26 August, 2009

Neighbours - Part III

Life is so boring sometimes. You cannot live it all alone. You face imminent problems when you migrate to a different world from one corner of the world. You bring in your culture, and need to understand the new culture and mould and adapt the new one. Many years before we were longing for nice neighbours in the place where we lived.

Every morning I used to see an old lady coming down from a flat above us and doing some social work like moving the bin, and picking up litter around the flats. It was a strange sight in the western world. I thought she was different. The waste bin for all those who lived in the flats was a huge one. She was very old and frail. But she did not bother to push it and bring it back to its old position. The bin men do not place the empty bin in the proper place due to shortage of time. This lady promptly appeared and placed it back. She did this every week when the bin men arrived.

I thought she must be a good neighbour and introduced myself and the family. She introduced herself as ‘Rene’. When I invited her to my house she visited us without any hesitation. I felt as though I knew her for many years. We do not get this feeling with everyone we meet in life.

One day the bin men arrived and took our bin. I could not find Rene. So I rushed out and pushed the bin to its right place. I realised how difficult she must have felt every week when she did that job. Later when I returned back in the evening from work, she asked me politely whether it was me who did her job for which I had to say ‘Yes’. She thanked me politely and said that she had been to some relative’s place and was surprised to see the bin in the right place and wondered who would have done it since no one else apart from her had ever done it in the neighbourhood. She had been living in that neighbourhood for more than twenty years. She guessed probably it should have been me and she was right.

From then onwards we became great friends. She was in her early 80’s then. I heard from other neighbours that she was a lovely person and a great social worker for the neighbourhood. Our family shared many things with her. After sometime she became very close with our family. Since my daughter was a baby, she was there every afternoon to help my wife in taking care of the baby, while my wife cooked food in the kitchen. She taught rhymes to my daughter and played with her for a while. Sometimes when I had time I visited her and discussed the history. She recalled the world war times and it was very interesting to know lots of news from her. She said that she grew up as an orphan in an orphanage along with her sister. Though her son lived in the next street she did not bother to live with them and wanted to be independent.

Once when my family was away from me, she gave me good company and support. I went to her flat whenever I felt bored. We had lots of discussions. She was like my mother consoling me when I missed my children. Whenever I went on holidays I used to visit her and take her blessings. She hugged me and kissed me and wished me good luck. As soon as we returned we used to visit her again and she was full of joy.

Once we decided to take her out for lunch and we approached her. She happily agreed and came along with us. She has accompanied my wife and children for long walks to park. Whenever we approached her for help she was there to help us. I have heard the same about her from all my neighbours. My children loved her very much. When we had to move to a different town, we felt sad and kids felt bad to bid good bye. Every year during my kid’s birthdays she was there early morning at doors and dropped her greetings card with few currencies as gift for my children. She used to come silently and drop it in the letter box and used to disappear even before we rushed to see.

We used to talk over phone after moving towns. She updated us with the latest news in the neighbourhood. I felt overjoyed when I got a job in the same place after many years. My family was very keen that I should meet her as soon as I joined. After couple of days, I walked in to the old resident and knocked on her doors. I did not get any response. I thought probably she may be having her nap. Again after couple of weeks I visited and knocked the doors. There was no response. So, I knocked on other neighbours. They informed me that she does not live anymore and due to arthritis and certain illness, she had preferred to live with her son’s family. Nobody was able to tell me her son’s address. I knocked on another familiar neighbour and she said that she would get Rene’s new address from someone else who is known to them.

Few weeks passed by. I became very busy with my work and did not have time to visit again. Few months rolled by. During lunchtime, when I visited a Town centre, I met another old neighbour. We enquired each other’s welfare and discussed about other neighbours. I thought probably she may know about Rene’s son’s address and I enquired her. She dropped a bomb. She said that Rene passed away just few weeks before. I could not believe it. She said that she met her son and daughter-in-law just few weeks before in the Town centre and they told her about Rene’s demise.

I was shocked the whole day. I could not be very productive at work. I came home and shared the news with my family. My children and wife were very disappointed. We were about to visit her once I established contacts. All of my family members were in tears. My children remembered all the good deeds. My wife remembered how helpful and nice she had been throughout our difficult days. Once I fell sick and we waited for the medical results. We were deeply worried and my wife cried. Rene came home and consoled us and said that everything will be negative and I will be alright. Within few days when my medical results were negative we went to her and shared the good news. She was like our mother and blessed us. She always smiled and was there for anyone with difficulties. She has received lots of awards from the local council, and other departments for all her good things. Believe me or not! Though the council used to clean all the neighbourhood she used to have her own day of cleaning. She has always kept the place neat and tidy.

I could not believe this news. So, during one of my lunchtime I walked towards those flats. I went and stood at each and every other corner where we met for the first time, where we smiled at each other, where we pushed the bin to its place, where we plucked the weeds, where we picked small pebbles and rubbish, and so on. I knew I was watched by few for my eccentric behaviour. There were lots of new neighbours and one of them was worried with my behaviour. I stood still at every other place thinking about ‘Rene’. In order to clear the neighbour’s suspicion, I introduced myself and talked about Rene. They gave me more information about her. They agreed she was a lovable person and felt pity for me.

I started walking back to office.

When I was about to turn at the end of the road, I turned back whether ‘Rene’ would smile.

She smiled at me...

Rene you will live forever with us. You have captured our heart. I shall follow all that you taught me and I shall leave them with my kids.

Rene I promise you!

