Thou Shalt Not…Your Neighbour!



It is extremely important to maintain cordial relations with your neighbour, because they are the nearest ones in times of emergency or on any need. However, the actual conduct of such relationships belies common wisdom and expectations: fundamentals of the working of a human mind normally determining this conduct—if we concentrate on the modern age in particular. It’s a more or less confirmed fact of the human mind that one starts disliking a thing once s/he has it or owns it, and so always looks out for things of others. If one is living with the neighbour in flats of exact architectural details one may like the furniture arranged in the neighbour’s flat much more; if one’s spouse dare not speak out how more handsome or beautiful the neighbour’s spouse is s/he may expertly deviate to the apparels used, and how more attractive those are than theirs; those wafts of fragrance of cooked food from the neighbour’s kitchen would obviously make one’s mouth water in open detriment to the food cooked in one’s own kitchen; and so on.

That it is very wrong to either envy or to covet your neighbour has been proved if we take it in a historical perspective. At least one of the Ten Commandments tells you:
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
--Exodus 20:17”
Therefore, ‘don’t envy thy neighbour’ is fully justified, because any of the impulses of the human mind vis-a-vis a neighbour can lead to petty quarrels on a daily basis or even a long-term enmity resulting in a polluted environment that is bound to impact your life adversely.

However, in the modern context, and with diplomatic ramifications, things can be different and tricky. At the macro level we can think of many nations having neighbourly disputes and tension ranging over decades or even centuries. For this writer’s convenience the eternally fighting neighbours—India and Pakistan—can be adhered to here.

For some stakeholders in India there has been a substantial amount of historical evidence that seems to suggest that Pakistan does envy India—be it India’s development or India’s technological progress & innovations or its vibrant democracy or its diverse yet peaceful atmosphere. Since the Partition and the Independence in 1947 Pakistan has been seen as a chronic victim of its ‘envy’ factor: the wars and skirmishes, the border disputes and violations do justify this. This is most unfortunate that Pakistan refuses to learn from the lessons imparted through the decades, and just to carry out enmity, calling a day a night if India prefers calling a day a day, the country has done more harm to itself than its neighbour. The scenario is, of course, getting more and more complex in regard to international alignments and interests. Now, what about India, how is it executing its neighbourly duties?

India has been trying to be a perfect and tolerant neighbour, often putting the emphasis on peace and on the dialogue process, and at other times meting out ‘punishment’ which is sought to be justified as inevitable in view of the neighbour’s excesses. Therefore, it can never be proved that India envies Pakistan; but there are some other ‘issues’ that go beyond our neighbourly behavioural pattern. In recent years India is seen to demonstrate a keener interest on the ‘punishment’ part rather than on maintaining the peace dialogue: some voices argue that this is because of the growth of nationalism taking place in India over the last few years. As it were, Pakistan is becoming sort of an external factor for India to thrive on in its bid to promote nationalism, jingoism and the like. For many other Indian stakeholders, prominently the pro-establishment print media & television news channels, the like-minded political parties and an intricately complicated matrix of other interests the word ‘Pakistan’ has become an existential slogan—they fear extinction without that. In this particular case we, in the spirit of history, can still vouch for ‘thou shalt not propagandize’ or ‘thou shalt  not make use of’ kind of neighbourly behaviour commandments.

At the micro level too, the modern sophistication has brought in its wake heavy roadblocks to our analysis. Let’s take an example of two neighbours living in identical flats, having all modern amenities and not suffering from any of the ‘envy-covet’ factors. The digital outlook notwithstanding, one of the neighbour families cannot help but fall prey to age-old traditions. They believe in offerings to the souls of ancestors, and loving all the animals as integral part of God too. So they keep on offering food scraps and feeding the crows, the dogs, the cats and the like round the clock on their balconies, inside their rooms and in the common passage outside. Obviously, this causes extreme disadvantage and irritation to the other family: the birds sailing into their balconies too in search of more; the animals lounging in the passage and down the staircase impairing thoroughfare; and whenever the neighbour is away from home those animals ambushing their front door—threatening to come in anytime the door has to be opened. Leaving out the ‘envy-covet’ factors as secondary, we cannot avoid but confront here a new factor ‘curse’. Yes, the hapless family can only indulge in angry curses, thrown silently at the other due to diplomatic reasons lest the relations get out of control. Therefore, armed as we are in the historical perspective, we can safely add one more commandment ‘thou shalt not curse’ here.

So we have seen, despite having the support of history, that the neighbourly behaviour syndrome is still fraught with many other dangers—lurking, secret and the unknown.

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