There are now more complaints against neighbours than cordial relations with them. Whatever happened to our tradition of good neighbourliness

I am looking for an agony aunt. I need to find out how to deal with annoying neighbours without getting into the wrong side of the law. Dear Aunty, what should I do when the neighbour digs up the road to lay a cable and leaves an open ditch? What if she plucks the flowers I lovingly grow in my front yard? What if they throw their garden waste/construction rubble on the road?

Everyone has a “bad neighbour” story. S. Natarajan, secretary of a city residents’ welfare association has a smartphone full of them. Messages include ‘My neighbour re-modelled and splashed cement on my window panes. He won’t clean them up!’, ‘A techie in the building returns home late, uses the reverse horn to park. How do we sleep?’ ‘An apartment has been rented out for real estate/car rental/restaurant/gym business. Cars are parked at all times, there is no safety here!’

Beware of complaining. A guy in Velachery was stabbed when he asked his neighbour to turn down the volume of his TV, an act psychologist Dr. Abilasha of Aarudhal found hard to believe. “Did it happen here?” she asked. I said it did.

What happened to our tradition of good neighbourliness? Of ‘give-and-take’, ‘we are family’ feeling? “Basic humanity has fallen sharply,” said Dr. Abilasha, putting it down to rat-race. People are so busy running after materialistic comfort, when they turn back they have missed on good relationships. “Sadly, we are becoming more self-centred, less human,” said Avis, motivational speaker and “one who strives to be a good neighbour.” “This manifests itself as poor neighbourliness.” But I shout at my neighbour because he kept me awake all night! “Lack of understanding, appreciation, accommodation, willingness to accept, respect and care,” he said breathlessly. “I’m not championing blind tolerance. Perhaps some education, Gandhigiri, will help? The building we’ve just moved into has high-profile residents, but garbage is dumped in small, overflowing bins in front, inside the premises. Why hasn’t anyone thought of large bins? I’m planning to place larger bins in a less evident part of the building.”

Is it an apartment building culture? “Definitely not!” said Dr. Abilasha. “Even independent houses have problems of noise and parking.” Earlier, rules for good neighbourliness were very clear — you meddled in all your neighbours’ affairs, they meddled in all of yours. You helped one another, gossiped behind their backs. What are the rules these days, when neighbours hardly know each other? Is it non-interference? People don’t want their TV viewing/tweeting/online-chatting interrupted. Ring the bell and say, “Can I come in for a chat?” and watch their face. Given the pressures/lack of time, asking people to be pro-active neighbours is like asking a teen to come home before sunset.

“I tried to make friends in a new neighbourhood,” said Mrs. Nagarajan. “I would knock at a door to introduce myself. Nine out of ten times, I got suspicious stares. Now I simply stay home.”

It is important to be a positive, engaged next-door person, say psychologists. The more we connect, without being overbearing, the happier we are. “Being a good neighbour is its own reward,” says Elizabeth Scott, author. “Make sure you’re friends with your immediate neighbours,” mom often said while raising us. “In an emergency, your neighbour’s help is invaluable.” Said Dr. Abhilasha, “Children get influenced by neighbours, they get a chance to learn and respect different religions and ethnicity.”

Having and being a good neighbour is great for stress levels. You build relationships when you stop, wave a ‘hi’ or chat with people on your way to your car.

In friendly neighbourhoods people share garden produce and dinners, along with gossip. Knowing we can depend on people around us brings a sense of security.

So, get more involved with those around you, take pride in the area. Get out more, walk. It lets you know many of your neighbours. Talk to the older members for inside scoops on the neighbourhood. Organise neighbourhood programmes — garage sales, sports events, kolam/cooking competitions, meetings with the councillor? Though they lead very busy lives in Washington, the Clintons attend the Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua town where they lived.