Saturday, February 13, 2010
In India growing up , your life is intangibly intertwined with the lives of your neighbours. The people whose name you shout out in the evenings to come down and play cricket with or whom your mom has knitting parties with and whom your father stops you on the way back from the vegetable wallah to discuss the Mulla Periyar Dam issue with, while you pull restlessly at his arm, are all your neighbours. Sweets, green bananas, coconuts and packets of elaichi brought back from the "gaon" - a term used to refer to that part of your home state where your parents grew up and where all your cousins and aunts and uncles live and which by now has become a full fledged town - are invariably shared, car rides given, keys left with while you go out to play and even books and toys handed down from the older kids next door. We are one big community aren't we.
However I find that once you are a grown up there exists a certain formality when you interact with others which actually prevents you from getting close. It is this formality that actually makes it hard for you to find friends when you all grown up. The place where my family lives right now in Delhi is a fine example of the anti-community that is characteristic of the modern highly individual and independent lifestyle that we are forced to lead. Pandara Road is a government quarters with the best damn location in Delhi. Everything is near by. South Delhi, CP, India gate, central Delhi everything an M-13/440 away. This place was built by the British actually for their bureaucratic elite and still serves the same purpose. The ceilings are higher that 10 feet, the fans bulky and look like inverted pressure cookers and the doors all two leafed. It reeks of the Delhi of old and for that I love it. But there are hardly any people about. Where are the children playing in the parks, tip topping for their batting turns, where are the servant guys hanging on to their Babas, where are the teenagers returning from the mother dairy and promptly hitting the books, where is my damn colony experience?
Children play a remarkable role in bringing a community together. They don't need to break the ice,they know that all their brethren are thinking of, are cartoons and games just like them. They lack the hierarchies that adults seem to bracket themselves in and maybe it is this no show of children that is pulling Pandara Road back. Sure there are people trying to make this a community, with half hearted Diwali melas and association meetings being held but c'mon who are we kidding here. Its just not working out.
In America , I have lived across from a joint family of Mexicans , a trio of Chinese students and now undergrad exchange students. The Desi guys below my apartment are the most intriguing yet. They are, as my investigations and as even first impressions will suggest , a den of poets. They listen to old hindi songs and soulful tamil melodies of heartbreak and unrequited love. They smoke like steam engines and drink like fishes and when thats not enough they strum their guitars and sing along. And do they debate. My god the debates, you know its on serious issues of ending world hunger , the symbolism of Nights of Cabiria and the nihilstic turn of modern art(??) and while I strain to catch as many words of tamil I understand , the tone of the argument is always spirited and righteous. Unleash these Azhagiya Tamil maghans upon the world and we will have nothing short of a rebellion on our hands.