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How well do you know your neighbours?
Shilpa Shet
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July 16, 2007

Sumanto Mukherjee*, a youth staying in Andheri, Mumbai recently disappeared. To date his neighbours and debtors do not know where he went. Most of them have no or little information on him.

Vishwas Patil* from Pune says he has not spoken to his neighbours in the last five years -- they are call centre employees.

Paramjit Bajaj* from Gurgaon says she has no neighbours. The flat adjoining hers has been bought by an NRI and it has been lying vacant for years.

Shagufta Ahmed* from Mumbai says that all she knows about the girl next door is that she works at night and huge, scruffy looking men come to pick her up at all kinds of hours. She does not so much as smile at Shagufta.

So the question is -- what is happening to our neighbourhoods? Are people who live next door to our homes completely unknown to us? And why is this happening?

Hectic lifestyles

Neighbourhoods in suburbs and rural areas are more close-knit than those in cities, primarily because of the fast-paced lifestyle in large metros. Renting accomodations is very common, and before you get to know your neighbours, they move out and someone else moves in. People have neither the time nor the inclination to get to know those living next door.

This appears to be the fallout of a rapidly changing, developing society. Many lament that they feel lost in large cities because of the hectic lifestyles they lead. Says Anupam Srivastav*, an investment banker from Bangalore, "I lead a jet-setting life. I am home for hardly a few days. I have never interacted with my neighbours. I know them and say hello when we come face-to-face, but that's that."

Anupam stays alone in a rental flat. His folks live in Bhopal. "Back home it is still the same. I think in small towns people make time for their neighbours. I know I am not going to live here for long, so why waste my time getting to know my neighbours?" he asks.

So, are metropoles losing out on close-knit neighbourhoods? Many say no. "It's not that we do not want to know our neighbours," says Shagufta, "But there are issues with some of them. I remember having lovely neighbours when I was a child. They had kids our age and we would have a good time together. I don't know if my kids will be able to have such fun with our neighbours."

Friendly neighbours -- an endangered species?

Despite most people not bothering with their neighbours anymore, a few do still savour close ties with theirs. Like the Patels in Mumbai. "We have lived next to the same neighbours for 40 years now," says Vipin Patel*, "We are all like one big family."

However, he does admit that there are few such cases. "In the past few years, due to growing job opportunities many people have shifted from our housing society and new families have moved in," he recollects. "Frankly, it is difficult to keep a track of all of them. We are lucky we have at least one neighbour with whom we can share our lives."

A phenomenon that was earlier relegated to downtown or merely 'town', is fast engulfing the suburbs. "Earlier, townies took pride in not knowing who their neighbours are. It was an indication of how busy they were. Now this trend is showing in the suburbs as well," says Vipin.

Unfamiliar neighbours -- a cause of insecurity and suspicion

If you do not know your neighbours, the dominant emotions such circumstances breed are suspicion and insecurity -- sometimes even fear. Shagufta says she feels very insecure. "I am alone all day and it is really scary when I see strange men on the landing outside my flat. I feel like I should complain to the housing society to implement certain safety measures, but that is an intimidating prospect as well," she says.

Loneliness is rather a tame issue as compared to matters of security, but it pinches some individuals nevertheless. Says Vishwas, a bank employee, "The neighbouring flat next to mine has been rented out and they have call centre employees staying there. These people have a different lifestyle and are rarely around. They do not want to fraternise with anyone in the building. Sometimes I miss having a neighbour I can talk to."

He says he and his wife would love to share the odd cup of tea or meal with someone next door. "But I guess no one is interested in that anymore," he laments.

Don't have a neighbour?

Another reason for a friendless neighbourhood is, quite simply, not having a neighbour! "Many people buy flats as an investment. We are a few of the unlucky people who got straddled with neighbours who did just that," says Paramjit, "I have never even seen them!"

For the above reasons and several more, it's obvious that the concept of friendly neighbourhoods where everyone knows each other, is fast disappearing. Are we heading towards a world where we live a life of isolation within our homes? Where the only thing to mark a neighbour is a closed door? If so, it's time for you to make the effort, and knock on the one opposite you!


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