When I was growing up, a bunch of well-meaning, ill-informed aunties (and a couple of ill-meaning, ill-informed yay sayers) chimed in to heap mounds of knowledge on my head. Amongst the remember-remember-coconut-oil-forever and the here’s-what-keya-seth’s-latest-has-to-say-about-your-nose-pimples, were these golden words: “Never trust a female friend. They’ll coo and croon, and when you’ve juuust about let your guard down, they’ll stab you right in the back”. Of course, there were many variations to this speech over the years, often performed with theatrics such as actually brandishing an imaginary knife in the air – but I got the gist.
“But, Are You Really Friends?”
I must have pocketed away that information into some far-flung compartment of my brain, never to be accessed again. Until the grown-up years when I heard them everywhere again. The golden words. Except that these weren’t explicitly spelt out by aunties to be dismissed as so much childhood slush; this was far more insidious. These were couched in sparkling jewellery ads where wives compared diamond pendants and smirked in satisfaction at ‘having snagged the bigger one’. They were sold to you by ‘omission’, every time you cheered on a boy posse in a coming-of-age movie, knowing that you didn’t truly relate because women posses worked differently and that no one put a lot of money into that.
They were also normalised every time a Karan Johar or an equally well-touted celebrity reporter tittered and tsk-tsked as they asked, “But are you really friends?” This, usually directed at a pair of leading female stars, who look veritably uncomfortable each time they begin with a – “But we are!” – only to burrow down and qualify that statement with a – “Well, we’re not the best of friends…”
Why does a Deepika or an Anushka need to qualify that each time? Heck, why do they get asked it at all – when the Khan boys and the Kapoor lads can go gallivanting into the sunset and make merry of their beer nights and Dil Chahta Hai-esque camaraderie?
I am writing, therefore, to all those aunties, diamond disasters – and Karan Johar – to let them know, that they are wrong. You are wrong. You are wrong if you think you can influence generations of young and old women with this completely archaic idea – and believe, like fools, that it will stick.
Between a Friendship and a Relationship
A little over a year ago, I was going through what was possibly the most excruciating and long-drawn-out breakup of my life. I’d gone through the usual – the nights filled with alcohol (and the mornings ridden with hangovers and bathtub tears), the book readings and picking up of senseless hobbies – and the obsessive need to keep talking and talking in circles to drown out the occasional stray thought that threatened to undo all the work. I’d been through more than my share of breakups in college, and they’d always seemed easier after a point so I puzzled over what was different this time. Sure, I was older so perhaps this hit on some deeper level that I’d developed over the years – but this heartbreak had a vital ingredient missing. My girlfriends. Not many of this holy lot had stuck around in the city after college, so there had been no one to physically reach out to.
And all at once, it made sense. I knew what I was missing. What was making a hard time that much harder. I called up an old voice. We’d barely spoken for two minutes exchanging unnecessary platitudes about common friends, till I broke down. The conversation lasted a good couple of hours. By the end of it, a part of me had been washed over by a good, kind hand.
Over the years, it has gotten more and more apparent to me how vital girlfriends are. It was during the aformentioned breakup that I fell out with an old friend. I remember picking up the phone months later when we started to speak again. “It wasn’t him that hurt me as much as you,” I caught myself saying – realising with a thudding sensation that I meant it.
Because I do mean it. And (most) women do. Throughout our teen and adult lives, (most) women are told that they will one day find the person who is supposed to ‘complete’ her. He will break a cacatclysmic pattern of romantic also-rans and be the be-all and end-all of your existence. Sure, this ain’t inherently anti-feminist in that many young men too are fed the 'forever’ angle in differently packaged lingo. But in the midst of all the excited hoopla about a new relationship, who speaks for the women who hold your hand (and often your head after one too many tequilas)?
For many women, friends are what get us through. In and out of relationships/marriages, navigating the pitfalls of a bad job, risking a career move, venturing into a new city, fighting with the parents, picking up the pieces and starting all over again. There are no long-walks-down-the-aisle to betrothe you to your BFF, no shining moment under a canopy as a thousand approving eyes watch and appalud.
But when you’ve been put back together into working condition after life has happened, you realise that maybe, there should be.