There is always a day marked in the calendar to celebrate an emotion, a sense of warmth shared amongst people who connect soulfully with one another. There can be difference of opinions, beliefs, faith, ethnicity, ideologies and cultures between friends, but the love and trust for each other keep things sailing. One is born with the desire of holding such beautiful bonds in their life, the simplicity and idea of belonging to a group you can call your own and share your life with.
Whenever I have looked at the calendar, celebrating Friendship Day, Valentine’s Day, Woman’s Day, festivals like Eid, Holi, Diwali, Pujas, etc., I am painfully reminded of the things I lack in my life, the simple happiness of ‘owing’ such attachments with friends and family. ‘Holding’ memories in my heart and living with the knowledge that I am ‘loved’ deeply. It is definitely externalizing the desire ‘to love’ and ‘be loved’ on the people we surround ourselves with; after all we are born with such humane emotions. ‘Good friends’ being the driving force of millions of people around the world, I struggled my entire life to find such meaningful friendship, ‘friends’ who will be my ultimate gang of goofy experiences, tearful confessions and sharing sad days with.
The classic story of growing up, being bullied in school and college for ‘not fitting in’, forcing myself to overlook the hurt and be cheerful, I did grow up without friends and the haunting feeling of loneliness. I was still full of confidence, self love and motivation; maybe I was young then, living with the dream of being an independent strong woman some day. As an adult, having experienced the atrocities of society, fighting and struggling with my mental health, I have lost that sense of believing in ‘one’s self worth’ and ‘the beauty of living for you’.
Now when I shift through my box of memories, it’s hard to point out such moments of friendships, given I don’t bond so easily or trust people with my sadness or life story as such. Frankly, people don’t have the interest to help you heal or be there for you. But surprisingly, even with such hard time, I did find people I can call my friends, each unique and soulful in their own way.
Mothers introduce the idea of world and beyond to us at a young age. Mothers become our first friends. It does hold true for me, given I was a shy kid, a late speaker struggling to talk in proper English in the midst of such confident students. My mom became the first person to hear about my days. Though I used to share very little, I did it sometime as a teenager; I shared a lot, now I can talk to her about everything. But mothers are simpler in nature with simple dreams for their daughters. It’s hard to understand a writer who is an outspoken woman, trying to be logical in the structured pattern of society. My nani with whom I spent my early childhood was a different kind of friend for me. So were my siblings. Each one has helped in shaping my psyche and intellect.
Can you call a pomegranate tree that your mother planted in the garden where you grew up seeing your foremothers pray and tell you stories on moonlit nights your friend? I do, when I am unable to find someone to talk to, someone who thinks like me or finds meaning in the simple things in life. I find solace in the pomegranate tree in my garden, it flowers the whole year but it never bears edible fruits. I identify with it as another woman who is trying to own herself, her body and her right of choosing for herself like me. The entire pandemic and communal tension, this tree helped me live my days in inspiration, helping me cope up with mixed emotions and write.
Friendship is about comforting one another; I did find a soulful bond with one of the stray cats ransacking my garden.
The yellow-white striped female cat, who used to give me company on most nights sitting near the stairs. I have struggled with sleep and stress disorders over the years, materialising into body aches, weakness, muscle loss, anxiety, depression, etc. Sometimes it felt that I was living in a place only known to those searching for the truth about life, the mad and daring ones. She let me pat her, she purred and sat silently with her kittens sometimes, while I stared blankly or read books to keep my mind at ease or wrote poems in a daze. I felt comforted to have her near me when the world slept and I struggled for a moment’s rest. What I found beautiful about her was that she owned herself completely, she didn’t need anyone as such but she chose herself. In a few years, though I didn’t see her often, one day I found her dead. Maybe someone poisoned her or she ate something bad. I still kind of miss her comforting purring when I sit alone 3 am at night, unable to sleep.
