What was it that bound us together? The common address? I know not. But once upon a time, neighbours were not strangers. They were friends whose homes we called ours. Just like everything else It was always assumed that we’d watch over each other’s homes when either of us was away.
I know the names of my current neighbours only because of the ceramic nameplates outside their doors. We often run into each other as we leave for our daily walks or when we return from work. We cursorily greet each other, sometimes we simply nod but we hardly ever have a conversation. We share the same building, the same floor, the same elevator but that’s the extent of the relationship we share. Each time that I run into them, I am reminded, with a pang, of the inimitable relationship I shared with my neighbours back home when I was growing up.
I had an almost brazen, yet warm relationship with my neighbours. They were similarly open and warm with me. It was a lovely relationship that had been built over decades, especially during my school-going years. Each time our school assignment required us to collect donations to support a cause, my neighbours always generously obliged. It worked just as well for all the other collections too—from newspapers for a craft project to running a recycling drive in the neighbourhood. They always participated.
Likewise, I was often their go-to girl when it came to fetching regularly needed items from the neighbourhood market. From packets of paneer to bread and eggs, I was always happy to either run to the market or cycle my way to it. This perhaps explains why I was also the chosen one when we had to knock on their doors to sheepishly ask for our ball that had landed in their balconies and gardens. We’d play until late hours and often the ball would find its way into their homes.
On some days, my mum would ask me to drop them a bowl of curry that she had cooked—she knew it was their favourite—and I’d return hours later after having eaten my meal with them instead of eating at home. When we travelled, we never had to worry about our plants on the terrace as our neighbours watered them. It was always assumed that we’d watch over each other’s homes when either of us was away. Amongst all the kids, there was one common bicycle that was bought for us to learn how to ride, fall, and rise. And just like that, I grew up feeling safe and loved by the families that lived next door.
I remember how my sister and I had decided to set up a social club of sorts. We’d invite all the kids of our neighbours to participate, and together we’d put up special shows on festivals and birthdays for everyone to watch. We’d even ticket the shows! And irrespective of how poorly we sang or danced, there was always applause at the end of the show. There was a lot I shared with the neighbours, perhaps more than I did with my cousins who we met only during the school holidays. The terraces were the selected venues for such shows, and it was a given that theirs was ours and vice-versa. On cold winter days, when our terrace did not receive much warmth from the sun, the auntie from the other terrace would call out to me asking me to walk over to theirs with my books and study there in plenty of sunshine.
It was they whose TV antennas I fixed when someone’s granny panicked over missing a show. It was the neighbourhood dads who I taught how to use the Internet when their kids flew away for higher education. It was their rechargeable torchlight that I borrowed when we’d forgotten to recharge ours.
What was it that bound us together? The common address? I know not. But once upon a time, neighbours were not strangers. They were friends whose homes we called ours.