Sunday, February 18, 2007

Modern India - Know your neighbours ?

Our society is slowly moving towards a more Western-like society, with people preferring a lot more privacy. This increased focus on privacy also means that interaction between neighbours decreases to a significant extent. This concept is widespread in the US, where people living in apartments do not even know who their neighbour is. I had gone to the Silicon Valley for 3 months, and in the apartment complex where I lived, I didn't know who my neighbours were, or what they looked like.

This tendency is slowly increasing in the massive "apartment complex society" that we are evolving into, and in which an increasing number of urban people are living. People are busy with their own jobs and with their own families, and do not have any time to spend with neighbours.

I have heard tales from Bombay which talk about the same kind of behaviour. People really don't know their neighbours, and in fact, don't mind not knowing them. Indian society has not been like this in the past; people used to know who their neighbours are, know their families, and in many cases know about the happenings and incidents in each others' lives. In fact, there is a corny serial on air in India right now called 'Ek chaabi hain padose mein' which is more about people living as a vibrant community, intervening in each others' lives to prevent things from going out of control, and to keep things cool in the neighbourhood.

Why am I talking about all this? Well, I read an article in CNN about a man in the United States who was found in a house (not apartment though) who had been dead for 1 year, and nobody found out or cared. It is only when there was a complaint about a burst pipe that his home was opened and he was found in front of a blaring TV set. His neighbours assumed that he was in a nursing home, but he had been dead for more than one year.

That was a tragedy. It set me thinking about whether we in India are moving in this direction. I can only hope that our society does not change to the extent that we no longer know or care about our neighbours. I live in a society where I know our immediate neighbours, but that is only because of my parents maintaining relationships with them. And I believe that such an attitude is quite common among the younger generation.

Is such a tendency reversible ? I am not sure, and not very hopeful. From a time of even a decade ago, when we would have social interactions with neighbours, spend time in each other's homes, and generally share in each other's happiness, we have moved a long way. We now have our own TV, our own personal media centers, various places to go with friends (malls, multiplexes, bars, etc). All these are more for the self, and do not encourage community involvement. Before the advent of TV, entertainment would be either a movie out, or with friends (typically from within neighbours). But now we will go long distances to be with friends.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:41 PM