Satish and Sanjana, and their German Sheppard dog, Boxy, stayed in their villa on the outskirts of Indore. Satish was an ex-Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force who had taken voluntary retirement and was now engaged in a business of his own. Sanjana was a housewife. They were an amiable couple always willing to lend a helping hand for anybody in trouble.
So when they saw they had a new neighbour, Sanjana and Satish trooped to their villa at about 8.00 a.m., the next day, and rang the bell. The door opened after a while and the lady of the house stood facing them.
“Yes?” asked the lady, a trifle surprised.
“We’re staying in the next villa,” said Sanjana, pointing towards their house. “I’ve made some simple breakfast. Hope you’ll like it,” she continued, holding it forth in her outstretched hand.
The lady took the food from Sanjana and went inside to keep it on a table. She returned with her husband and Satish greeted the man with a ‘hello’. The man responded with a wry smile.
“I’m Satish and this is my wife, Sanjana,” continued Satish. ”We stay in the next villa. We noticed that you had come in yesterday, so we thought we might come and introduce ourselves to you. Hope we haven’t disturbed you.”
The man mumbled something under his breath. He said his name was Ashish and his wife was Nupur. He also mentioned they had two children, who were asleep. There was a brief silence. It seemed as though Ashish did not have anything more to say, at least for the moment.
“Anyway, enjoy your breakfast and do let us know if you need anything,” said Sanjana.
“Thanks,” replied Nupur.
“Oh, that’s okay. You’re welcome,” remarked Sanjana.
Later, having entered their home, both Satish and Sanjana looked at each other. Neither could say with certainty whether their neighbour was going to be on even terms with them. But first impression was generally not the last impression and so, with a shrug, they sat down to have breakfast. Boxy was fed his meal and thereafter he retired to his kennel.
Satish later moved to his porch with the morning newspapers. His villa was built on a slightly raised level compared to all the others in the vicinity, so the porch afforded a view of the adjacent villas. He reclined on a chair and proceeded to read the headlines. He was probably about twenty minutes into reading the newspaper, when he heard a loud noise and a shout emanating from the villa of the newly-arrived family. He jumped up from his chair, totally flummoxed, and craned his neck towards the villa; but there was silence now punctuated only by the tweets of a sparrow sitting on the gulmohar tree nearby. Sanjana, too, had heard the sounds and came running to the porch. Satish looked at her bewilderment and, in response to her query ‘what was it?’ simply replied, “I wish I knew.” He settled back on the chair and continued to read the newspaper. He was not the curious type and his strict military indoctrination had made him inculcate a ‘need to know’ policy for everything that seemed to intrude in his life.
Both Satish and Sanjana did not hear anything further about the new family that day or the next day. Then the door opened on the third day after they had arrived. Ashish emerged as if to get a breath of fresh air. He happened to glance around and caught Satish’s eye, who was sitting on the porch, and the latter waved out to him. He gave some glimmer of a smile and abruptly disappeared into the house. Satish went back to reading his newspaper.
The provisions in the house were getting depleted and so the Chopras, as Satish and Sanjana were known in their friends’ circle, decided to go to their favourite supermarket, a kilometre away. They locked the house and released Boxy from his kennel. He was to stand guard within the compound walls of their house and scare away any potential intruders; but otherwise, he was not to make a commotion. This training was well ingrained into him and he would dutifully abide by it. The Chopras went out and locked the main gate. Boxy gave out a moan and then curled up in a corner. Satish pressed the ignition button and they were away in their SUV. After some time, a rag-picker happened to wait outside the gate while passing by and Boxy gave out a series of growls like staccato gun-fire, which made the fellow take to his heels. Then, there was the person who used to move around from house to house and pick up the old newspapers, empty plastic bottles, etc., and he now came and stood expectantly outside the gate, all the while chanting something to inform his presence. Boxy, once again, gave a snarl and a growl, which made the guy make a quick retreat. Ashish had now come out of his house to find out what the commotion was all about. He was greeted by a very hostile Boxy on the other side of the compound wall. Ashish was taken aback. Little did he expect that his neighbour would be having a dog and, that too, a ferocious one by all accounts. He withdrew immediately into the house. He was a person who was against keeping any sort of animal as a pet and the sight of Boxy sent a chill down his spine.
The Chopras returned from their shopping and, once inside, they were welcomed by a boisterous Boxy. After several rounds of cajoling and loving pats, Sanjana led him back inside his kennel and there he was to stay put till it was time for his next meal. Satish moved ahead to open the door of his house when, no sooner had he put the key into the lock, he heard a shout or something like a loud ‘oh hello’. He turned towards the source of the noise and saw Ashish glaring at him. He was standing on the threshold of his house and from there continued to address Satish in a loud tone.
