Are these worse than the worst neighbours you’ve ever had?

By Deepthi Nair

In India, while growing up, I had the good fortune of living next to some wonderful people. For college and work, I had to move to new cities and even then, I came across a variety of usually good people, good neighbours. And then I moved to Dubai.

The majority of us here in Dubai live in rented apartments. Given the usual expat routine — demanding jobs, long work hours — we don’t often get to know our neighbours, forget socialising with them. However, if you have kids, community camaraderie takes on a whole new dimension — parents are quite happy if their toddlers find playmates close by, down the corridor.

I have rarely met my neighbours but I know they can be nice, weird or nosy. It’s always the weird ones that pop into my head. My weirdest neighbour was the one I suspected of swiping my newspaper everyday. I tried every trick possible to track him or her down. I alerted the building watchman, woke up at unearthly hours to keep watch through my peephole, and even left a note on my door beseeching the thief to refrain from swiping — to no avail. Left with no resort, I called the cops who sent a sleuth in plain clothes to the ‘crime spot’ to investigate the theft. He was amused at the nature of the crime. The theft stopped the next day.

I have also been dealing with noisy neighbours in my current apartment. They’re on the floor above us. They stomp and thump in the middle of the night and this has been going on for years. Every time, my husband and I have politely called the neighbours (different families over the years) to request them to be less noisy, we have been confronted with all sorts of situations: naughty toddlers who pay no heed to their parents, elderly people on wheelchairs, and once, a rabbit who kept scampering around the house. The rabbit was their pet and would be caged all day and let free when the family came home after work.

My uncle who once faced the same menace from noisy neighbours upstairs resorted to tit-for-tat. He used a long rod to tap back at them on the ceiling.

In India, we once had a neighbour who used to walk around the compound in his house in various stages of undress. At one point, he began taking bucket baths in the garden outside in full view of all. We had to put up thick curtains to avoid the sight. In time, we moved out of the neighbourhood.

And then you have neighbours who cross the line. My relatives in India have neighbours who take such a keen interest in their lives that it borders on obsession. They peep into their windows every time someone comes calling on my relatives and then follow it up with a visit to dig out more details on the guest and his/her purpose. A flurry of questions ensues: “Who came? How do you know them? Why did they come?” This excess curiosity in other’s lives is bizarre, and I’m thankful I haven’t had to face this sort of behaviour in my building.

At one point, my relatives’ neighours even asked for the wi-fi password and wanted to share an internet connection (!)

My relatives have now adopted certain behaviours to deal with their neighbour nuisance. Besides largely ignoring them and resorting to monosyllabic answers, they have now converted their house into a fortress.

Another familiar dispute with neighbours is about garden maintenance, common in Indian cities where families live in spacious bungalows with meticulously-tended plants.

Our house help in India, who has been with my family for over 35 years, has a problem with my lovely neighbour: branches of their trees spill over into our compound and rotting fruit from their trees drop to our side of the wall. Our help was so troubled by this that she once convinced my father to have the spillover branches axed. It temporarily caused bad blood between us and them.

Of course, I have also had loving neighbours: the aunt in Abu Dhabi who generously supplied me with home-cooked meals when I was a newly-wed struggling to learn how to cook; the retired teacher who tutored me in Physics and Maths; the family who watched over me while my brother was out of town and I lived alone during college; the next-door aunt who always gave me a warm welcome and scrumptious food when I needed some TLC (tender loving care) as a child; or my current neighbour who always plays melodious notes on the piano at night, which lulls me to sleep. It’s just a good feeling when you know that you and your neighbour have each other’s backs.

Deepthi writes on Dubai property and loves to be in the thick of all that’s fun in this city

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