Musings of a Pioneer: Pleasures of Community Living

I have started both enjoying and not enjoying the pleasures of living in a community ever since I have moved into my own apartment in an upscale condominium complex in Gurgaon. There is not even a single day where amusement of one form or the other is not afforded to us with the advent of virtual free speech through the greatest of all inventions made to humankind – WhatsApp. If the inventor was an Indian, I am sure by now the person would have been venerated no less than a deity and a number of temples would have come up across the length and breadth of the country, like the temple erected by an Indian somewhere in south India dedicated to the President of a leading superpower of the globe. I saw the picture of this person in the newspaper a few days back paying his obeisance to the statue of the great leader with the caption that he starts his every day in this fashion. I wish him all success in his efforts, and may the good lord grant him all his wishes. But my article is not on this subject and thus I come back to my pleasures.

This morning there was a post on the WhatsApp group of the residents of our complex by a concerned citizen. This person is to travel to South Korea a couple of days later for work and he woke up to the knowledge that there were a few gentlemen from South Korea living in his tower. Now there is a deadly virus infecting the globe which has originated from that general part of the world – though I personally feel that a lot more lives must have been lost to the more deadly virus of intolerance infecting our world- this Indian gentleman felt that it would be better to have travel history of these residents from Korea to avoid any chances of spread. His proposal was that the agency maintaining our complex should also inform the municipal corporation so that necessary actions can be taken. He conveniently or prudently did not mention that the same action should be taken against him once he is back from that lovely, but currently dreaded, country. As usual, there was a good healthy debate on WhatsApp on a Monday morning, overcoming all blues on the subject, with a few supporting the harsh measures and an equal number against any such measures since the government was already taking all required actions at the airports.

The gentleman also conveniently did not go into the logistics of creating an infrastructure for this additional massive work in the society as the whole world is now a global village and hence the entire world is at risk with so much cross-border travels – his antennae were only tuned to the word ‘Koreans’. I am sure I could have started another lively debate, and more amusement for the likes of me in the community, if I would have mentioned this on the group and also the fact that this would further increase our already high cost of maintenance.

This was amongst the more decent of the debates on our group. We are now moving towards holding the first ever elections to the governing body of our residents welfare association (RWA). Not going into the acrimonious and many times virulent discussions on these same WhatsApp groups, much to the amusement of persons like me, suffice it to say that an official known as returning officer has been appointed by the government department responsible for all society matters to oversee elections in our society. This appointed official chose to convey to one of the residents about his intent to visit our complex the next day to familiarise himself with the society. This resident conveyed to a few of us to meet the official during his visit. During his discussions with us, he mentioned that only the first named owner is entitled to contest elections in case of joint ownership of the apartment. Now, two of the ladies, with ambitions to contest elections, but unfortunately who are not the first named owners, and present during this meeting, did not react. The official was later taken to the apartment of one of those present in the meeting for tea and refreshments, and those of us who were interested were also invited to join. I politely refused, but the two ladies went. The government official was also given his daily remuneration for his visit in a closed envelope by the host as per the government norms. The official went back.

Now the fun started for the community. The two ladies, and the husband of one of them, got into the act. Messages were promptly posted on the groups about the irregularity of the entire exercise as to why the entire community was not informed about the visit so that everyone could have interacted with the official. Objections were also raised about the money being given in a closed envelope with a very clear message from the husband of one of the ladies that this was a bribe. The other lady when reminded that both of them were present in the meeting, as also during the subsequent tea party after which envelope was given, remarked that it was a sealed envelope, so who knows if the amount given was as being claimed or it was ten times that amount. I am sure that such allegations and strong words like bribe would have attracted legal claims in much less evolved society than ours, but it is the age of WhatsApp, where everything is mentioned for the amusement of our extended joint family and the aggrieved party is expected to just grin it and bear it.

We have other neighbours who live on the ground floor of our tower. They are totally against man’s best friend – the dog. There are some valid reasons for that as a few of the insensitive parents of these pets used to relieve their pets right under their windows. With many an amusing fight on the WhatsApp groups, and interventions of good Samaritans of both the pet and anti-pet lobbies the issue was finally amicably settled – or so we thought. We have noted over the last couple of years on some weekends, a pet grooming van parked in one of the parking lots in the society. We would smile indulgently – we don’t own a pet – and move on during our evening walks. It so happened that on this weekend another of our neighbour in our tower ordered for this van for their pet. The van was parked in our own parking lot this time and facing the apartment of our ground floor neighbour.

He objected to the location of the van on the grounds that the noise from the generator was disturbing him, and dog hair was entering his kitchen. Very soon there was a small group gathered there with arguments and counterarguments from the pet lovers and anti-pet lobby members – which I believe in this case was represented by only the ground floor neighbour. Members of the estate management agency were at their wit’s end but in the end an amicable solution was arrived at by moving the van away to another nearby parking space. I missed all the fun since the matter was not posted on the WhatsApp groups, but was later narrated to me by another dear friend, who himself has three of these furry friends.

There are so many similar incidents every day in my complex that I may actually write a funny book one day comprising of only these incidents and still one volume may not be enough to cover them all. Now I can empathise with Duryodhan as to why he did not want to live in an extended joint family with his cousins. He had the example of another joint family in an earlier time where the eldest son was banished to the forest for 13 years with his wife and brother only because of the machinations of one of the members of the joint family.

I belong to a generation in India which probably was the second generation to live in a nuclear family – at least in my family. My father moved away from a joint family due to the exigencies of working for the government; but ever since I could remember, my grandparents stayed with us for a good part of the year. Thus, it still was a truncated joint family. But mine was a complete nuclear family because of my job and later due to the desire of my parents to lead their own independent lives amongst a social circle which they developed after my father’s retirement. Given a choice, now my father at the age of almost 90, and my mother 82, would still like to lead their independent lives. It is I who keeps on insisting that they should now live with us. My community during the years when I lived in railway colonies comprised of my colleagues and their families. Some of them became lifelong friends and some were left behind as we or they got transferred. We were a diverse group, but I guess we still had the common interest of working for the railways. Social interactions were limited to the weekly club evenings and community celebrations.

But living in an apartment complex is so different. There are diverse interests and age-groups. Community living requires so much of understanding the perspectives of each other rather than be always at loggerheads. Now I can better appreciate the role of the elders in a joint family and in a community living in maintaining a harmonious family. The amusing, but serious fights amongst the members of this small community of my apartment complex does not give me any pleasure. I realise that a lot of tolerance is required to have a harmonious family. But somehow in these days and times, for a majority of people, tolerance has become a dirty word.

I do wish that in my lifetime we go back and rediscover this word as a community – Tolerance.

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