Space and heart

When every square inch is ferociously coveted, it stands to reason that whatever square footage one can cover will be fiercely guarded. Even if it means the space is in the public arena. You could be in a train, which even sardines would find suffocating, and you can probably inhale all the bodily odours of the man next to you, but dart your eyes across him and you would have infringed upon his space.

You may be walking on the road, with the man behind you speaking angrily over the phone to his brother who wants to shunt him out of the rightful share of household property, but glancing back at this man would be an invasion of privacy.

You could be strolling across the sea-facing promenade, but a glance at the couple engaged in exchanging sweet nothings, if that couple happens to be in your line of sight, will be considered gross, if not downright rude.

With over 2 million inhabitants, space, more specifically, personal space, is at a premium. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, capital costs of accommodation have kissed the skies and made much further inroads. As a friend jocularly remarked today, with 600 square foot apartments going for Rs 1 crore plus, the day is not far when a space of 6 feet required to stretch yourself for 40 winks will start costing that much.

Which explains why your next door neighbour would probably never know you at a social level. Heck, you’d be lucky if your neighbours even know your name. Which is also why people tend to leave each other alone – not out of any altruistic reasons, but purely out of self-preservation.

There’s something to be said about Delhi, or other northern cities for that matter, where neighbours from as near as Chandigarh will frequently acquire pinocchio-ish noses that will poke right into homes and lives of those living in Delhi’s Punjabi Bagh. It may irritate, or even infuriate, but it has its nuisance value – there’s always somebody to check up on your well-being and to ensure you don’t die a lonely death.

Certainly not the kind where a 100-year old paraplegic mother with a voice so feeble could not call out for help as she watched the life ebb out of her daughter, locked in as both were by the church on whose premises they resided.

So don’t blame the residents here for keeping to themselves and minding what is strictly their own business. And if that means losing the heart, and a wee bit of humanity, that’s just a small price to pay, I guess. It could be a middle-aged woman, lugging a heavy suitcase up the stairs at the railway station (local stations do not have porters) with the throng of early morning rush too busy to notice or too busy to care, to lend a helping hand.

Or the daily wage earner, weather-beaten and past middle age, who’s got to carry the burden on his head, literally so, but who’s looking askance at every passer-by to help him heave that burden on top of his head, too frail to lift it all by himself. Sure, this is the age of paranoia at the extreme, where companies frisk their own staff before they enter the office premises for fear they might be suicide bombers, so who can blame the general sea of humanity if it ignores an old man or a middle-aged woman.

Stepping out of the straight and tested path means losing your privacy, your space, your precious square inches. And in this city, and indeed in this world, if you so much as give an inch, there are at least a couple of million who will grab a mile. Careful there!

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