The other side of the fence

 If you grew up in a suburb and played cricket or any game within the neighborhood, then you must be aware of the monster. I speak, of course, of the fat neighborhood aunty or the scowling old uncle who will threaten and curse you to eternal damnation if the cricket ball ever fell in their garden patch. You remember, of course, that the garden was not a Mughal garden. Or an extensive farm of epic proportions. It was, in fact, just a small 6-foot by 6-foot patch of land, neatly divided into four little squares. How on earth someone would cram so many plants into that space was a wonder by itself. My friends would tell me horror stories of this aunty who cuts up tennis balls in front of the children, just to make them realize that they should take the game elsewhere. Or that crazy half-naked uncle who caught hold of little Chintu sneaking in to get the ball, and held him hostage for an hour (even threatened to call the police). Yeah - it was ugly.

 As a grown up person (at least I'd like to think so), there are a few realizations I have had. I am going to draw the comparison between the only two countries where I have lived long enough to observe life styles and culture - the USA and India. So then first of all, why did this happen? Why is this such a common, shared experience? Two concepts: population density and urban planning.

 Think of population density thus: it is not just the raw and absolute number of people who live in a country, but the number of people per square kilometer in every major metropolitan area + the suburbs. When I grew up, just the sheer number of kids competing for a tiny fraction of land or a park was so huge - no wonder cricket balls end up in gardens and other such places. I don't think the situation has improved much today. In the suburbs of the USA where I live, I see almost empty park benches, enough number of playgrounds and open establishments where a small team of kids and their parents can spend a weekend afternoon enjoying the sunshine and not worry about cricket (or baseball) balls ending up in people's gardens.

 Also, a lot of suburbs in the USA are much better planned. Someone thought of reserving an area for parks for kids, what the traffic to/from this park would look like, where people would park their cars and where the toilets should be. I have lived in planned towns and cities in India, as well as places where the city's routes can only be described as chaos. Hands down, the more planned a city was, the lesser the number of such cricket ball vs. garden troll conflicts arose. If there is a single spot at the end of some road where kids can play, then that is where kids will be. If your garden happens to be right next to that end of the road, then it is inevitable that the cricket ball will land in your garden!

 Finally, let's come to the title of this blog post: "The other side of the fence". You would have noticed that I have associated certain words and phrases with the house and garden owners: monster; fat aunty; scowling old uncle; horror story; half-naked uncle who held a little kid hostage. This is pure evil, right? Well, now that I have a house and a garden of my own, I don't want to think of myself as an evil person. However, I do see why a ball that lands in the middle of a garden patch can trigger a fight-or-flight response. You see, the plants are as good as one's children: I nurture them, watch them grow, care for them. It is very cruel to imagine that a cricket ball just happened to land in my little corner of the world and smashed through some plants in 3 seconds what took me 3 months to grow.

 So what is the solution to the problem? How would the kids and garden owners coexist? The answer is empathy. The kids don't think twice about hitting a ball into the garden because they don't understand the feeling. One of the good things we were taught in my boarding school was to care of a plant on our own: one plant dedicated to and fully cared for one student. Invite those kids for some lemonade or Glucon-D one day. Give any three of them the responsibility to look after a plant. Tell them that they are in charge of the sapling. Watch the kids as they come in religiously, every day, to water that plant and take pictures and show it to their friends. Then one day when the same kid or his team is batting, and the ball comes tantalizingly short of length on the leg side, watch how the kid will check his gut instinct and avoid hitting the plant he is in charge of. You would save your patch of the garden, and the kid would have learned a little bit of compassion, empathy and self control. He would join you on the other side of the fence.

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