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I know that by the time I wake up, the morning pooja of our neighbours downstairs would have begun ringing through the apartment. I know that a waft of jasmine will be in the air because someone would have just plucked them and very soon, the smell of coffee will invade my nostrils and the rhythmic sound of feet tapping the wooden floor from the Bharatnatyam School next door will gradually set the mood for all of us. Sadly, it dawns on me that I won’t be home to experience all this tomorrow morning because I’ll be far away from familiarity and closing in on alien ground very soon and there is this indescribable ache which has started somewhere in my chest.

I was running around my apartment over the past few days and as I bumped into the resident auto driver, Subramaniam and greeted him with an “Neenge eppidi irrikinge?” (How have you been keeping?), old grandmothers chatting and talking, neighbour aunties asking what I’ve been upto and how much I’ve grown, how my friends were… I felt safe and protected. I knew that within the four walls of my apartment, the world couldn’t hurt me. If you’ve stayed in an apartment, you know how everything you do is scrutinised be it a friendship with the opposite gender, a new piercing, bad habits (they’re waiting to see you fall so that they can parade how their children are better than you), good habits (they’ll lecture their children to become like you), what time you come back home, what you eat, where you go, what you wear… the list is endless!! These neighbours are also those aunties who will give you cold water when you’ve been locked out of your house, lend you money to buy ice-cream when your parents aren’t home and babysit/help with your homework when working mothers get caught up. These aunties are those that soothed you when you lost your child to cancer and helped you move on gingerly. These aunties are those that got competitive when playing table tennis and made unwarranted comments about your playing but they were also the same aunties who patted you on your back when you did well in your exams.

I’ve had many of my most memorable moments in this apartment, which may sound silly to many who’ve never stayed in an apartment before. To begin with, you’re famous because nearly everyone knows who you are and your name will be yelled at the top of their voices on many occasions, like when they’re outside your apartment and you’re doing your homework (it helps when your parents don’t let you out often, sometimes they just let you go to stop the yelling!), your parents will definitely be informed if you’ve broken windows or banged up cars (eh… don’t even ask!) and yes, the all famous… ‘whose got a crush on who’ phase when the entire apartment would be informed, within a few minutes of that secret being let out to that ONE confidant. I used to babysit kids when their parents pretended they had a social life for a few hours everyday, watched them have fights, soothed their wounded hearts when other kids wouldn’t play with them and kept them happy and smiling. I would stand guard when my friends did unspeakable things on the terrace (remember the bad habits?) and I have easily helped out at least 3 friends with their record diagrams because… that’s what friends did back then!!

My flat friends are either studying abroad, engaged, married and parents to children and it seems so wrong that we’re not children anymore. We’re not still worrying about marks or whether our white canvas shoes were polished or whether our friends would love the new pencil box you bought. Strangely enough, we still keep in touch through Facebook and it’s wonderful raking up these wonderful memories which make our apartment, the perfect home to so many of us.

My grandmother from the neighbouring building would be out on her evening walk on the terrace and she could see every single thing I was upto here. I know they would never admit it but I think this was an intentional act to check up on me and it used to be tedious having to explain to her why some boy had his arm around my shoulder, when honestly it would have been nothing but friendly. I missed my ammachi a bit then when I looked up at the terrace and didn’t see her there and it made me a little sad, knowing that those days are gone. Our apartment complex have these benches where I’ve cried my eyes out to Karthik who has been my closest friend since I was 13 or 14, I think over broken hearts and bad grades and those small things seemed so enormous and life threatening then. And now… even though out relationship has been nothing but platonic, the aunties wonder when we’re getting married to each other.

I used to hate their inquisitive nature but once you’ve moved around a lot, stayed in a lot of hostels where you were close to invisible, an aunty asking you why you look so tanned isn’t as bad as you’d think. An aunty commenting on how your dressing sense has changed over the years makes you wonder how much they really noticed about you and how much they care. If you’re ever faced with the decision of choosing an apartment over a house, I would suggest you choose an apartment every single time because as invasive as we might think they are… they actually have your back!!

Picture courtesy: http://www.craftshub.com

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