My home, neighbor’s backyard and the township

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I was pacing in my dining room today, agonizing over my Ph.D. research questions when suddenly I spotted a large dark shape in my neighbor’s backyard. I stopped and looked again to see what the shape was and found a peahen standing on top of a concrete fencing post, staring off into another backyard. It was beautiful and comical at the same time – while the scene was idyllic, that peahen looked too much like it was in the middle of an existential crisis.

Dear Reader, please do not assume that I live in an exotic hill station just because I saw a peahen from my dining hall. While I do live in a place teeming with woodland life, it can in no way be described as a hill station. Far from it. It is a humble PSU (Public sector undertaking) township. PSU townships are quaint little things. ‘Little’ is relative, by the way. Yes, the township is little when compared to the sprawling, urban, historic, gregarious mess that is Hyderabad. But it is spread over 1200 acres and is almost self-sufficient. It has its own electricity supply, water supply, schools, parks, clubs, libraries, stadiums, etc. Heck, we have our skating rink (for roller skates, obviously) and a swimming pool.

While the facilities sound like those offered by luxury corporate ‘gated community’ builders, the vibe one gets from the township is slightly different. You see, it might be a self-sufficient, sophisticated township. But it was constructed sometime around the 1960s and 70s, so yeah, you’d have to be a sucker for old things to fall in love with it. Luckily I am, so for me, the old appearance adds to its charm. The township is a time capsule. If you want to shoot a ‘70s movie, this would be the perfect place for it.

Also, because it is a government establishment constructed in the 60s, it’s rather lavish. There are wide-open spaces between the houses and the roads. Flora and Fauna are abundant (Hence the random depressed peahen). In one of my crazier moods, I feel a compulsion to dress myself up in a tight salwar kameez, absurdly large hair bun, huge pink sunglasses, and a flowery scarf, and start riding my scooter on the back seat of which radio would be blasting the ‘Main Chali’ song from ‘Padosan’. Outlandish though it may sound, no one in the township would bat an eyelid – I’d blend right into the ‘60s ethos.

Many relatives come to our house and wonder how we live there. You see, the township might be self-sufficient, but it is rather…isolated. Until a year ago, the nearest movie theatre was half-an-hour away. The township is untouched by the hustle and bustle of everyday traffic – not many vehicles pass through it. At any given time, 70% of the traffic on the township roads consists of the township employees going to or coming from the office.

This isolated setting, with very few people per square kilometer, is a boon for the local wildlife. In the 27 years that I spent outside the township, I have seen a total of 3 snakes and that too from afar and definitely in places I was visiting rather than staying in. In the two years I’ve been here, I saw two snakes – in the backyard of my downstairs neighbors. I was scared out of my wits. These were not some tiny green things that people sometimes see after it has rained. They were 3 to 4 feet long with alternating light and dark brown bands.

For two days, I could talk about nothing else. My husband laughed at my fear and excitement. He grew up in a village and, if he is to be believed, saw snakes frequently – near his home, on the roads, and in the fields. Then one day, while talking to me from the verandah, he uttered a loud “Oh!” right in the middle of what he was saying and promptly continued talking as if nothing had happened. Curious, I went out into the verandah to look at what had prompted the “Oh!” and saw a huge brown snake going about its everyday slithery business. He talked about it for another two days while I silently sent a prayer of Thanks to my limbless neighbor. Fear is a great equalizer, you see. I was no longer treated to the stories of his snake-filled past. Fear displaced derision.

For those interested in ethology (the science of animal behavior), the township offers a decent site of observation. My husband and I have spent many hours watching the squabbles between the squirrels and the birds, the cats stalking various types of prey, the stray dogs defending their territory, and the peacocks running after potential mates. I’ve been stared at by sleepy owls. I routinely fight off squirrels wanting to build nests in the window corners or wanting to eat the mosquito mesh on the windows.

Entering the township after spending a day outside is a heavenly experience. The temperature difference hits us like a wall. The minute we enter the township, we are enveloped by a deliciously cold blanket of air. It is this significant difference in temperature that discourages me from ever leaving the township. Many friends and relatives who complain I don’t visit them often enough understand why I don’t visit them once they pay me a house call. The outside world feels like an inhospitable oven to a township resident used to the temperate climate inside.

The point of this article is not to pontificate about the benefits of living in a place with lots of greenery- everyone knows them; everyone wants them. It is a love letter to my home, thanking it for all the memories and the peace it has given me. Financial considerations might make us move to a home outside the township. With our budget, I don’t have hopes for a house bigger than a matchbox inside a complex of matchboxes, in these days of inflated real estate prices. I wish there were a way of transforming my future home into a mini green paradise. Though technology exists, at this point, it is not affordable. Therefore, I am spending my last few days at the township chronicling everything I can, so that these memories can sustain me through my future years of the barren, boring, urban landscape.

In my future home, I’ll probably be able to create a tiny green haven for a neighborhood sparrow. But I’ll definitely won’t be able to look at peacocks prancing about when I look out my windows. I’ll miss this place, the peacocks, the owls, the woodpeckers, the squirrels. Heck, I’ll even miss the bats (I forgot to mention – our AC unit was colonized by bats one summer). Ah well. I guess it’s better to be thankful for the time I had here rather than rue the time I will be away from it—so long, township. Take care of your beautiful peacocks. Thank you for everything.

Featured Image Credits: Sri Harsha Dantuluti

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