When I was growing up in Kolkata, there was this bunch of kids in the colony who used to play together in the nearby ground. One of them was a little older than the rest and was not very welcome to join the group, for reasons I don’t remember very well now. So one day he was watching the cricket teams being formed from the distance and sauntered into the ground when it was obvious that the teams were uneven and could do with one extra player. But neither team was willing to take him in. It fell upon a smooth talking chap – lets call him A – to get rid of him. A, coolly takes him by the shoulder and tells him – ‘Dude, know what? Everyone has some friends to play with and some friends to fight with. You are my fight friend, so go home now’. (সব্বার বুঝলি কিছু খেলার বন্ধু থাকে আর কিছু ঝগড়া করার বন্ধু থাকে। তো তুই হলি আমার ঝগড়া করার বন্ধু। তাই এবার বাড়ি যা।) Well, the episode sounds a little harsh now, especially coming from 13 year old kids. But it was not too bad then, when getting rid of a pesky kid was of utmost importance to maintain the equilibrium in the playground.

What reminded me of this episode was an article I saw yesterday in the TOI while gobbling down cereals. It was about the different kind of friends a woman “should” have. (They made it sound like those articles about the essential elements for one’s wardrobe or picnic basket.) The list includes the following and my summaries from the description:

1. Lifestyle buddy – A person with whom you would share much of your elementary lifestyle zones – grocery store, supermarket, child’s school.
2. Comfort blanket friend – A friend whom one has grown up with
3. 9-5 friend – A close friend at the workplace
4. All-weather friend – A later life version of the comfort blanket friend
5. Man-mate – Non-romantic close chum.

Probably most of us have friends whom we could identify in the roles above and into some more. But never have I thought of categorizing them so explicitly. I don’t have any siblings and most of my cousins are way too old to have been considered of any importance or coolness when I was of school going age. The feeling was mutual, although its a different story now. My funworld centered around my friends – from school and the neighbourhood. I never understood why some silly kids used to bawl at the school gate, wanting to go back home. duh! I lost touch with most of my friends (read ‘nearly all’) from my first school because we had to leave the town urgently due to a medical emergency wrt my mum and since we were planning to move bases anyways in a couple of months, I never went back. As luck would have it, my blog brought me back in touch with a couple of them and we are very much connected now. From second school onwards and up to my present workplace, I have always had one very close ‘comfort blanket friend’ (as per earlier description) to grow up with at each stage. These days they are across oceans, in different continents, and have perhaps not met me in half a decade. But we never require a ‘hello’ to start off a conversation. We have our own set of greetings and pounces that are considered good enough. We may not even be aware of the goings on in each other daily life, unlike earlier times. Yet the spontaneity persists in the relationship, which keeps the bond going on without any visible hiatus of time and distance.

And then came along the boys. Creatures from the unknown world. Somehow it wasn’t too difficult getting along with them either. Once the initial hiccups of figuring out civil interactions were overcome, their vulnerabilities were revealed too. Their career decisions, heartbreaks, vanities and uncertainties were no different from ours. As a result some more bonds were made. These created comfort zones, where insecurities could be shredded to bits. Each side revealed the others perspective about things that we encountered, which helped us understand how the other half of the population functioned. Also, this established that men and women can be ‘friends’. Friends who can love each other affectionately, without any trappings of a romantic relationship.

Every other day I come across some kind of a forwarded mail or blog or some other cotton candy fluff promoting the virtues of ‘true friendship’ in rhymed verses and 10 point lists. Probably it works for a lot of people. Personally, I believe its the honesty of intent, spontaneity of actions, and respect of personal space that go a long way to establish faith and affection between people who value each other as friends, and keep them in their thoughts.

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