Nosy neighbors are a pain you-know-where, but make excellent topics for blog posts, especially years down the line, when they no longer are your neighbors. I had one such nosy neighbor some years back. Don’t let stereotyping take over your imagination and make you see her as this old Aunty-ji who spies on the happenings in the neighborhood. My neighbor was a young lady in her late 20s (which made her much younger than me), and a teacher. She lived with her husband and 10 year old son in the apartment right across mine.
I had just moved back to my hometown with my children due to the atrocious functioning of the Kendriya Vidyalaya at Danapur. When the first question your 14 year old son is asked by a classmate when he steps into his new class is, “Do you want to meet your Bhabhi?” (Bhabhi is sister-in-law and the boy who asked the question was indicating that the new boy better not have eyes for this particular girl), you laugh it off. But when you find the teachers least interested in teaching, odd students coming to class drunk, and others who are at their swaggering and threatening best scaring your children out of their wits, you feel it is time to move to a safer place. So it was that I, who had sworn to follow the L & M (Lord and Master for the newbies) to whichever station he was posted to, much like Sita who followed Rama to the forest, volunteered to return (quite unlike Sita in that) to the hometown for the sake of better schooling for the children
As is the usual practice in nammude naadu (our land), we (Mom and children) did not have any adults or ‘elders’ (read old people with grey hair whom we need to take care of but whose presence gives respectability and supposed protection to the young lady, in this case someone about to touch 40, staying alone with her kids, one of whom was almost 15) staying with us. Not being someone concerned with such practices, I went about my life. Parenting, the housework, walking the dog (we stayed on the 5th floor, and no lift either), shopping for the house, helping the younger one with studies and of course my driving lessons took up most of my time. In the evenings, when I went to collect the clothes left on the line to dry in the terrace, I spent some time talking to the other ladies, who would have gathered there to unwind after the day’s work.
One such day, my Nosy Neighbor, who had not yet revealed herself to be nosy in character to me, asked casually,
“Who visited you last evening?”
I know I could have taken umbrage at that intrusive question, but didn’t. Unlike what some blog readers of mine think, I don’t go around biting people’s head off for the sake of it. If at all I bite your head off rest assured that I have exhausted ALL other options. Even my worst enemy will assure you that I am extremely polite by nature and bend over backwards to accommodate people and their idiosyncrasies, to the point that my good nature is taken advantage of as a rule. Yes, fact is stranger than the fiction that they think up.
Anyways, though it took me a few minutes, I recalled that the First Born’s friend and classmate had come over to our place, as he does now and then. When I told my neighbor that she replied,.
“No, it couldn’t be. The sandals were quite big. It surely must have been someone else!”
Nosy-parkers or not, in our part of the world, all and sundry seem to think they ought to keep an eye on a lady staying by herself. They become self-appointed wardens, and also spies for the sake of the absent husband. One of my friends had an anonymous mail sent to her husband warning him that ‘people’ visited her when he wasn’t around. Yeah, we women are not supposed to have visitors if the husband is not at home. Wonder when our society will ever grow up and stop ‘minding’ women?!
Knowing where the questions from my nosy neighbor were coming from, but not letting on that I knew, I shook my head with a smile and repeated no one else had visited me. I could see that the woman was not convinced. I hope in later years she realized how big a 15-year olds feet can grow to be, when her own son grew up to be that age.
Living in a small town there were not many places we Mom and children could go to once the sun was down. Besides who would dare with the strange ideas that men and the society in general have, that a woman out on her own is “asking for it”?! So come evening, we were always to be found at home.
One day the L&M ‘s colleague who was posted to the area, called to say he would take us all out to the Army Officer’s club along with his family for an evening of tombola. The children were naturally excited about the outing. Once ready, I glanced at the clock wondering whether I should lock the door and walk down with the children and wait at the entrance so as not to inconvenience the family. But no sooner had I opened the front door with this thought in mind than the door opposite also opened.
“Where are you going?” asked my neighbor when she saw me and the children dressed for an outing.
Good God, had she been laying in wait for me? How the hell did she even know that I was going out? Sigh. Only after gleaning all facts from me was she remotely satisfied. But she continued standing there, waiting to see who would come to pick us up. I am sure she watched us piling into the car and made sure that the man’s family was indeed with him, surreptitiously from behind her curtained window.
This and a few more such incidents later, in our home, she became someone who we mercilessly joked about. The Lord & Master called her the best ‘security service’ I could ever have. I simply resigned myself to her inquisitive nature and continued answering her with a smile, though privately I blew fumes at her nosy nature.
The best was of course, yet to come. One day she asked me, casual like,
“Where did you go last week?”
I shook my head. We hadn’t gone anywhere as far as I knew.
“Very early in the morning?” she persisted.
She really couldn’t have spied on me early in the morning too?!!
“It was raining really hard,” she said trying to jog my memory, so her curiosity could be satiated.
When she mentioned ‘rain’ I remembered the day and had to call Captain Haddock to my aid. Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles! Great flat-footed grizzly bear! She didn’t mean to say she was keeping a watch on me at 3-30 a.m. in the morning?! Didn’t she sleep at night? Even as these thoughts were racing through my head, she added,
“And Goofy was with you!”
Goofy? I was totally lost how Goofy came into the picture. But Goofy, our Spitz had been left behind at home on the morning in question. Swallowing more of Captain Haddock’s insults rising inside me, I said it must have been the time I went to the railway station, children in tow to drop the L & M. His leave had got over and he had had to get back to his Army station.
“It couldn’t have been the railway station,” she said in all earnestness. “Try to recall. Goofy was with you too.””
Again that bit about Goofy. I was flummoxed. I knew I had not been anywhere else. The reference to rain made it pretty certain which day she was talking about.
“Your husband was holding her in his hands.” she suggested helpfully.
“It was raining, na? You had the umbrella and he was holding Goofy in his hands so she wouldn’t get wet may be…” she was now speculating..
I could have died laughing. Indeed I had held the umbrella for the L & M on the day in question. But it had not been Goofy he was holding. On that dark rainy morning, what she thought Goofy had just been his suitcase.