By Nigar Ataulla, New Age Islam
August 19, 2013
Several years ago, when Bangalore was still luxuriantly green and hadn’t yet been invaded by glassy towers and mega-malls, or what I’d like to call metro mania, my parents decided to move to the city, to an apartment built for middle-income families. Today, this apartment is over 35 years old, and that’s where I still live.
The apartment isn’t what’s curiously called the “gated community’ sort. By God’s grace, the gate leading to the compound is kept open all day and night and we don’t have security guards supplied by specialized agencies. There is still a bit of greenery around for cows come and nibble at. Stray dogs can enjoy a peaceful afternoon nap under a flight of stairs. Cats run around as and where they please. This summer we had water problems, and so the residents got together and shared the cost of a tanker to fill the water-tanks.
There aren’t any “No Parking” signs on our gates. Visitors park their vehicles pretty much where they please, and nobody hollers at them and quotes rules from an apartment handbook for that. Pigeons flutter and mutter about, building their nests in kitchen windows. Nobody shoos them away. We don’t have a park, and so kids play in the place where vehicles are parked, and nobody shoos them away either.
We are a small group of families here who’ve known each other for years—perhaps not intimately, but, still, when someone falls sick or lands up in hospital, word quickly gets around.
With the boom of high rise apartments in Bangalore, the concept of “gated communities” has set in. It’s the ‘in-thing’ now, or so some folks think. It’s like a “one stop-shop”, where everything is available under one roof. If you live in a fancy ‘gated community’ of this sort, you have the plumber on call, the electrician, too, and the grocer as well, and so on—all your material needs and comforts taken care of. And you have (probably underpaid) uniformed security guards, too, who stand up to attention when your car comes in or goes out.
But things aren’t as rosy as they might seem. Just the other day I visited one such fancy ‘gated community’. An elderly friend who lives there asked me to come over. She wasn’t well at all.
Aunty is all of 84 years of age, and she lives all by herself. Some days ago, she fell and hurt her back. She spent a week wondering whom to call for help, but couldn’t think of any of her neighbours. In her gated community—as in many others—people don’t know even the names of the folks living just next door to them. Needless to say, Aunty didn’t have her neighbours’ telephone numbers, and, even if she did, she wouldn’t have wanted to ‘trouble’ them with request for help. Who knows how they would have felt and reacted? Aunty didn’t want to ask them for help. That’s why she had called me over.
Aunty rang me up and explained her condition. Her driver was unavailable. She could not drive herself as her injury had restricted her movements. Luckily, her doctor wasn’t too far, so I fixed up an ambulance and accompanied her to the hospital. The doctor did various tests and asked her to go home. She’s back in her flat now. She is now searching for a home help to be with her all day and night.
That’s sad, of course, but it’s quite preventable too, I think. Here are some thoughts that come to my mind thinking about Aunt’s unenviable predicament.
Most residential areas, including gated apartments, have a residents’ Association. For help in situations like the one Aunty finds herself in today, perhaps associations can make a list of all residents, along with their landline or cell numbers, and give a copy to all the residents so that everyone knows who lives where. If some residents are doctors, this could be specifically mentioned. Another list, exclusively of senior citizens, can be prepared and distributed, as well as a list of all hospitals within a 5 kilometre radius of the apartments, along with their telephone numbers and the numbers of ambulance services, too.
Last, but certainly not the least, neighbours can forget and forgive each other’s faults and frowns, burying old squabbles about “He parked his car in my space”, “She didn’t give me sweets for New Year’s”, “She did not send a bouquet for my birthday” and “He screamed at my dog’—all of which keep them pretty much as total strangers who happen to share the same physical space but have otherwise nothing whatsoever to do with each other.
It may be too much to expect everyone to be a ‘ministering angel’ like Florence Nightingale was, who devoted her life to the care of the sick. But at least when our neighbour calls when in need, we could be inspired somewhat by the amazing woman in Henry Longfellow’s poem:
“Lo! In that house of misery
A lady with a lamp I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room”.