People Watching During Lockdown: Love, Joy And Drama On The Rooftops

Terraces are the new communal zones where people come together without breaking the rules

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu Published May 14, 2020 00:00:00 IST
People Watching During Lockdown: Love, Joy And Drama On The Rooftops View from the rooftop (Photo courtesy Sudhakar Prabhu)

I was tying the laces of my walking shoes when I heard yelling and the sounds of an argument. Curious, I ran to the terrace. Try as I might, I could see nobody on the roads around (fair enough, since we’re in the middle of a lockdown), but I still had no clue about the commotion. Suddenly, a loud ‘Howzzat!!’ made me look up and, sure enough, two houses away, I spotted a group of youngsters, who seemed to have created a version of terrace cricket, arguing away with an elderly man on the terrace next to theirs—their umpire!

We moved into a second-floor apartment that is now our home for 12 years. Lots of natural light and unfettered access to the roof were the two main reasons we loved the space. Our landlords never used the space and were happy to grant us access. It became a place for evening tricycle rides with my then two-year-old. The stone benches were perfect to perch on with a cup of chai. It’s where I take work calls, spend some quality time chatting with my husband, and the dance floor where I jived with my daughter in the rain for the first time. We have had parties and impromptu picnic lunches on this terrace and spent many a night, flat on our backs, stargazing.

When the lockdown was announced, we took to walking on the terrace each evening and now there was a lot to observe too. Just to our left, beyond the jacaranda tree, I spotted a middle-aged lady in a bright green nightdress walking and working up a sweat. Every once in a while, she would peep over the edge of the terrace and call out to someone. After observing this routine two days in a row, on day three, her partner finally joined her and it was fun to watch her egg him on to match her pace.

Two buildings to this couple’s right, at precisely 5.30 p.m., a family with two young teens arrive on their terrace. Armed with a stack of board games, they sit on two mattresses and start playing. The loud laughs, the challenges to a move, the family each taking sides against the other was a sight that could warm anyone’s heart. How often do we see teens enjoying a board game with their parents?

One day, I turned my sight to the other side of our building. On a terrace, two storeys below us, I spotted a teenaged girl photographing a bird’s nest between the pots on their terrace garden. Watching her tiptoe around the nest made me want to shush the gang of kids on an adjacent terrace raucously setting up for a birthday party. Later that evening, the party lights brightened quite a bit of the neighbourhood. For the first time since that family’s housewarming event more than a year ago did I see them all enjoy their terrace space.

rooftop_051320085503.pngA scene from the author's rooftop (Photo courtesy: Sudhakar Prabhu)

A third side to our building proved to be quieter, but no less absorbing. A blossoming love story was playing out on two parallel terraces. It took a few days for me to figure it out—to the casual eye these were simply two people chatting on their phones. But a closer look suggested they were speaking to each other—that shy gaze, the giggles, the intermittent eye contact and long-distance gestures, and the simultaneous disconnecting of phones.

In a way, with all this recent activity, I have lost my own private space. But, when I wake up each morning now, and hear the jingle of anklets, as my landlord’s grandchild runs across the terrace gurgling with pleasure, I am glad the lockdown has helped more people discover the joys of their rooftop spaces—where both quiet reflection and boisterous delight can find room to grow.

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