The enduring spirit of friendship lives on despite its changing nature
You heave a sigh of relief when your little tot comes home in the first week at kindergarten with a name on her lip and a sparkle in her eye as she describes her "best friend". You are glad, from your own experience, she has found someone she calls a friend, with whom she'll probably share her lunch box and play in the sand pit... maybe even keep in touch with as they grow older, go their own ways... and then you wonder what happened to this Savitha from school or that Rekha from your undergraduate days. There must be something about friends, or we all wouldn't have so many. Or wouldn't bother about so much. The kind of relationship you share with your friend may be very different from what your parents did with theirs or what your children will have. The intensity and mode of communication may be different. As with the reasons and circumstances that bring them about.While you can't make a blanket statement that people no longer value friendships and that we inhabit a vaguely misanthropic, impersonal world, one must admit that the very nature of this relationship has changed dramatically with time and what nourishes it may be a fine line between imperceptible spaces.
After all, your friend may be a fellow Orkutter across the globe or you might just be floating your innermost thoughts on a blog. (Apparently Indians are the third largest group of the around 23.8 million or so Orkutters comprising, 6.7 per cent. Brazilians are a whopping 67 per cent and Americans 13 per cent.)They may be guys you just hang out with, party with, go to the movies with, on whose shoulders you cry and whom you call first. It may be that bunch of guys you have an itch to go biking or trekking with every weekend or just sit down to drink with. It may be that one single person you talk to every day without fail, or a bunch whom you "meet up" and "catch up" over coffee or lunch once a week. It may be that someone who's seen you through your highs and lows and whose family you spend time with on the weekend. Someone you never fail to wish on a birthday or festival. With whom you touch base in cyberspace. There are no definitions to bind them in or leave them out of this web of relations.Bhavana S., a 36-year-old doctor, believes that as you grow older life gets more complex as so do relationships. "You don't interact with your friends with the same innocence that you had, say in school. We also had the pleasure of doing nothing with friends - perhaps just sitting quiet in the university's empty storm-water drain!" She keeps in touch with most friends over the telephone, which she believes is a rather disembodied medium, yet finds it better than email. "I can't imagine today's generation that makes friends online and chats on the Net. For someone from my generation it's impossible to understand this concept of having friends online. It's bizarre." Well, not so bizarre if you hark back on days of the "pen pal" - a term that's almost out of circulation, with the pen being rarely put to paper. The joy of waiting for a letter from a faceless person from across the seas telling you their stories was a thrill beyond any comparison. (Not to mention the exotic stamps that came with it!) While a prolonged correspondence for over years, opening out to the friend bit-by-bit, and letter-by-letter, was something else. Email has made mouse-pals of us all.For someone who had pen pals since she was 13, 49-year-old Saraswati now has a genuine email friend whose friendship will last a lifetime, she believes. A common interest in music and language brought them together, when a 39-year-old NRI read her post on a music website. "We hit it off because we had a cultural commonness. We both are from Kerala and settled outside. Ours is a personal relationship, but not an intimate one. There are some subjects I won't discuss with him... like American politics! It's been seven years now since we have been writing to each other but we have never met." Friends, as the saying goes, aren't "things you pull out in emergencies" though very often they are the last bastion of support in times of turmoil - that sounding board you can always count on. It is this trust and the "being there" that makes friendships last.Admittedly, time is one of the biggest constraints today, and you barely even know your neighbour's face. Going over to sip coffee and just unload your heart doesn't happen as easily. The compulsions of being very individualistic also bring with it the baggage that we rarely unpack and share. When everyone's busy and looking so into themselves, it's not wrong to say that good friends are also a little harder to come by.Malini Ravi, a 37-year-old scientist, has been in touch with her university friends - a close-knit group of 11 - for the last 16 years. What keeps them going and has bound them together is perhaps the fact that they were in the "rites of passage" phase together. Says Malini: "It was one of the most defining stages of my life and so I've been in touch with those friends since then. We have been through a lot together - relationships, marriage, kids, suicides, deaths and divorce." Five of the women from the group have grand plans to celebrate their 40th birthday on a cruise! "As kids we tend to stick to that one best friend, then in your teens you pick friends by the zodiac sign but as you grow older you need your own space and bond best with those who don't invade that space." BHUMIKA K.