The rear of my house faces the rear of another house. The rooftop has 3 perhaps 4 small rooms. There is one toilet clearly demarcated and some water faucets in the common open area. When I first moved into my house I observed that only one couple lived in one of the rooms with 2 small children. Since a year or so, I have noticed more people on the rooftop and my guess is the other rooms have been let out.
I have been able to identify one as a couple from North East who don’t have any children. Another couple appears to be from Central India and have one small child. So in a small space there are 3 families living.
A typical morning has people milling around the water tap brushing their teeth. The men are typically in shorts with no shirt, or perhaps a cotton vest. Women are in their night clothes; mostly petticoats with a blouse. The children too are in various stages of being scantily dressed. The children get to use the toilets first since they have to go to school. The folks move in the small open space with a rhythm and peace that is difficult to explain. On weekends I have observed that the women come out in the forenoon to wash clothes at the water tap. The clothes are hung on common clotheslines. In the evening the children play together, women cook food, the men mull around broken chairs and a cane sofa. Occasionally visitors are seen and it is impossible to tell whom they are visiting; folks from all the ‘rooms’ mingle with the guests like they were their own. In the evenings I have often observed women taking turns to wash dishes.
This independence day, this little India celebrated together. A table was laid out and an orange coloured drink was served to all. There were snacks too. They flew kites, congratulated each other and retired at night.
I have seen this coexistence and marvelled at the peace and tranquillity. Independence Day was perhaps the point that made me pause and think about our great nation even more. This little piece of India outside my balcony should be the true representation of all of India. But there is constant news of strife –be it ethnic, race and worst of all, disrespect of women. In this little piece of India I quietly observe men lower their eyes out of sheer respect for the women in their midst. I haven’t heard a quarrel over water or space or even the use of a single toilet. Children are cared for by all and visitors are greeted as part of eveyone’s family. That to me is what our cultural heritage is all about. And greater still is the spirit of sharing even the meagre resources we have. Mythology and history are equally replete with instances of the great Indian spirit of sharing even if it meant people had home went hungry.
Where did we lose these values and what did we become? This little piece of India outside my balcony made me pause and wonder. It asked me to be a little more tolerant should someone park in my normal parking spot. It reminds me to be a little more forgiving of human beings encroaching into my space and to ever be mindful of those that don’t have much. I look for this India, and rarely find it but I am glad a piece of it lives just across my balcony.