06 August, 2009

Neighbours - Part II

If a child could be brought up with nice manners and habits then it could lead to so many advantages when they grow big. Bringing them up well not only depends on the parents, it is also important to have a good neighbourhood. One of my neighbours had a special child called Murali. Murali was elder to us. He could not speak well. Though he was fully grown and huge he preferred to be with kids. He liked calling me ‘H..A..A...N...U’ in his own way. As a child I started thinking very seriously and started showing more concern towards others because of him. Though he was a disabled person, he taught me indirectly that there are different kinds of human beings in this world. He laughed and smiled from the other side of compound wall when we used to play in our house. Whenever the ball or ring fell in his house he was there to pick it up and throw it back to us happily.

Every day he looked forward for us. Even while we were studying he used to stop by the compound wall and call me “H...A...A..N..U” (His way of calling ‘Balu’ which was my pet name). He would not move until I acknowledged him. Sometimes if we were studying seriously we would not notice him. But he used to remain there for minutes and will move happily only after we acknowledge his greetings. His mother Shankunthala Aunty was a bold lady. Though she had four daughters, Murali was her only son. Unfortunately he was born disabled and she showed lots of courage in bringing him up.

The compound wall was less than three feet. Whenever Murali was upset, he jumped over the compound wall and came into our house. We were small kids and he was very huge. Any visitor who used to come to our house was scared for the first time on seeing him. But later on after knowing him they became comfortable. My sister and self used to recite slokas everyday in the evening after finishing our play. As we started reciting Murali would jump the wall and come and sit next to us. He had peculiar habits which we were used to. But he was a harmless soul. Now after having grown, I think he was really a special person. He must have liked us so much that he was there to sit next to us every evening when we were reciting slokas.

Every time he wore something new he used to stand behind the wall and shout ‘H..A...N...U’. When we wondered Sakunthala aunty was there to explain that it was his birthday and he wanted to show his new dresses to us. He was afraid of ‘Gudu Gudu Paandi’ (the terryifying look sooth sayer who used to visit every house in the early morning with an odd instrument in his hand which made sounds like Gudu..Gudu...). Murali was also afraid of darkness. Whenever there was power cut and the lights were off he used to scream loudly. We were used to it and were never scared. As soon as the power resumed he used to clap loudly as well.

Every evening Aunty used to talk about her day’s experiences to my mom and she sought our help for few things. I remember her husband. He was an ex-serviceman who had served in Military. He had so much of love and affection on Murali. Uncle had plenty of books in his library and used to lend me during my holidays. I remember having read “Dr.Jekyl and Mr.Hyde”. He used to ask questions once we finished reading the book. As kids, this motivated us to read those books well. One night when he went to his toilet, Murali screamed so loudly and we rushed to see Uncle lying flat on the floor. He had collapsed and Murali who was waiting for his Dad had realised the untoward incident. For his knowledge he realised that his Dad was not normal and something had happened to him. He cried loudly. Aunty who was in some other room rushed. We felt afraid and Murali was holding his father’s head on his lap and screamed ‘H..A..N..U..’ and showed his dad. All neighbours rushed and sent message to Doctor. Some neighbours felt that the pulse had gone down. Murali’s father had a massive heart attack and had passed away even before the Doctor arrived. Murali was uncontrollable.

After his father’s death, he was dull for few days. Probably his father’s death affected him a lot. I knew how painful it is to lose a father since I had lost my father just few years before then. Whenever he saw me behind the compound wall, he cried for few seconds. Though he should have been 30 by then, we treated him as a kid. He made us realise many things in life. Aunty was always courageous and though her daughters requested her to move to their house she refused and remained on her own. She always worried about him. She often used to say that she wanted to see Murali’s life end before her life would end.

Years rolled by. We sold our property and moved homes. After my son grew a little, I visited my old neighbourhood. Savithiri Aunty was there who introduced us to our new occupants and took us around. I stood before the coconut tree which I had planted and watered regularly when I was a kid. My sister and myself were allotted two small coconut saplings in our younger days by our Dad to take care. He had told us that one day when the tree grows big I would have grown and may think about the old days. When I stood there before the tree I was emotional. I looked at the one watered and taken care by my sisters. All the treesl had grown huge and had plenty of Coconuts.

We went to Murali’s house. Aunty was there to receive us. Murali had become old. He was bed ridden. He could not be active as he was in his younger days. Aunty asked Murali whether he could recognise me. He got up from his bed and said “H..A..N..U..”. I was on tears. I am on tears even now when I type this line. I sat next to him. He was terribly sick and Aunty had grown old too. I stroked him gently and he felt so happy. My son was afraid. I showed my son to Murali. Looking at my son, he spontaneously replied “P..A..A..P..A..... H...A...N..U... P..A...A..P...A” (meaning ‘Child’). I had to leave with a heavy heart wishing Aunty good health.
Last visit when I made to India, I visited their house and was disappointed that aunty had become very old and moved to the City to live with her daughters. She could not take care of herself and so her daughters had taken both of them. I did not have time to find their address and visit them.

Very recently when I established contacts with another neighbour they informed me that Sakunthala aunty has passed away. I felt sad for the news and silently mourned for her soul to rest in peace. I heard that Murali has also become very sick. He is a lovely human, a pure soul.
As a neighbour who had grown spending wonderful days I wish Murali recovers soon and live with a good health. I am very positive that I will be able to meet him again and spend few moments.

He had taught me so many things indirectly about life.