Being in a real neighborhood

As I was thinking about this writing blog post, I was recounting my childhood, days we spent with our neighbors, playing, sharing food, climbing compound walls, watching movies, having star-lit dinners, talking for hours on the street and what not!

But as we grew older, somehow that feeling of togetherness started to go away. Some people moved elsewhere. Some of us children grew up and went to other places for college or work. What we had taken for granted growing up, was no more a part of our day-to-day lives. We had other things to look forward to and the neighborhood was left far behind to pursue that. Our lives were so fast paced during the weekdays and weekends meant going out or meeting friends who where not necessarily your neighbors.

After Disha, that need for being in a community and knowing our neighbors became important again. We have been moving homes quite consistently, for various reasons since she was born. For the 3.5 yrs of her life, we have lived in 4 different houses.

It has been five and half months since we moved into our present house. Our house is the last one on the street at a “dead end”, is flanked by two schools and a small playground. I can happily say, we finally have a neighborhood similar to the one I had in my childhood. It is really nice to have friends to talk to, play with, eat, cook and share. And have help in times of need.

Having a playground in front of your house, does wonders. Impromptu cricket matches, lagori, kabbadi, badminton, cycling and running races are happening all the time. Some times the children are busy building ramps with waste lying around to mount their bikes or to run. Or they are playing in the mud and sand. Once they made a stone house for a family of cats since it was raining. There are days when we decide that the ground is too messy and clean together. Its is a place of endless possibilities.

Being in a place with virtually no traffic on the roads is bliss. We don’t have to worry when Disha goes to her friends’ homes down the road by herself. For the past few days, that is what she does first thing in the morning. As she wakes up, even before me, she is instantly alert, moves the curtains aside to check if there is day light. Then she wakes me up to open the door for her so that she could run down the street, into the government school opposite our house, where her four of her friends stay. And they are kind enough to welcome her even at 6:30 in the morning.

After spending sometime there, she then heads over to another friend’s place where she insists on having breakfast. All the kids sit on a mat on the floor to eat.

The next stop is back to our house, with all her friends. Rest of the day is spent playing in the ground or the park close by. Mealtimes are spent together too, so at times, we end up cooking for 4-5 kids, or they bring something over from their homes to eat. They are constantly creating art- either with paints or chalk pieces, making up rubbish songs or dancing, creating a racket using the drum at home.

During Dasara, we unpacked our collection of dolls to arrange in the traditional Kollu. All the kids in our neighborhood were at our place. One child would bring along a couple of other friends, so we had most of the children from 4-5 streets around our house come to see the dolls. They helped us unpack the dolls, arrange them, made trees and grass from waste cardboard, colored it, made a village from the available dolls. Most of them used to come everyday to check on the Kollu, sing songs and have some sundal (spiced up beans). Some of the older children have told us that next year they will come up with their own theme and arrange it all by themselves.

Last Sunday, we all got together for sowing some seeds in pots and containers we had at home. The children as usual were playing in the ground and the moment they saw what we were upto, they all came to help. They love getting involved and do it so much gusto. We had been collecting seeds from 2 months and finally found the time, for something we have been wanting to do for a long time. We mixed mud, sand and compost (from our own kitchen waste) with little water for each pot. Children are naturally attracted to mud and didn’t need to be told twice to play with it. Then we spent a good couple of hours cleaning up our front porch and school ground.

Later during the week, Disha, her friends and I went to the park. After a hour of zooming down slides and whirling in the merry-go-round, Disha was very thirsty. Off we went to have a drink of tender coconut. And ate quite a bit of yummy coconut. Disha was in no mood to get back home although we had to make dinner for the night. She saw a sign post opposite the tender coconut shop and wanted to climb it. So did her friends. Everyone took turns to try and climb, then wanted me to heave them up the pole. After I managed to get everyone to be on the way back home, they saw a tree which they wanted to climb. Then they climbed another smaller sign post. We managed to walk for a couple more minutes, when they saw a huge mound of sand in front of a construction site. No need to tell twice, they were off in a jiffy, climbing it, rolling or sliding down. The watchman came out smiling and told us to not spread the sand on rest of the road. The kids then collected some shells. It was like the beach sans water had come right to our neighborhood! Then Disha saw the sand sieving contraption which is used in all construction sites. She has used it a couple of times before, but this time with all her friends around, she was quite excited to demonstrate how to sieve sand. I was thankful to Ganapathy uncle, who was patient with the children and allowed them to use the machine. So the next half an hour or so was spent lifting sand from the mound and sieving it, with everyone taking turns. Finally, we managed to get back hom, covered with sand, tired and hungry.

During school days Disha and her friends wait for 4’o’ clock to get out and play, all evening long. With approaching winter and shorter days, the play continues indoors, sometimes ends up with a post dinner dance party or a half an hour movie session.

Reminds of the Calvin and Hobbes quote-” Our days just got booked solid!”

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