The two neighbours met after decades. Both had changed in many ways. Reality had dawned but their innate nature of “not voicing out” still prevailed. Aarti and Dweep were of the similar age, both voracious readers, from hardworking families and somewhat confined into less controversial and shy means.
They spoke of their growing-up memories of “window-viewing.” A passerby would have found the two glued into their vertically adjacent windows, with one part of them always observing, gathering and retaining.
Everything that was going-on in the narrow lane with over-crowded incrementally-made houses became their daily food for talks and later, maybe, they shaped their understanding of communities, relationships and evolving environments.
Aarti nostalgically recounted. “The other day I walked that narrow lane and searched for the lost sounds, smells and faces. The three brothers and their many cousins came alive.”
Dweep commented, “Every Year I would come and feel the area and notice the gradual changes; a mini-world of sorts we saw then. I see even now, the dancing and merry-making when the boisterous, fat younger brother was wedded to a lithe beauty. She always remained slim, hardworking, though over the years, after early demise of her husband, the strain showed as she managed the shady family business of bootlegging and gambling.”
“Yes, the Mafia brothers; the area would stink as the police would raid and spill all the homemade liquor; but allow them to restart every time; a game they play even now.”
“There was an invisible balance; several communities cloistered around the narrow lane with many similar overlapping businesses and years of love-hate togetherness. A Michael, Gaffoor, Abbas, Ganesshbhau, and their generations.”
“And everyone would participate in everone’s festival. Celebrations were year round … Holi, New Year, Our Lady festival, pot breaking, Eid ..”
“Few cross-community romances; hearts that never had barriers; and everyone had a champion kite flyer; intense battle of the thread.”
The list went on. Some observers, mostly participants. The two learnt many lessons from their eventful window-viewing and they knew there was more learning from the many unfinished shared memories.
Aarti wondered if Dweep had sensed the growing tensions in the narrow lane. The times when sitting at the window invited unwarranted stares, comments; did he see the hangers-on and the late-evening strings of cabs with silent girls brought in at the newly opened service-apartments; sudden cries and never-to-be-opened windows? Every community knew and all looked away.
Dweep did not touch upon but knew Aarti knew about the painful cries of beaten up wives with foul abusive language from drunken mouths; the younger generation had not the balancing art of their elders. The lane no longer had only the stench of desi alcohol. One night at the bar, the balance broke. A stabbing triggered outside influences and the lane had more than alcohol in its sewers and slowly the neighbourhood lost its many colours.
The two parted knowing in their hearts, a new neighbourhood equilibrium had now prevailed. There were always two sides and their impermanencies; there will always be proponents for both sides and also a regenerative neutrality that would ensure sustenance of life.