Mar 24, 2006

Apartments are not match boxes

Many people have the notion that living in an independent house is always better than an apartment. I agree to this as far as investment benefits are concerned, you definitely get more value for money. But living in an apartment with many families is such a wonderful experience.

When I watched Anjali in 1991, my brother and I wished how enjoyable living in an apartment would be, playing with so many kids, running around the apartment in the open space, shouting until the old grannies peep out of their window and stare us etc etc. Circumstances forced us to move to an apartment in 1993. 21 unique families were there to provide us fun, frolic and happiness during our childhood. When we moved in, only a few of them had occupied their flats. It was boring initially but once everyone had occupied, we had a blast. Memorable 9 years of my life.

We were around 15 (+/- 5 depending on summer vacation) kids, age varying between 5 and 12 years. I was the eldest, sort of a gang leader. I can't imagine how many hours we used to play. Sunlight or midnight cannot stop our spirits. We never get tired amidst the shouting and running. We also held secret meetings, trying to plan how to shut the mouth of those oldies who always crib about the fact that we scream a lot while playing. A 6 year old gave a wonderful idea that we should lit crackers and drop into the old Mami's window. As a gang leader, I should set examples. So I decided that we would not drop crackers, instead while she is taking a nap in the afternoons, we would go and bang her windows and then run off. That was such an adventure.

There was an empty plot at the back side of our apartment and a deserted out-house. Some were actually spreading rumours that a girl had committed suicide in the out-house and that's why no one is willing to buy that plot. Curious set of kids we were, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, we jumped on the wall and went inside the out-house to see what's in there. But to our disappointment, we couldn't see anything. It was just a dusty empty room.

Ice-boys (hide and seek) was our all-time favourite. There were many hide-out spots in our apartment, the one who becomes the catcher would have a hell out of time. We would be praying that we shouldn't become the catcher when we put "Sha Boo Thri" (Does this ring a bell in any of your minds?). Ice-boys in the dark makes it all the more spooky. Some brave kids (my bro, one of them) will jump onto the devil's house (pei veedu !!) which would make the catcher even more scary. The dense bushes, the tiny motor room, behind the bikes and rolling ourselves into the bike covers were our other famous hide-outs.

Adjacent to our flats lived an old bachelor uncle. His house was very small but his garden very big and the most beautiful. Most of the times, he wouldn't be around but we would be there in his garden, plucking guavas, mangoes and flowers and playing a short game of ice-boys. Can you believe if I say I played ice-boys until I entered college? My 12th std holidays were the best, waiting for results and nothing much to do. I was always playing ice-boys inspite of my father's "ezhu kazhudai vayasu aakudu, chinna pasangaloda vilaiyadikkittu irukke" comments (Your age is equivalent to 7 donkeys, but you still play with kids).

I learnt many new games and invented a few as well. When I visited my home last Diwali, I was very surprised to see a kid playing a game (Gate to B Block) that I invented 10 years back. I started organizing many activities - chess and carroms tournament, flat day and new year celebrations. We would prepare for dance programmes and execute them in front of everyone. When the movie Kaadhalan was released, we went crazy over the songs. I still remember clearly when we used to dance in our friend Anantharaman's house for "Oorvasi, Oorvasi" and "Pettai Rap".

Mrs. Anandi (we call her Moti mami, Moti was her dog !!!) was our beloved Maami because she always used to be supportive and never used to shout at us when we play until midnight. Infact, she would give us ideas on how we can trouble the ones who hate to see kids playing in the apartment. When we are tired, we would rush to her house (since her house is in the ground floor) and drink water. Her house was a rest place for us, when we want to sit and relax or play cards, carroms and trade. She also had a dog by name Moti which became our pet as well. We would play ice-boys with Moti inside the house. Moti was so cute when he had caught us. He would look at us with a sense of pride and achievement.

Navarathri (or Kolu) was one of the good times when we would visit every house to see the kolu (dolls arrangement) and also to have sundal. At the end of 10 days, we would rate the kolu and most of the times, Harini's house would win our hearts. An entire room devoted to kolu, decorated with serial lamps, parks, cricket stadium and a cute little train moving around a zoo. The tough part for me was to sing a devotional song, a compulsory tradition followed. A bad singer I'm, I did manage to learn a few songs from my granny. Yet, I'm not supposed to repeat the same songs that I had sung last year. "Vera pattu padudi" would be the reply from 40 plus mamis. There I was, sitting bewildered and thinking why don't people accept movie songs for kolus.

The general body meeting is another interesting thing that happens in every apartment once a year to elect president, secretary and treasurer. We would be praying that the old mama whom we hate the most shouldn't win any post. Bcoz we knew if he was elected, the first thing in his agenda would be to put on the notice boards that kids are not allowed to play after 9 pm. That's what exactly happened. We were so used to play until 11:30-12 and now we had to stop by 9. Our apartment looked very peaceful for a few days. We couldn't bear this silence. With the support of Moti mami, we started playing late again. This time, there were oppositions to the President's views from our parents.

Mary Aunty, my true supporter in my childhood was another favourite among the kids. We all love to hang out in her house during Christmas days to decorate the tree, blow balloons and ofcourse, eat yummy cakes.

My cousin loved our apartment and the fellow kids very much. He used to come to our house during quarterly, half-yearly and summer holidays. There were cousins of other kids who would visit our apartment around April-May. Our apartment would resemble a small school then.

These days, we hardly see kids playing outside their houses as they are busy with studies, computer games and TV. Apartments pose a very sad state. There is no more socializing with neighbours in apartments in Bangalore. Although adults don't want anyone to interfere with their personal lives, the kids definitely need to interact with their peers, play outside, run and jump when their bodies are fully flexible and enjoy childhood. I miss my childhood days now but atleast I have beautiful memories to treasure forever and narrate to my children.

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