At about seventy feet, one does get to notice a lot of what goes on, on the ground below. My builder built my brother and me to contain five storeys each. I know five storeys is not too tall, especially when standing beside a family of eleven storey buildings. But my creator is a stickler to rules, so there was no way he was going to venture beyond the stipulated height for building near the airport. That the creator of the other family dared to do it is a different story. My builder would not dream of it.
To say the truth, I am glad he kept us at five storeys, because, at this height I can view things both above and below, quite clearly. I am sure the eleven storey folks would have trouble discerning what is happening on the ground. But us, we get to see everything as clearly as on the newest fifty three inches high definition LED TV that Mr. Mehra has bought. The latest model in market, which has so many features that I am sure Mr. Mehra has deciphered not even five percent of them. Why he wants such a big TV in the first place is a mystery in itself, given the fact that he and his wife are hardly at home. Nevertheless, there it is, the sleek, stylish, glistening black coloured TV, occupying the place of pride in the living room.
However, Mr. Mehra's TV is not what I want to talk to you about today. Though, I do keep a tab of what new appliance or furniture comes in or goes out of every home inside me. With about sixty families living inside me, I get quite a lot of entertainment to keep me busy throughout the day... and night. My builder may be a sticker to rules, but he certainly didn't stick too much to quality, and as a result my walls are not so soundproof. Neighbours get to hear what goes on in each others homes, and I get to hear what goes on in every home.
Therefore I am privy to the fights, romances, dramas, conspiracies, arguments and everything that happens in all the sixty families housed in me. Now, don't get me wrong here. I am able to listen to and see everything does not mean I misuse the information. Like the priest who listens to the secret confessions of people seeking redemption and locks all the secrets in the deepest echelons of his heart, I too bury all that I hear deep inside my foundations. Though I must admit, they all make up for good entertainment material.
Of all the things that take place in and around me, there is one occurrence that intrigues me to no end. To the extent that I wake up right at the break of dawn to witness it. Every day, just as the first bird starts cooing, Pradeep from 503 comes out of his home, clad in tracks and t-shirt, walking shoes from Reebok on his feet, Bose earphones connected to his I pod. He then starts circumambulating my brother and myself, round and round and round, for nearly an hour. The first day I saw him, I thought he was searching for something. Probably something Aryan, his son, left lying outside while playing the previous day. But he does the same thing everyday, walking at a furious pace, as if in a marathon. And right behind him, some twenty minutes later, Latha from 401 marches on.
As the day blossoms the number of 'circlers' increases. People walk around the compound anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. There's Shaji aunty, tottering slowly on her arthritis affected knees, swaying her heavy torso dangerously like a spinning top coming to a halt. It is a miracle that she doesn't lose her balance and fall off. Then there's Malhotra, the slick and stylish corporate guy whose every clothing and accessory reeks of money. He walks quite fast, as if in a hurry, all the while talking very seriously and excitedly over the phone. He says he walks to keep his heart in good condition, but I don't understand how the tension and excitement he usually is in when he walks, help the heart. Godbole uncle always comes clad in his kurta pajama, with his walking stick handy, and has a nice relaxed way of walking that I like. He breathes in the fresh air, relishes the pleasant early morning breeze, and has that serene and fresh smile on his face. That is how I believe walking should be.
It is no secret that all these people are walking for health reasons, because I hear each and everyone rave about it in their homes and with their neighbours. However, the way each one goes about it makes me smile sometimes, and at times, cringe. I see young ladies like Sumitra and Prachi, new mothers, walking quite fast, anxious to lose their post-pregnancy fat, with their babies. The baby is usually in a pram which they push using one hand, while the other hand holds a phone to their ears into which they talk anything and everything from relationships to gossip. I feel so sorry for the baby which looks around in fear and confusion at the fast changing scenery around it.
Is walking not supposed to be in a relaxed free manner, so that the fullest benefits of the exercise can be reaped? However my walkers, most of them at least, walk with various thoughts and plans and emotions brimming in their heads. Old ladies think about their bahus' (mis)deeds, young ladies think about their sasus' atrocities. Girls walk thinking about their love interests, and professionals like Malhotra walk thinking about the economy and stock market. Hardly anyone enjoys the actual act of walking, the burning of calories, the intake of fresh oxygen and the music of chirping birds. Except, as I said before, Godbole uncle. But then, I guess he is able to relish it all since he is past most of the worries that others have.
I used to wonder why these people circumambulate us. None of our predecessors had experienced anything of this kind. Isn't walking in a joggers park or a beach more enjoyable? Then it slowly dawned on me that my residents circle me as they do not have anywhere else to go. Joggers parks are few and far between and the roads are best avoided if one intends to walk for health, thanks to the traffic and noise, and of course the lack of footpath for pedestrians. So people are left with no choice but to turn their apartment premises into walking paths and march on unwavering, as the parked cars and motorbikes look on with sleepy eyes. In South India people circumambulate the presiding deities in temples so that God would answer their prayers. Maybe these 'circlers' also go around us, praying for a good park to come up for them to walk in instead. But neither am I a deity, nor can I do anything about it, except praying with them. For now, I simply watch them, have fun looking at their gaits, enjoy the steamy gossips thought streams and gossips and start each day with something quite similar to a riveting episode of a soap opera.
Bahu – Daughter-in-law
Sasu – Mother-in-law