Steven Pereira has had the same neighbours for the last 15 years. But of late, their paths only cross when the garbage lady comes to collect the previous day’s personal debris. Pereira, a 24-year-old resident of Bandra, put this lack of communication between neighbours down to Mumbai’s zombie lifestyle. “Work schedules are crazy these days. It becomes difficult to spare time for friends and family, let alone neighbours,” says Pereira.
Sociologists contemplating our societal future are pondering whether Mumbai will be known for its no-time-to-spare attitude: A label most major metropolises have been tagged with.
“Longer work hours and hectic schedules don’t allow people to spend time at home. Whatever free time they get, they spend at malls and multiplexes. So a home life is almost non-existent. This has made them ignorant about who their own neighbours are,” says sociologist, Veena Saraf.
In an ideal world, everyone would love to have friends for neighbours. But, as Mumbai’s satellite suburbs, like Mira Road and Jogeshwari, see realty values skyrocket, people are increasingly buying flats for purely investment purposes. This in turn means that even though the flat next to yours is sold, you may never ever see the owners.
Andre Luke, who has recently moved to a flat in Vasai, has as much opportunity to meet his neighbours as he would seeing a polar bear in Vasai market.
“The huge latch and lock on their door greets me every day. I don’t really know who my neighbours are, and sometimes that lack of knowledge make me feel unsafe.”
Cooperative housing societies prefer doing background checks before allowing people to buy a flat in their building. “Section 23 of the cooperative housing bylaws says that all documents have to be registered,” said a source from the Registrar of Co-operative Housing Societies.
For some, however, safety, although high on the agenda, is not a primary concern.
“Our building has been commercialised, and we have gowdowns, shops and doctor’s dispensaries for neighbours,” says Jacintha Fernandes. The Kurla resident longs to have neighbours with whom she can share slices of her day-to-day life. As Mumbai’s population breezes past the 17 million mark, the police are beginning to rely on citizens to be their eyes and ears.
According to the Joint Commissioner of Police, Rakesh Maria, citizens should keep an eye on their neighbours. “If you suspect that the person living next door is up to some nefarious activity, you must report it before it is too late.”
Maria recalls an incident where a Bandra couple died in their home. But due to the fact that they had no communication with their neighbours, it was weeks before their rotting bodies were discovered.
“Community policing is the new trend, and people have to make sure that their neighbourhood is safe,” says Maria.