I can probably count the number of close, trusted friends I have had in my life, on two hands. Although small in number, their influence on me has been huge, immeasurable. My first friend was that boy, the son of some close family friends, then my cousins. Later, came the girl next door, the girls at a new school who accepted me for all my awkward teenaged confidence, frizzy hair and brace bound teeth. Then came the housemates, my fellow students who would stay up late into the night discussing Satre and Shakespeare in the same breath. We discussed the virtues of Wolfe, De Beauvoir and the Second Sex in one sitting. My opinions were being formed about life and my friends were there through every new experience I was having. Later still, came the colleagues, sisters-in-arms; we had the same fears, the same foes and we reveled in same successes and joys. Looking back now, I was extremely lucky to meet such a talented, genuine group of people who allowed me the privilege of calling them my friends.
I am fortunate, in that my husband is my best friend, I tell him everything, share my dreams and express my doubts. He reassures me and inevitably he always has an opinion that usually puts me in my place! That’s why I missed my girlfriends. They do all of the above but they also know when to just keep quiet and ride the storm out with you. They’re usually there with a box of tissues and a tub of ice cream, ready to convince you again, of your own self worth, to find again those reasons to smile, and then you realise yourself that you really were just ‘sweating the small stuff’, as they say, and ‘it’s all small stuff!’
Coming to Kolkata, I missed my female buddies. My Sunday morning coffee chats, the late afternoon moans in an empty classroom, and the late evening movie fests with wine and endless giggling at something someone said. Man! I miss my girls!
In our temporary flat, in Eastern High, my days were punctuated and dictated by my son’s naps, snacks and meals. One small, but integral part of our routine was to go down to the dusty, rusty, sad play area that would suddenly come to life in the evening, with the throng of children, mothers and ayahs, happy for some light relief from the indoors. January/February time is actually quite pleasant; it is classed as spring with blossom on the trees and a breeze playing in the air. The boys are picking teams, playing football or cricket, the girls are linked, arm in arm, head to head, sharing secrets and dreams, and the toddlers are being pushed on a swing, to and fro to the whim of a caregiver. My daughter and I would look on, too timid to make friends, a little ashamed of our English accents; weighing up possible conversation starters; finally giving up and happy to just entertain my son and watch proudly and amused as he distrupted the big boys’ mini cricket matches by stealing the ball and asking for the bat. But my daughter needed more and until we found a school here, there was nothing much I could do for her. I wish I could have set a better example. I did try! I spoke to a few of the mothers, asked the obligatory, “oh, so how old is your son/daughter?” But there was a lack of commitment on either side. I think they saw me as reserved and aloof, and I saw them babbling away in their perfect Hindi, flawless Bengali as a world apart. They wrapped their children up in hand knitted monkey caps and thick woolen jumpers, whereas my children were running around in shorts and t-shirts.
But one day, the wind changed, bringing with it new and exciting possibilities. Every Monday and Thursday, around 4.30 in the afternoon, we started to notice a chubby little girl, with fair skin and Assamese eyes, get out of a shiny white Toyota. She carried with her a pair of roller skates and she would seat herself on the kerb watching the roller skating lesson in progress. She would watch wistfully as the skaters flew passed like swans, utterly unattainable and graceful. I never saw her mother, I think she stayed in the car, but it didn’t matter. My daughter dug up some courage from deep inside her and approached the girl. It started with a smile and then a hello and soon they were the best of friends, using the slide as the edge of a cliff or the side of a mountain. They were rescuing each other, stretching out their arms and shrieking, ‘hold on! I’ll save you!”
I too made my first friend, that very same week. My son was the ice breaker and we bonded over our children. I haven’t seen her in a while as she left Kolkata to go to cooler climes for the summer. When she returns, I will look forward to her warm hospitality and her ready smile.
A few months later, we moved away from Eastern High and moved to Hiland Park. The move coincided with my daughter starting at her new school. I got to know a couple of the mothers and they have remained a great source of support. They are extremely talented people who have been generous enough to give me their time and hospitality. One of these mothers was instrumental in me continuing with this blog. Her praise and encouragement have meant that I have gained a new perspective of myself, when I was struggling to gain a foothold on my identity. And isn’t that what friends do for each other? Support and respect go a long way in cementing a friendship.
Another friend, a neighbour, has proven to be a rock in the midst of these turbulent times of continual adjustment! She has helped me through a few personal crises already, keeping her integrity intact. She has listened attentively, waited until I have finished ranting and then delivered a wise, insightful verdict. At first glance, my friend is slightly standoffish (I hope she’ll forgive me for saying) She has a slim, athletic build, large penetrative eyes and a mouth that she only uses for saying something important. I tend to listen when she speaks. She is warm hearted and ready to help in an instant. I’m not sure what I offer to the friendship, but I hope she knows that I will be there in a heartbeat, when the need arises.
We are, ultimately, products of our environment. Our friends form a large part of that environment and apart from our parents they are probably the biggest influence in our lives. I have learnt so much from each of my friends. I do not use that term lightly. I am not referring to ‘Facebook friends’ but real friends who know you at your worst and your best. Some of them have drifted away, a few of them are still there, enduring through time and space. Without them, perhaps I would not be who I am.
Who are you, then? Perhaps you may want to share how your friends have shaped your life? I know mine have simply, yet inexplicably, made it richer.