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All Strangers: a typical reflection on urban life

A couple of days ago, I read on Kuensel about how a Bhutanese official working at the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand as Accountant was accidentally electrocuted while attempting to cross over the fence inside the residential area near the Embassy, but until yesterday, I never knew that he was my neighbor living just across the street here in Thimphu. I was shocked when my wife told me this after hearing the news from other neighbors who had gone to attend his cremation yesterday. Although I am not personally familiar with them, my wife knows his wife very well and she told me that she had met her with her daughter just last Sunday in the vegetable market. My wife says his wife is a very frank and friendly person and that she talks to her wherever she meets her. The deceased had left for Bangkok, Thailand in January this year and that his family was planning to join him soon. It seems they had even bought air tickets during this summer vacation to go to see him in Bangkok, but it’s very sad that their dream could not materialize. Life is just like a dream: you won’t know when you would wake up to reality.

But what is equally sad is that life in urban centers often seems to be moving in isolation. I think we are moving towards an individualistic society like in the West. We know what is happening around the globe without any difficulty but it would be hard for us to notice even if someone dies just next door. In the village, we live collectively and even the smallest problem would be enough to unite the entire community together in thoughts and actions. But in urban centers, these social values are fast breaking down. Many of us don’t even know who is living next door or what kind of job they do. We hardly talk to our neighbors even when we meet them on the way, forget about visiting each other’s houses and socializing with each other. We always have some excuses that we are always busy and that we don’t have time to interact with our neighbors and their children in the neighborhood.

When people from the village come to visit us, they always say that they find city life very strange and suffocating. My wife often talks about a man in her village who makes fun of people living in towns for always closing the doors even during the day and staying indoors. In the village, people never close their doors during the day time because there is a strong sense of trust between the people and everyone respects it. So when they come to towns and find people living in the house with their doors always closed, they seem to feel uncomfortable and strange. But we cannot afford to keep our doors open in the towns mainly because we don’t have trust among the people. We always have some kind of fear that somebody might take advantage of us and loot us. There is a constant sense of insecurity. But this can never be a justification for leaving the neighbors aside from our daily social life. I don’t know what is holding us back from socializing with each other in the neighborhood. Although we manage to talk to each other when we meet on the way, most of us are not able to build a trusting relationship with each other that would facilitate closer interaction and positive engagement. I feel this is a very sad aspect of our urban life. It is ironical that we would easily know if a celebrity on the other side of the globe even suffers from diarrhea, but we would hardly know what is going on just next door. Even if somebody gets looted or murdered in the next apartment, it would be difficult for us to notice it, forget about responding to the situation on time. I don’t know what kind of society we are heading to if we continue to live such an isolated life in the towns as we are doing today. I wish if all the people bring with them the same social values that unite them in the village when they migrate to towns so that we would enjoy the same kind of social life in urban centers as well.

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