Saturday, July 11, 2009

This thing called friendship

Friendship is a funny thing. It starts in the most casual of all encounters – eye contact, a shared smile, maybe a chance meeting, even a fight which ends before it can begin. Then it grows like a living thing, warm, beautiful, eccentric, demanding around a solid core of respect, commitment and love.

This thing called friendship needs more than one to grow. Sometimes it is born out of a group of three, maybe four, maybe more. It crosses all man-made boundaries of caste, colour, creed, time and geography. It is strong. It is permanent. It survives through years of separation. It leapfrogs across continents. Which is why when friends meet after years, even decades, threads are picked up smoothly just as if they had last seen each other only minutes before.

I’m gregarious. Always have been and hope always will be. I like people and generally people like me. I can strike up a conversation with anyone from any walk of life, which quality comes in handy in my line of work. Yet, despite the hundreds of acquaintances whose lives I have touched over the years, I can count only a small handful as my friends. Three of them go back more than 37 years. All three were from different colleges and we met randomly. The only thing we had in common was a love for playing hockey. What bound us was an irreverence for almost everything, including each other.

Each contributed his and her friends and relatives to the core group of four and we built up a sizeable crowd of 18 strong which guaranteed interesting extracurricular activities and a network that is now scattered all over the world. They annoy their children with stories of the fun times we had, which their children obviously do not.

The four of us were not some group of like minded soul-mates who were always on the same page. No indeed. There were fights, practical jokes that went awry, there were misunderstandings, days where all diplomatic ties were severed, but somehow all rage melted away and we were back together planning another caper.

Of the core group of four, one of us rose to great heights in an international airline, one opened an advertising agency and made a killing with her hobby of currency trading, the third and most impressive, steadfastly refused all opportunities for promotion in banking because if he were promoted he would be transferred out of Bombay and there would be no one to look after his mother. As for me, I still don’t know what I am doing, but at 55, I feel my best years lie ahead of me.

We keep in touch sporadically on birthdays and festivals, through telephone and email. When we speak to each other, time and distance dissolve into nothing. All worries and tensions that dog our everyday disappear and we are back in that time of crystal clarity when one felt no fear, when the world was our playground and we were invincible. That’s what this thing called friendship does. It melts away the irrelevant.

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