Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/8/16 5:24 AM

Feature: Unlikely Friendships

You two are friends? Really?

Go on, admit it. Somewhere in your list of ‘closer than this’ friends, in the ‘inner circle’ or on its fringe, is this person who is really, really, really not like you, not one bit. 

You don’t share the same tastes; you are on different pages when it comes to politics, films or the latest trend in clothes. Just when you begin one of your pet diatribes, she sticks her newly painted nails in your face.

“Look!” she says. “Isn’t this electric blue colour simply stunning?” You are stunned into silence and not for the first time either. However, not for a moment will you think of rolling your eyes. Never. Because she is a good friend. Because electric blue nail polish notwithstanding, she has your back at all times. Because electric blue nail polish is what precisely attracted you to her in the first place…sunset orange hair colour, actually. And because you know you are friends for life.

This is the tip of the ‘unlikely pals’ iceberg. Look around you and you will find many versions of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. These are people you would hesitate to introduce to each other. However, someone, somewhere did introduce them a while ago and now they are the best of friends.

Different but together

It’s the pearl necklace principle. You know, the necklace wherein each pearl is of a different size and lustre, yet together they make such a beautiful piece of jewellery.

Talking about his roommate, Bala says, “We’ve been through some hair-raising times together from our engineering college days. You could search all of Bengaluru and you wouldn’t find anyone less like me than Mathew. The guy never ever takes anything in life seriously. Life is just one big joke to him. His attitude sometimes irritates me but what the hell man, he’s a character. A character I’m proud to call friend.”

And there you have it, the base root of unlikely friendships: the novelty factor. It’s the fact that these friends provide a peek into another kind of life. Says Anjali, “Such friends invariably exist in a non-judgmental space. You take them for what they are, they take you for what you are.”

“I thrive on such friendships,” shares Suryakala. “I make them all the time, without any expectations, just acting on a sudden spark of interest. Nine times out of 10, it deepens into a lasting friendship, this instant connection with near strangers. We make time to meet and connect, to catch up with each others’ lives. And soon, the years have passed and we have remained good friends.”

Aysha concurs. “It’s a wonderful feeling, being friends with people you didn’t think you would ever click with. You don’t have to fall into the old patterns of sharing confidences, back-biting, shoring up someone’s self-esteem here, consoling someone else there. These are people who bring a fresh insight into your life.”

Kalyani takes up the fresh insight theme, saying, “My ‘unlikely friend’ and I have known each other for almost a decade now. I’m so amused at what he holds important in his life, his value system is so radically different from mine. As for him, he can’t believe you can just chill with a girl without putting on the routine show to impress her. But, we have a lot of fun together.”

This is the deal: you cannot find everything you are looking for in just one or two friends, so it pays to have as many friends as possible. Work buddies, sport buddies, drinking buddies, movie-watching buddies, laugh buddies, commute buddies, trek buddies, complain buddies, Pokemon Go buddies, the neighbour buddy, that valuable friend who looks out for you in a way close friends might not be able to.

Of this last genre, Noureen says she has become friends with a Scottish neighbour of her son. “We Skype with each other, we chat and now it’s no longer a case of her being my son’s neighbour, we are good friends.”

Of soul satisfaction

Do friends mean different things at different stages of life? Invariably, yes. After the giddy era of shared, bordering-on-illicit, pleasures have passed, friendship settles into a quiet, steadily beating organism that feeds on contentment and near-nil expectations. Friends meet after years apart and pick up the threads effortlessly. Says Ajay, “Our gang has now scattered all over the globe. We rarely get to meet but when that blue moon occasion rolls around, all of us are back in the old groove, snug as the proverbial bugs in a rug, and thrilled to bits at being together again.”

Male friendships being circumscribed by societal mores, it could come across as flip and fun, all hearty backslapping and shared jokes, on and off-colour. This, of course, does make for less intimate friendships but in no way shorter-lived relationships.

Rahul explains, “The dynamics may be different but guys, too, thrive on sustaining friendships that we have forged over the years. It’s comforting to hang with people who don’t give a damn about you being COO, driving a Merc, holidaying in Bali. To them you are the guy who always managed to flub the easiest math problem.”

In some cases, as the years go on, some friendships fall by the wayside. This in no way means they were not strong or deep enough back in the day. It just means that the relationship has fallen prey to obstacles of expectations, changed circumstances, geographical and emotional distances and sometimes, sheer boredom. The friends move on, the friendship fades.

Sometimes, friendships that are forged on mutual emergency needs, as when two people get together to fight the odds against them, in the form of school bullies, bosses from hell or being dumped at the same time by their respective loves, don’t last the distance. After life settles, the common bond stretches and things become awkward. Just how long can they go on referencing a past, which now is definitely the past?

Conversely, there are friendships forged in childhood, which go on and on. Interests have changed, the people themselves have changed but the relationship is a habit too old and too comfortable to break. It is based on affection, trust, emotional sustenance. Even if the day-to-day lives of these friends have changed, even if they no longer have share common interests, the bedrock bonds stay strong.

However, well-cemented friendships, likely or unlikely, all share one common denominator: a commitment to the friendship. It’s a two-way traffic. We feel that way about our friends and they feel that way about us. Basically, it’s about soul satisfaction. And so, unlikely friendships thrive. One is vastly entertained by the other’s high jinks. One seeks knowledge in neat capsules from the other. And someone feels needed.

For some, it’s just an age-old habit that is firmly moving in its own groove and feels good. As someone rightly said, “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you haven’t learned anything.”

Happy Friendship Day!

 This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 6 Aug 2016. 

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Sheila Kumar • August 8, 2016

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