Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Friendship in a Changing World

When on a lazy weekend or on a blessed holiday, I reminisce my days with friends in school and college in the 1960s and 70s, I can see the look of disbelief in my children’s eyes. “How it could be?” their eyes popping out, seem to be scanning my mind. If they quickly change tack, it’s because they’ve, over the years, seen my childhood friends visit us, live with us, and interact with us. But that fleeting moment of disbelief is etched in my mind.
Over time friendships change, mostly due to divides – material, social, geographical, professional – that crop up as years go by. Friends become acquaintances, acquaintances/colleagues friends. But acquaintance-colleague-friendship matrix is not exactly like childhood friendship and rarely adorns the garb of uninhibited friendship of younger days. Some say you don’t make friends in later life, the alchemy of schools and colleges aids and promote friendships; later-day friends are not the same as childhood friends – they verge on acquaintanceship and border on the private thoughts’ periphery.

Not surprisingly, inscrutable time – kills as much as it heals. It kills friendships through disuse, the distance – geographical, mental, and psycho-spatial – not exactly helping the cause. In a rapidly changing possessive individualistic world with upward social mobility the leitmotif of human existence – or so we think – friendships are churned and tossed over in a limitless sea of possibilities. Quickly these possibilities hammer out their inherent probabilities that are largely mutated by social status and pecking order, material riches and professional necessities. To still call them friendships, as some protagonists do, is a travesty of any earthy friendship. They are not friendships – so devoid are they of the naturalness and the everydayness that once attended their friendship when they’re young.

Sadly this churning smothers and put pays to most childhood friendships. If they motor along with cloying symbolism for reasons of past emotion and ancient love (Alas, long lost!), they hobble about with putative crutches. Only for a while. The crutches are addenda, never convenient, and least envisioned in the original, pristine friendship’s scheme of things that freely and unhesitatingly admitted friends into the private recesses of one’s mind. The synthesis of mutual ideas and preferences, likes and dislikes – personal and familial – was the bedrock on which friendship efflorescenced.

It would be presumptuous of me to put this down to human cunning and aspiration in the societal totem pole. As paths take different trajectories, friends with humble glow feel unwanted and lost, even staggeringly out of whack, in company of humans with supernova success who were once friends. The commonality of interest they once shared is in tatters what with the turbo-charged now grown fretful to share precious time with his unfortunate proletariat also-friend for no better reason than of past childhood baggage now appearing light years away. Inequality and varying successes in life coupled with hedonistic quotients – plus the mutual spouses’ emotion deficits – crowd out the past. It is not the best recipe for a sustained lifelong friendship. Friendships – never set in stone – start withering. The meetings with little-something-to-share become scarce, the telephone vibes rarer, and text messages go missing. Time the friendship-pooper has raised its ugly head. Success begets hubris that fillets the mind with razzmatazz and places no premium on human goodness; failure begets coyness and distancing, imprisoning thoughts and emotions in private preserve of one’s mind. Amid all this, either party forgets that life is infinitesimally finite.

How old friendships fall by the wayside and new – brand new ones – pretend to take shape! This is not to say that there are no exceptions. There indeed are, but often enfeebled. It takes two exceptional human beings differently placed in life to stay the steadfast friends of yore. Each, at every point of contact, need to forget his existential place society has blessed/condemned them with/to and find that sliver of common interest that can keep the friendship going. How long, you’ll ask, such contrived relationship can last? More often than not they peter away unless the successful and rich is a human full up with the punctilio of higher code and sensibility and takes that extra care amid the encircling demand on his time. Not unoften such relationships languish and perish. You really can’t blame either though this can’t be a calming fact for the less fortunate.

Today’s friendships are different, sculpted in schools and colleges, offices and workplaces, where the mutual families rarely figure. During our times families provided the bedrock, a benevolent eye and loving glue that made friends more than friends; they became a son or a daughter (or nephew or niece) in their friends’ homes. The respective families became another family for them where the doors were open anytime of the day and where they could put their feet up and relax.

I can still recall fondly how my mother would cook 4-5 extra lunches or dinners so that my friends visiting me joined the family for the repast. Friends stayed at each others places, not because it was late for them to get back home, but because it felt nice to have them for a few days. It was like a cousin come home visiting.

Today, my children’s world is different. Rarely is it eating at mutual homes; they prefer eating Mac-Foods at in-your-mouth food courts, among themselves, and not with friends’ families. When I hear them traffic in their stereotypes, I stop trying to explain to them the fetishes of their ways. The family glue that encompassed our friendships and provided loving avuncular touch is missing. Unlike ours, we know little of our children’s friends, let alone their families. I guess there’s more independence and more distancing than the inextricability and phrasing of our days. The world’s changed; the degree of informality of our times has morphed into a more formal frame informed with individual human calculus.

Human relationship is a manifestation of the time we live in. The feudal world has given way to a capitalist-industrial order with premium on time where laidback living is an anachronism. And amid this welter of intense competition – dog-eat-dog syndrome! – it would be facetious of me to valorize that my children’s friendship or the lingering friendship of my younger days would conjure visions of a world-and-time long past. If there are some, still trundling along with the intensity of its younger days and with the same languid silkiness of time-in-hand, go count your blessings. Because, unbeknownst to us, the odds today are stacked against such luxuries.

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