Project 250 – 4

Your neighbors

Photo by Charu Chaturvedi on Unsplash

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one, and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same  — Malvina Reynolds

I am taking the weekend off. Off from baking extravagant items from a cookbook, screen interaction with friends and probably TV, and definitely from work. I will not open my work laptop and get a head start on anything. I need to reset myself this weekend from everything that I engage myself everyday, and step back to gain a new perspective. Unread books, half read books still call my name from the coffee table and bedside table, but I will give them a deaf ear and try something new. I won’t sketch, color, write or do something that cannot deal with distraction, because kids are home, school’s almost out, and more than anything else in the world, I want to be an engaged mother for my quaran-teens. 

Here is continuing “Project 250”, a personal project based on Michael Sorkin’s Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know.

242. Your neighbors.

Neighbors. Born and brought up in India, neighbors were people you knew, people you connected with, and people you interacted with, shared and cared for. When I hear the word neighbor, it brings memories associated with sight, sound and smell… I can still hear my neighborhood kid call my name with “akka” , a sign of respect to my age and experience, and in some sense superiority in the chain of command. I can still remember the smells of different foods cooking in the kitchens, based on the seasoning, we could tell what was cooking. The sights of everyone’s houses, their living rooms, dining rooms, their plants, it’s all so familiar twenty years after I left country. I am aware that nothing would feel the same if I were to return home, people and places change with times and economy. 

I wish the same could be said about the well planned communities that I have lived in the US. The gray houses, the wood siding houses, the stucco houses, the gated apartments, but I don’t know who lived next doors, I couldn’t hear them yell at their child, I couldn’t smell their food, or know them as people beyond the ordinary smile and weather chatter. I didn’t make an effort, and no one else did either. It’s been ten years in the master planned city of Irvine, with every community designed to every detail by leading architecture and land use planning firms, but still, the beige stucco house is nothing more than a backdrop to the story of my life, a passive participant. 

I know the name of all the dogs in the neighborhood, and of their owners, but there is no connection beyond that. It’s all planned so well that we don’t have to know anyone if we don’t want to, and continue to lead our isolated lives, but if we put in efforts, we can pass another human on walks to talk about the weather. In fact, sometimes I think our community was built for dogs, and we humans are merely here as their slaves, interacting with people that they vet and permit us to. There are public spaces, interactive public art installations where people can gather but instead of the community experience, people have limited them to social media picture backdrops. 

Speaking of neighbors and neighbors, when I was five, my parents to new town, away from everyone and everything they knew. New town, new work, new friends and new experiences. A few weeks after we moved, when my dad was in a movie theater with his friends, communal violence broke out. My parents knew nothing about the communal divides in the new city. We had rented a house in a neighborhood that was not our “religion” or “community”. I still remember my mother shaking, praying to God that nothing would happen to us, and to our father. But our neighbors rallied up, and helped us survive the tough times, supported us with food and medicine, and other supplies. A week later, supermarkets burnt, private and public properties destroyed, life slowly returned to normalcy, and my parents decided to move. Move to live in a community that was predominantly “ours” for safety. 

I never understood their decision for many years, even questioned the motive behind it, because if we don’t step up and level these through diverse neighborhoods, the damage cannot be slowed or stopped. When people live in diverse neighborhoods, they interact with each other, look beyond their color, race or religion. Human connections formed over mutual interests, love for the communities they are a part of, and group efforts to improve their living conditions will give them a common goal and bond that cannot be distracted by religious and communal divide. 

All the memories and theories aside, I am a global citizen that belongs in none of these neighborhoods… the one that I grew up has evolved, and the one I live in is isolating further. Other than waving to the neighbor pulling their cars out of the garage, and discussing weather with the dog owners, and checking up on who lost/ found a pet on Next-door, I will never have meaningful relationships with my neighbors… 

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