“Eh mister, what do you think you are doing? You are letting out your dog loose in your absence and are you aware of the commotion it had caused? Your dog has destroyed the peace in the neighbourhood. It was barking at anyone who came outside the gate, including me when I had emerged to check on the noise being created,” said Ashish, as he proceeded to wipe his mouth on his sleeve.
Satish and Sanjana were aghast at the language and tone of their neighbour, but, nevertheless with a dignified apology, they entered their house. Once inside, they sat on opposite sofas looking at each other. Neither spoke, because they were too shocked at the behaviour of Ashish.
Sanjana then broke the silence.”Why should he talk to you like that? We have done nothing wrong. In fact, we tried to build some goodwill in our relationship.”
Satish motioned to her to be calm. “There is a lesson here to be learnt,” he said. “In future, we should not extend a helping hand, unless called for. We will continue to lead our lives on our terms and not be bothered by such obnoxious behaviour,” he continued in an even tone.
He retired to his bedroom for some rest and Sanjana proceeded to stock the fridge and kitchen store with the items that had been bought. The rest of the day passed off peacefully without any further irritation.
It was very bright and sunny, the following day. The Chopras along with their dog went out for their regular morning walk. They traversed the periphery of the row of villas, went further for about a kilometre and then retraced their steps. After breakfast, Satish moved to the porch, as was his fashion. He placed the newspapers on the teapoy beside the chair, picked up one amongst them and settled down to browse through the daily’s headlines. He was distracted by some movement from the villa next door. It was Nupur putting up clothes for drying on a make-shift clothes-line. Satish gave her a glance and then went back to the business page. Ashish happened to come out through the main door. He saw Nupur putting up clothes for drying and Satish sitting on his porch and reading a newspaper. He made a quick surmise; Satish was sitting there to ogle at his wife. Ashish admonished Nupur, who said something and made a quick retreat into the house. He now turned his ire on Satish with a ‘hello mister’. Satish heard him, but did not bother to acknowledge.
“Oh hello,” he continued even louder.
This time Satish looked up from behind the newspaper in the direction of Ashish. Sanjana, who had been sitting in the drawing room, came to the porch on hearing some commotion. She looked at Satish and then at Ashish. What was happening, she thought.
“You are sitting there so that you can look at my wife, is it?” continued Ashish, with his tirade. “Don’t you have any other work other than sitting there and ogling at women?” he blurted out.
That was it. Sanjana was wild with rage. “My husband is a respectable person and he does not have a habit of sitting here and looking at women,” she retorted. “It is only a figment of imagination in your dirty mind, that you wish to confront him with such insinuations,” she continued.
Satish cautioned her to be calm. Ashish was taken aback by this bold affront. How dare that a lady should address him in this fashion, he thought.
“Oh madam,” he said, “I was talking to your husband, so please do not interfere in our conversation,” he continued.
“Where is the conversation? My husband has not spoken to you and he will not indulge himself in your cheap diatribe. He is too dignified for that, do you understand?” said Sanjana, in a definitive tone.
Sathish felt that this was going too far, so he caught hold of Sanjana’s hand and together they went inside their home. All the while, Boxy was wary and making quick short barks to try and ward off any intimidation to the Chopras.
Things were not happening as the Chopras had expected. Sanjana’s appearance on the terrace of their villa for drying clothes was construed by Ashish as an attempt to peek into his bedroom. The Chopras’ morning walk with Boxy was purported to be to frighten Ashish’s children as they waited outside their villa to board their school bus; for the timing, although coincidental, was thought by Ashish to be a conspiratorial action. The exhaust from the kitchen was expelling aromas pertaining to non-vegetarian cooking and this, according to Ashish, was to denigrate him and his family, who were all vegetarians. The Chopras were playing music with the windows open, and this activity had all the ingredients to disturb his children in their studies, maintained Ashish in one of his abrupt interactions with the Chopras. Strangely enough, Nupur dissociated herself from all such interactions and was never at the scene of ‘action’.
The Chopras could only reprehend their fate. Satish was reminded of an old adage which he had learnt at school, which went something like this, ‘You make your friends and you make your enemies, but God gives you your neighbour.’ How true, he thought; after all, what had he and Sanjana done to deserve this ignominious treatment, he wondered.
Days and weeks passed by and it was now almost a year since Ashish and his family had moved in. The past year was riddled with instances of meaningless confrontations and abusive verbal exchanges. There was no toning down in the attitude and behaviour of Ashish, as he intensified his insinuating approach to all things that were trivial and ignorable.
