Writer Henry Brooke remarked, "A book may be compared to a neighbour: if it be good it cannot last too long; if bad you cannot get rid of it too early."
Life in the army made us change our neighbours every two years, if not earlier. Customary greetings gave way to casual tea, quick drinks to late-night binges and car-pooled weekend club visits.
Ladies' 'gup-shup' would transgress all territories spanning the husband's origin (ex-NDA or otherwise), courses, postings, kids, common acquaintances etc. Only suitability and professional compatibility or kid chemistry would determine future bonhomie between husbands.
One such incident boomeranged into a near-divorce in my case. My worthy next-door friend was particularly addicted to share trading. My wife conveyed to me more than once as to how Major X made an extra buck while doing well otherwise and that I was a typical bum who couldn't manage his time despite no work in the army.
Truly hen-pecked, I tried to gain knowledge of the 'bears and bulls', but could not really come to grips with accepting this profitable occupation. One afternoon, on my return from office, I got a very genuine hug from my wife. What brought about this wonder, I got to know later. Major X had suffered a huge loss due to a severe sensex plunge.
The excitement of frequent turnover of the neighbours disappeared once we shifted permanently back home after I hung my spurs. This brought us in the company of neighbours with whom we were destined to spend the rest of our lives. At last, we had the solitude of no interference, or so we thought till we landed up in the privileged neighbourhood of a high-profile politician and central minister. Giving directions and gaining apparent mileage out of our celebrity address made our egos swell.
A thorough gentleman and a warm neighbour, he, we presumed, had no control over the visitors who thronged his place: routine well-wishers, delegations, protesters, rallyists and so on.
Once, in a lighter vein, I was discussing the nuisance of parking with a neighbour. He remarked, "Bhai saab, on weekends, when the minister is in town, I display the opposition political party's flag outside my house. This seems to work. I face no parking chaos outside my house."
The recent political upheaval made us face the unpleasant reality of being virtual lockouts in our house. With more police than the birds around, getting in and out became a challenge. We got chatting with a senior police officer and asked him to find a solution to this chaos. He was forthright in outlining a bureaucratic procedure, which to us residents seemed long-drawn-out and unlikely to materialise at least for a year. A rustic, son-of-the-soil neighbour responded in his inimitable style, "Bheyoo, tib tak to agli chonn aa javein, mahney phir iski jaroorat pade yo naa… kaun jaane (By then the next general elections will come about and who knows if we would require help for this problem)."
We, however, wish you good luck for the next elections, Sir... we are proudly accustomed to your way and now our way of life. The agony, nevertheless, continues amid the popular chant, "Love thy neighbour."