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!


Kavi said...

People are people at heart. What a wonderful human being she has been. And how blessed are you, to come in contact with her and live alongside !!

Many many thanks for sharing. It is in stories like this that there is renewal for the soul that all is not lost, and there superb souls living everywhere, waiting to be discovered !

Wonderful. I am so moved and inspired. It must be a tribute to her soul and the spirit in her step, that here is a man many miles away from where she lived, getting inspired to face the day.

Thanks a ton for sharing Balaji. As usual, you make a difference in your own way.

may her soul rest in peace.

Neha said...

Balaji, my first visit to your blog...I was reading a post on swatantra's blog when the humble face of this lady made me click on this link and read the post, and I am glad I did that...I got goose bumps while reading it believe me...I can understand your loss and I am sure rene will always be alive in your heart...tc...very nice post :)

Swatantra said...

Very touching!! Rene will leave forever in your memories.. you have very sweet memories attached to her.. and i am sure you will keep them alive..

Is the picture of Rene she looks a very lovely and lively person... Thanks for sharing!!

Jeevan said...

Rene reminds me easily the women, who used to be our neighbor and alike Rene she was very concerned about keeping our streets clean. She herself picks up the litters thrown on streets and put it in bin, and take tuition for poor students without fees. She has no home to stay though takes shelter at someone’s home and do any help to neighbors and fed by we the neighbors always.

It was wonderful to know about Rene and we don’t get neighbors like her so easily being kind and loving. You’re so chanced to have her in your life and remembering such souls is always great. Thanks for sharing it buddy, it would spread peace, harmony and promote how to be helpful to others and society.

The Panorama said...

I came over from Nehas blog. This was a very good post. Sometimes, people come into our lives out of the blue to help us through a hard time. People like Rene are a rare breed in a world full of individualism.

May she rest in peace.

Dubukku said...

Very touching post Balaji.

Very rare to see this kind of personalities and there is a lot to learn from them. Thanks for sharing.

Balaji S Rajan said...


Yes. She is a great soul. In a strange land, when you get someone like this who loves everyone around her, it is a great feeling. I have heard plenty about her and she had been living like this for ages, as people knew her. We saw her when she was in her early 80's. Imagine how she would have been in her younger days. She was kind to everyone. In our flats, we had people from Ghana, China and many more countries. She loved everyone and helped every family. Also as far as we knew, she used to wash clothes for her neighbour who was a widower, and used to take care of two dogs of another neighbour. A great personality who lived for others. It is unfortunate that I could not meet her again!

Balaji S Rajan said...


Thanks for visiting. I too visited your blog. I shall try to put a comment next time. She was a lovely person. Once when I had guests from India, I called her and informed her. She did not mind climbing two floors and visited to greet my guests. I cannot forget this.

Balaji S Rajan said...


Thanks for your comments. Yes, she will live forever in our memories. Last night my daughter said that she is still having one of her gift and the greeting card.

Balaji S Rajan said...


Yes, people like her are less in this present world. But let us make a difference. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Balaji S Rajan said...


Yes. Kids are feeling very bad about her demise. She was a lovely person and has helped us so many times. Especially when we were new, she had accompanied our family to parks and shops. Sometimes bought sweets for kids just like my mom. Kids were so kind and nice to her and they shed tears even now when we talk about her.

Balaji S Rajan said...


So nice to hear about your neighbour as well. There are some wonderful people around us. We should identify them and be helpful to them as well.

Swatantra said...

Congrats! you have received the Humane award. Please check my blog and collect your award.
Happy blogging!!!!

Swatantra said...


Your blog is the only blog i have found which is close to life..

I like your thoughts, and from their i could see their kindness towards humanity so i wanted to give this award to you. I hope you will like this. There is a kind request to accept it..

The another thing i have learned from you post, if you help someone and they say thanks. You tell them to help others so your thanks is given.. This has become one of the principal in my life.. So i am thankful to you Bala ji..

I wish you Good Luck!!

Anupama said...

Thats a very touching narration. The experience of meeting even one such person like Renee in one life time is priceless. I completely undersatnd how you all must feel.

ambi said...


Really very touching post. I can picturise everything you've scribbled.
I am very sure, Rene will be reading this post.