My Neighborhood

A short essay about my neighborhood in Lucknow.

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Under the blossoming canopy of the ruddy sky, euphoric birds sing among the foliage of my yawning garden, like excited children troubling their parents to see something new. The cold roads perspire at the sight of this awesome climbing force, that signals the arrival of a new assemblage of bicycles, cars, and foots. It’s a time when my waking mind starts to take the reins from the subconscious, its hands too tremulous to hold off the neurotic bursts of imagination, resulting in a wonderful stew of real and imaginary emotions. I am fortunate enough to have grown in a neighborhood where this sublimity does not close at the opening of my eyes, rather extends throughout the day, exposing me to experiences that have moulded me as a person.

A well endowed area of a populous city like Lucknow can be recognized by the height of its dwelling houses. Their expansions qualified by the crowded construction, most houses in other areas have no other option but to distend towards the welcoming sky, like a balloon stuck between two bricks. Limited by no such constraints, the houses in our area expanded in a horizontal fashion, leaving the unadulterated sky for the trees, birds and kites. The sunrise smittens the high pallid windows of the houses, which reflect this golden light onto their brothers nearby, imitating the beneficent nature of our neighborhood. Call it the curse of globalization, or the bane of capitalism, parks have become an oasis of peace in the modern concrete desert. Our affluence is proudly evident from the existence of two parks in our vicinity - ‘Machli Park’ named after the benefactor’s love for the marine creatures, and ‘Aastha Park’, aptly named with respect to its setting - between a mosque and a temple. Each park has its own microcosm of life and one can spend a whole day observing the different creatures go about their chores, although he will have to have an umbrella to preempt the scorching heat from disheartening him in his endeavor. Young boys playing cricket with endemic rules to qualify the batsman’s ambition of hitting sky-kissing sixes; young lovers sitting in warm seats, passionate leaves enveloping them, protecting them from the presumptuous and gossipy eyes; elderly people walking with a hastened pace, discussing the recent calamity or milestone, depending on their political color. The scene in the park is almost poetic, and brings to mind the line by Oscar Wilde -

‘Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.’

Being away from the bustling traffic of the road, our neighborhood has its own voice, constituted of an agglomeration of sounds from its participants. The stentorian calls of the vegetable hawker praising the benignity of his product, the impassioned reminder of Salah to Muslims five times a day, the lively recitation of the Ramayana and Bhagvata Gita in the nearby temple. The secularity of our neighborhood is a beatification of the Awadhi relic, expressed in the subtle wink shared between two friends before picking two oranges off an ingenuous hawker’s stall and running in different directions - a friendship that was not harmonized by the threads of one’s headcap, or the crimson colored clay of other’s Tilak, but by the affinity of heart of the two mischievous boys.

But there is an invisible rift in our neighborhood, visible through the eyes of culture and class-divide. The inchoate development process has circumscribed the area of a meagre village to that of an affluent middle-classed society. Isolated by the haphazard work of the PWD aristocracy, these people face an existential crisis, similar to that of a person walking the plank on a ship. But this kind of social divide has been an anodyne for me in midst of all this political melodrama. I have acknowledged the fact that the human characteristic, the indelible mark given to us at birth, is immune to all economic and social divisions, which are a means of a transitory stratification. Having had the opportunity to cross this divisive river of opinions and having made life-long friends on both sides, I have realized that this river eventually leads to an ocean of hostility, making it imperative on us to collaborate and build a dam to save our society.

As the day draws to close, the tired sun begins its descent into the yawning horizon, the sky waning like a faded rose, switching on the distant stars, as if in cognizance of the LED bulbs lighting up our homes. The cows return homewards after roaming about on the desolate roads, in search of some endangered greenery. Its pleasant to see the bovine divinity scouting the area of their residence, observing the work of humans all the while chewing away on undigested food, as if to mock the other impoverished road animals. While roaming the coarse roads of this neighborhood, I have learnt the greatest lessons of my life. I am proud to be a reflection of my house and my neighborhood. I am in a constant state of entanglement with my neighborhood, neither of us can live without the other, and the cheerful part is, neither of us wants to.