precisely 10 o'clock at night, I swear it turned 10 pm when I directed my eyes to the right hand corner just now to see the time. How about that! I really wish she would stop screaming. She is not really mad, I suspect. Her parents did not probably tell her of neighbours and basic decorum that is becoming of human beings, when she was a child. Now she yells at the father and the father yells back. Her voice is very shrill, that makes it worse. When I saw her the first time, I found her to be snooty and with her nose up in the air, befitting of the just out of teens girl she is. 

She has friends over and then she is all sweet and coy. That grates my senses more. To the boy she is flirting with, I want to say, don't boy, she isn't the sweetheart you hope she is. I never hear the mother. I didn't think there was one, until the other day I saw a harried woman in a nightie that must have once been of some distinguishable colour staring out to the road. So a mother exists, I thought to myself. There is a grandmother, who is the older version of the mother, except that she wears a saree and a sweater over it, all days of the year. The grandmother is always cleaning something, I find, be it the trash or pushing away the fallen jacaranda flowers that the mid-morning has whittled. She spoke to me once, a few months ago after I got back from L. One sentence, asking me if I had gone to 'place'. I use an utterly literal translation, for the word ooru is really just out of town. I had nodded. After that, we went back to our lives.

I was probably taking out my anger on her, punishing her for not teaching the granddaughter manners by withholding from her the perfunctory smile I reserve for those that don't enter my live as much as hover around in the vicinity, forming the background.

The mad girl is still better than the man who would retch 45-50 times a day, into the night, who lived with a large family in the few rooms below the hole I used to live in earlier, I think to myself. I had counted. It is hard now to think that I ever lived there, once, not too long ago. The whole hole could fit into my studio now. Not really, but you know. It was a good hole though, the site of all the misadventures of that decade. All I have now to show for its hallowed walls is a hazy photo of the three of us, just before moving day. The boxes are all packed and we balanced three bottles of beer on a stool that would go into the truck as was, bagless. We would all still be friends for a few months after that too. But maybe the coffin began to be built that very day, one soundless February night, hotter than it is today, now.

Above the house with the mad girl are two houses, the inhabitants of one have not really interested me much. The other is a young, rather handsome couple with a darn cute son. I think the husband beats the wife, I can't be sure. I hear screams of the painful kind sometimes. It became an everyday affair until I began to wonder what I could do, and then stopped. I don't hear them much. Yesterday, I heard a little party, after many months. Maybe things are okay now. We had exchanged payasa once, when I first moved in. We now smile. But that is all. My hopes of being friends and inviting them over for parties just so that we could have other couple friends came to naught. 

I used to have more parties in that hole than here, in this badass house now. I needed others perhaps to wallow in those confined walls with me, here I am too jealous of the narrative I have built, to invite just about anyone in to trample and disrupt the eddies. Not yet.

On the other side of the street live two big houses. The husbands are some big people in the IT sector, it is very easy to tell. They have fancy cars and weekends off when they rarely come out of the house. They leave in the morning and come back late at night. The wives are friends with each other and do badminton and yoga class together, but they are jealous of each other too, you can tell. There is a beagle called S. in the bigger of the two big houses and I want to go cuddle the fellow. But the woman is the most unfriendly, and will be friends only with those that are from her land and speak her language. I can speak that language too, but the point is, she is snooty and rude and never ever smiles. She keeps very busy with a morning walk, three kids (a set of twins including), a husband, a dog that she is heard trying to make him obey, several classes for her and the kids, a car and bike of her own and occasional evenings out when it is the weekend. Maybe she has the problem with no name. 

(Cue - Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, now reading)

To the other woman I had once given two tiny plants from our erstwhile farm to grow. I never asked her if they took life in the pot I hope she put them in. 

Leaving my overly inquisitive but generally good landlady who lives with a strange son and a daughter below my house aside, in the list of neighbours, the old tall lanky quiet uncle comes last. He is always pottering around in his tiny passage of a garden and always nods exaggeratedly when we pass each other by. His wife sits out on a plastic chair in the evenings, to catch the last of the evening sun. When it is particularly cold, she suns herself on the terrace. When Rudra spots her, he barks and barks and barks and then whines, for me to chase her away from where he can still see her. I appease him with a biscuit. 

He gets way too many biscuits a day. I miss him, desperately. A home without a dog and books is just walls and roof. 

And that sums up an account of the neighbours that make up my source of casual acquaintances in this near-village. 

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