One day during lockdown, when I missed breathing in the fresh air, watching people walking on the streets of Kolkata, to cope up with the existential emptiness I live with as a poet-artist every day, I screamed with my mouth pressed hard inside the pillow. It did scare my mother. I had seen it in the movies. It’s never considered normal to take your anger or frustration out on anything. You as a ‘woman’ are taught to be ‘good’ and be the ‘epitome of sacrifice’, never talking back, never expressing your opinions, never being yourself. This was followed by anxiety, perspiration, and increased heartbeat, pacing up and down the little space inside my room, controlling my desire to break the door open and run away and crying profusely. I realised maybe it was a panic attack. I had read about emotions one experiences on certain given situations. As writers, we go through them in extreme measures, which can be overwhelming to experience at times.
I called for the first time in all these years a poet friend Jagari and another bestie whom I hardly get to meet but do share my problems with, Abhisek. I cried. I sat on the floor and kept crying. I kept repeating ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I kept telling them that I am unable to calm myself down, feeling that my head will burst open because of the pain. I had experienced this before but then, as always, I never used to talk about it, share this kind of internal pain with others.
They just listened, they still do when I don’t have the will to fight with my immediate society for my rights, when I can’t fight with the disappointments of life and when I can’t find any motivation to carry on further, and they always listen.
That day I realised maybe, I do have friends even if I don’t have them around to share happy memories, I can share my really bad days with them. Another friend Mrittika on my constant rant ‘what the hell am I doing with my life?’ will entertain my bohemian bucket list — sitting by the Hooghly River for hours in the evening, painting and listening to ghazals in the cafés of Kolkata, coffee hunting, shopping spree, movies, long drives, sunset walk on the twilight beach, day dreaming about traveling the world, job hunting, photoshoots, the problems of choosing to be a ‘single’ woman, poetry books and the idea of healing.
Maitreyee is a writer friend I met in Bangalore and, despite our age gap, we bond on the silliness of life and seriousness of poetry. For hours walking in maidan, sitting near Lake Sarobar, listening to goofy music and laughing. Maybe ‘happiness’ is being with your kind of people.
People don’t want to be friends with sad aka people with ‘negative’ emotions. They always want happy ones around them. I had made a pact with my friends that no matter what, we will lend our ears to each other’s problems. This is a test of friendship I found has helped me find my kind of people, those who live at the edge like me and don’t mind diving in it. Being an affectionate, bubbly, adventurous and all smiles kind of person, most friends disliked listening to my issues. Most of them loved dumping their ex-boyfriend, -girlfriend rants, career issues, family issues, etc, on me while ignoring my side of the story. So carefully, I have let such friends leave, who are judgmental, practicing prejudice, gossiping and others with not so pleasing habits, without any remorse or empathy for others state of mind.
Another dear friend who suffers from deep depression and suicidal tendencies has found respite in me now and then. We listen to each other irrespective of the weight of things. We laugh it off, all that we go through but we always find poetry and art to help us find our motivation to be more focused in life.
Post poetry events, some soulful poet friends gather, Jags, Amit, Ani, Niki, Namo and Mri, lassi on the roadside dhaba late night or coffee in a café with the next poetry evening plan is a must. Late night ghost-hunting, pakoras and chai in the stalls, noodles, auto rides, monsoons and lot of silliness later, at times it feels like a family, irrespective of our differences and opinions, we always wish each other well in life. Deep down I feel the impermanence of the world and the longing of permanence of friendship.
I am still afraid to call the people I bond with ‘friends’ since in life nothing is permanent, but I am trying to be courageous and living my life one day at a time, with the hope that someday I have a gang of friends sitting by the beach side, talking about ‘the mystery called life’ and stargazing.
(Shortlisted for Yuva Puraskar 2020, Sufia Khatoon is a multi-lingual performance poet, artist, literary translator and facilitator. She is the Co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets community Kolkata and the Editor of EKL Review. She was nominated in 100 Inspiring Indian Muslim Women from West Bengal by RBTC. She has authored Death in the Holy Month, shortlisted for Yuva Puraskar Sahitya Akademi 2020 and Ger-mi-na-tion.)