Then one night, in the month of October, there was a distinct sound of the calling bell in the Chopras’ home, punctuated by loud barks from Boxy, who had been tied with a leash to a pillar, as was the normal practice. Satish woke up with a start and looked at his watch; it was 3.00 a.m. Sanjana had also woken up, hearing the barking. Together, they went down to open the main door. Sanjana looked through the window and saw the silhouette of a woman outside the gate. She conveyed this information to Satish, who opened the door. Before them, a devastated Nupur was visibly shaking and, in between sobs, told them Ashish was experiencing pain in the chest and had breathing difficulties. She requested them to help in rushing him to the hospital before things got worse. This was their testing time, thought Satish. There were no two ways. This was a God-given opportunity for him to help his neighbour and for the latter to make amends. They invited Nupur into their house and asked her to wait while they changed from their night dresses to something more formal. In a jiffy, they were with Nupur and all three made their way to Ashish’s villa. They carried him to their SUV and, after they had boarded, Satish took the shortest route he knew to the nearest hospital.
Ashish was immediately wheeled away into the ICU. After an anxious twenty minutes, the doctor emerged to inform that Ashish had suffered a heart attack. Though he was responding to treatment, he would be on observation for twenty-four hours. He further said, had they come about ten minutes later, matters would have been different. Nupur looked in turn at Satish and Sanjana and instinctively her hands joined into a ‘namaste’. Sanjana moved over to comfort her and reassure her that everything would be okay. The nurse on duty in the ICU announced that one attendant was required to remain with the patient to co-ordinate in case of an emergency. Satish decided he would take on this responsibility and so he dropped Sanjana and Nupur home and then returned to the hospital. Satish decided to get some sleep, so he stretched out on a bench near the ICU. The next morning, he quickly freshened up and enquired about Ashish’s condition. He was told there was no change but his condition was stable. Satish was given a list of medicines that were needed urgently which he bought from the hospital pharmacy and handed over to the nurse on duty. Then he excused himself, saying that he had to go and pick up the patient’s wife. Satish reached home and told Sanjana about the developments. The latter, in turn, informed a distraught Nupur, who was waiting to hear all the tidings. The three of them got ready to return to the hospital. Nupur consoled the children before they boarded their bus and then left with the Chopras. They waited outside the ICU for news of any further developments, but there were none. Towards late afternoon, they left the hospital since Nupur’s children would be returning from school. Satish dropped off Sanjana and Nupur and returned to the hospital. He remained there for maintaining the night vigil. Sometime around 5.00 a.m., when he had woken up, the nurse told him that the difficult phase had passed and, after checking Ashish’s condition, the doctor would decide whether he could be shifted to the ward. Satish went home to pick up Sanjana and Nupur. After returning to the hospital, he learnt the doctor had conducted a check-up and Ashish was to be shifted to the ward by late afternoon. Once again, Satish dropped the two ladies home, so that Nupur could receive the children, but this time he did not return immediately because Nupur had decided to stay in the suite where Ashish would be shifted. So he waited till late evening to drop Nupur at the hospital. Meanwhile, the children were being accommodated at Satish’s place. Fortunately, their Diwali holidays were commencing the next day, which obviated the daily need to get them ready for school.
Satish, Sanjana and Nupur reached the hospital at around 8.00 p.m. Ashish was in deep slumber, so they sat down to wait till he woke up. After about half-an-hour, a nurse came and woke him up as he needed to have some medicines. When Ashish saw Satish and Sanjana, tears welled up in his eyes and, with folded hands, he greeted them. Satish patted his head mildly and requested him not to worry and speak only if necessary. They spent some time with him and thereafter took leave of Nupur. The Chopras came the next morning with Nupur’s kids to the hospital. The children were understandably depressed. Nupur consoled them and then they spoke to their father. Satish decided to leave the children there and returned in the evening to pick them up.
This routine continued for about a week till Ashish was discharged and came home with Nupur. The doctor had advised him strict diet and absolute rest and not to take stress of any kind. Satish and Sanjana visited him daily and was always at Nupur’s beck and call.
Days passed and Ashish’s convalescence period was almost getting over. With small steps, he began to try and regain his normal life and routines with the assistance of Nupur.
After a month of rest, Satish invited Ashish and his family over for dinner. As the dinner progressed, it was evident that a great bonhomie had been built up between the two families; for Ashish’s arrogance had given way to humility and compassion. He was given a new lease of life by the Almighty and cast in a different mould altogether. Forever grateful to the Chopras for their timely help and support in those difficult times, he had learnt his lesson that no man is an island and nobody is so good as to do without a neighbour.