On Friendship Day, it rains in some plains; somewhere a flood inundates the personal boundaries; somewhere a person saves a stranger before the missile hits his defence. Some places observe the day as merely another one—a flip, night reclined, leaves falling on the streets, sweepers swinging their born tired besoms, dust hissing at the day-trippers busy with their cell phones.
I splash my eyes with some water.
Someone wise would have told me that in order to avoid the word ‘friend’, my subconscious gives every relationship some other name.
I nurse a deep-rooted phobia of losing a friend as if I will jinx the liaison with that word. “I have no friends,” I say without sighing. I have ‘parents’, ‘wife’, ‘daughter’, ‘colleagues’, or the partner in ‘let’s rush to the chiming bells of the ice cream cart on the long summer street’, ‘saline taste on the tongue after a lazy lovemaking’, ‘rain licked meadows’ and ‘grass eaten ankles’, or ‘listen, your loving pet has disintegrated the vase’.
I whimper that I need no friends.
The complex wherein I dwell is between anthropophobia and taijin kyofusho (according to the National Library of Medicine, US, ‘an intense fear that one’s body parts or functions displease, embarrass or are offensive to others.’). You won’t believe that I have an overwhelming number of such neighbours, and that most of them are cat owners. As if Socrates did not say that he would rather have a good friend than honour or the most delicious food an unbeliever will look at the concept in the ignis fatuus of faithlessness.
And still, my still life morphs itself into a portrait; a person saunters inside my sphere and perhaps offers a cup of java, and then he ushers other protagonists into the green room of my stage fright. The group plays for the gallery and gathers its groupies. The background laughter stalks my springtime. Time passes, and suddenly one day I find my shoulders bowed, my eyes fixed on my toes, the glistening road leading nowhere, and my group is a two-dime magic trick. I stare at the last of the streetlamp lighter raising his pole. The jaundiced light of one underdeveloped pathway echoes my murmuring, “Ides of March. I have no friends.”
My mother failed in her endeavour to forge me into a friend of my father, albeit I had camaraderie with my mother. Freud must be chuckling.
Perhaps no one can arrange a relationship. They can bridge two personalities, birth one possibility, and sometimes the toll is too steep for the persons crossing the bridge and also for the one who has built it. Of course, some arranged friendships stride ahead as if autumn afternoons come for them, and the monsoon pours only on the umbrella they carry together.
People deliberately cross the fences. People stumble into unfamiliar territory between themselves. Happy accidents occur in stark contrast to the incidents where the parties involved stand on their own islands as underneath the burning bridge a slow stream churns the gravel and grit.
Without a trigger warning, I shot into the life of my wife by a chance and callous friendship request on some social media platform. After the initial response, I told her that I cannot be a friend. We live in the age of pyar dosti hai (love is friendship) versus opposite sexes cannot stay friends. I limped across the minefields of failed relationships. She fumbled in some friend zones. My greasy fingers texted a lot before we actually spoke. Her emojis seemed honest and stuck to the intended emotions they should convey in the first place. My texts to my wife had a baritone and all the left hands of a person passive-aggressive and non-cosmopolitan. Those should be kept hidden in a cocktail party, denied in a talk show, and yet the woman of my life responded with blasé positivity. My texts were songs of a freed caged bird. Her texts brushed the chimes of freedom flashing. The juxtaposition fits perfectly in the narrative. We avoided the word after she understood my phobia. If I may refer Wing and Jeffery, I shall say, friends, assist an individual to institute healthy behaviours in his/her own life. We called it marriage even ahead of our wedding. We lived our sins and loved our arguments. Further analysis may prove that had we named it ‘friendship’ we might have sabotaged our togetherness. Pleasure, reciprocity, commitment, respect, and voluntariness are there in that form of relationship consummating the elements of a friendship as suggested by Suzanne Degges-White and other psychiatrists.
Every element mentioned above has varied continuance. Towards the end, my father was an old man murmuring, “All my friends died; all my friends are shes.” There is no statutory warning that ‘friendship is addictive’. The father as a young man homed little; his life was with his friends. Did the pandemic steal all that? Everything comes with an expiry date.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad verdicts—a palpable connection exists between the system of social support and the longevity, mental and physical vigour across one’s lifespan. My father walked his death ever since 2019, slept bracing it; his friends had lost the specific features of their faces and figures; they were the air my father breathed—a compound of several gases.
(This appeared in the print edition as "An U.N.B.E.L.I.E.V.E.R. Among Friends")