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Neighbour’s envy

By Nickunj Malik - Jan 16,2019 - Last updated at Jan 16,2019

Over the past one year I realised that it is not easy to make friends in Mauritius. Moreover, if you don’t speak Creole or French, you can pretty much say goodbye to any kind of interaction with your neighbours too because not a single hand of friendship is extended nor any assistance offered to the newcomers, and one is pretty much left to fend for oneself and find one’s own way around. 

Majority of the island’s inhabitants can trace their ancestry to India, but despite that, almost all of them end up observing the European rules of conduct. Which means that, among other things, meal times are sacrosanct here (especially the lunch hour that begins exactly at noon and can extend for as long as you choose), the shops shut at six in the evening on a weekday, at two on Saturday and stay closed for the whole of Sunday. Also, if you live in a gated community, the service entrance follows the same timing restrictions as well — with the security guards staring at you helplessly through the locked barrier, in case you enthusiastically take a short cut, and try to come in from the side lane.

In my compound at least, there are more pets than children and every house reverberates with the sound of barking dogs, from dawn to dusk. The bungalows are built in such a way that each next-door backyard is easily visible from the first floor balcony. Our neighbours can look into our garden and we can view theirs, especially when they organise barbeque parties by inviting a large group of people who eat and drink a lot and speak loudly in an alien tongue. 

The middle-aged couple, whose boundary wall is adjoining ours, has a beautiful lawn, and I have noticed both of them toiling there at different times. The husband does the bulk of the work, like mowing the grass, clipping the shrubs and pulling out the weeds. The wife clears the dead leaves and waters the plants. 

While I am busy watching them, quite discretely they scrutinise me too and in fact, from their vantage position the grass seems to be greener on my side of the fence, so to speak. It appears to be such since my gardener has chopped all the dried up branches that are high up on trees shielding the sunlight, with his innovative branch-chopping device that is entirely his own creation. My only contribution towards this “sickle-stuck-onto-long-rod” invention is settling the bill for the amount that is presented to me. 

However, our neighbours don’t know that of course. They think that whichever foreign country I arrived from, I must have got this gardening tool with me, and quite unexpectedly, they reach out to me, for assistance. They ring my doorbell and quite tentatively begin explaining but because of the language barrier I have no clue of what they are talking about. 

The man points to a tree, the woman makes hacking actions while their dog barks excitedly and dances in circles around me. 

“You want me to give you wood for a bonfire?” I guess aloud. 

They repeat the same gestures. 

“Sorry! Pardon!” I back off, shutting the front door. 

“I think they want to borrow your sickle-on-stick gadget,” my husband deciphers.

“Remember that Indian brand Onida television’s iconic tagline?” he asks. 

“Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride,” I say automatically

“My garden is my joy,” I agree. 

“And your neighbours’ ennui,” my spouse laughs. 

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