A few days back, my sister posted pictures from when we were very little. While she and I were flooded with nostalgic memories, it is what our neighbour from our childhood days said on seeing the pictures that really touched my heart. She said, that she too has fond memories of all of us and that ‘compound‘ where she came to play and learnt to ride a bicycle. Her statement in turn opened more memories of the house and my neighbour’s family.
Her parents (lets call them Uncle A and Aunty S) and we were neighbours for a long long time! We know her father since his bachelor days, we have seen him venture into various businesses, get married, have children, get his children married, you know, we have been witness to their ‘life’ with all its ups and downs, just like they have been to ours. On innumerable occasions we have lent each other shoulders to lean on, cry on and laugh on as well.
Work always kept Uncle A busy; Aunty S was the one who kept in touch with us all the time. Their house and its strategic location meant that she could see everyone and everything that came and went from our house. She invited us to her children’s birthdays, for festivals & poojas and she watched over our house for us when we were away (for a few days or few hours, it didn’t matter). She and mum would hold loud conversations from her first floor window with mum at our main door.
One day, we heard that Uncle A was going to start a drive-in restaurant whose kitchen would face our main gate and customers would park their cars along a stretch of our compound wall. My dad was a little concerned about the noise and inconvenience that this may cause. My parents went across to meet Uncle A who promised us that he would ensure we would never be troubled by the restaurant.
The restaurant and more importantly the boys that worked there ended up being a boon rather than a menace!
Since the place was busy until late in the night, the area turned into a safer place.
When stray cows learnt to unlatch our weak gate, Aunty S would notice, shout out to the restaurant boys who would jump their wall, cross the narrow lane into our premises and chase the cows out and latch the gate.
When the jack fruits in our very sturdy old, huge, tall trees were ready for consumption, Aunty S would send the boys to pluck them off the tree. (It needed some effort, as the fruit also would be really really BIG). Sometimes we would have a large crop of jacks, that along with Aunty S, the fruits would be distributed to a larger group of neighbours and friends.
When petty thieves made away with a bunch of a prized variety of tender coconuts, these boys hopped on a TVS moped and their bicycles, chased after the thieves and recovered the stolen coconuts.
When peeping toms gave us a fright, these same boys would be sent by Aunty S to chase them away.
Uncle A’s gentlemanly promise stayed to the day we sold our place and moved away. The restaurant still exists and is as popular with Mangaloreans as it was back then. One evening, while on a visit to Mangalore I took my non-vegetarian children to eat at that restaurant. That was the first time I had ever been inside the restaurant. Despite all the good neighbourly ties, we were vegetarians, we never ever ate there 🙂
I am mostly more practical than emotional, so I was quite a-ok when mum sold that place. If there is one thing that I feel bad about, it is the well that had to be closed for the sake of the safety and stability of the structure that was going to come up. That spring of water never ever dried up. In fact, some summers when the restaurant fell short of water to wash/clean, we have happily supplied them with as much as they needed.
There is a block of apartments where our house once stood. Uncle A and Aunty S own flats in it. In recent years we have managed to visit them a few times and every time these visits bring so much joy! Aunty S never forgets to tell us how fortunate they are to live in the same compound where we once lived and how it has brought success and happiness to all the occupants.
One has to be fortunate to have neighbours like them. Neighbours can make life a living hell or as in our case, so pleasant that you want to write about it so as to place on record the bond we shared and the warmth it brings even today.