Platonic Friendships in the Indian Spotlight

Rings are fragile. I learned that when Kartik squeezed my hand tightly, causing my ring to snap. Well, they are fragile when bought from the seller sitting on the street with his jewellery sets spread on tarpaulin sheets. Yet, that was where I continued to purchase them.

My schooling comprised many experiences, but friendship with boys was not on the list. When I moved to college, there were three male students to every female. With socio-cultural identities from all over the Indian subcontinent at my institution, I found it hard to find girls with similar wavelengths but managed to find a few male friends.

As I lived away from home, questions and feelings formed an overwhelming web in my mind whenever I tried navigating relationships with the people around me. Having had mostly female friends until then, I would often find it difficult to articulate certain situations to my male friends, especially when it required a sensitive overview.

Kartik was a strange case I encountered while traveling during a college break. Like most of the others, I thought we’d remain friends on a cordial basis.

The word ‘break-up’ finds its way into popular culture like bad smell making its way through the air. I ended a relationship with a boy that year, but it didn’t end well. It soon became every third person’s concern as the news spread in the small college environment we lived in. I began to constantly doubt myself as the comments began to pile up.

Also read: The Day We Walked to Saffy’s

It was sometime then that Kartik began talking to me. As we conversed, we went across the mountain slopes just like we had the day we met, studying out relationships with others and the self.

Kartik and I were the same fruits that grew in different trees. I had studied in a private school that filtered its students by economic status; he passed his childhood in a government school. He was proficient in Malayalam, and since we came from different states, we had English as our sole medium of communication – this topic would soon see heated debates, given our varied outlook towards the language popularised by our colonisers.

I imagined that he would be the last person to understand my side of the story, as he had had his heart broken before. But he spoke, describing his time during the cycle of dating, opinionated social circles, and why we take roads that lead us to hate. Sometimes, we witnessed angry walk-offs and tea left un-sipped sitting in cups.

Kartik and I wouldn’t have clicked if we met through the usual friend-forming scenarios. For starters, we had totally different circles in college. Both of us were passionate about voicing our opinions, and our vehemence led us to intense fights. He maintained an intimate relationship with his phone, his most interesting conversations coming from his fingers. His larynx rarely did the job, in contrast to the larynx of the vocalist in me. He was talent turned to laziness, choosing to direct his intellect in ways other than towards his grades. Holidays saw us return to different homes. He slept listening to the sea, and I slept atop an 18-storeyed concrete building. Even today, there’s nothing similar in our material interests.

Once, he pointed out a period stain on my pants. As I began to awkwardly adjust my clothing, hoping nobody else had noticed, he pulled off his sweater, three sizes too large, and handed it to me to drape over myself. Periods weren’t a mystical force that floated somewhere in the cosmos. And it didn’t stop at understanding the very act of menstruation. He’d listen to me talk about premenstrual syndrome (PMS), cramps and everything else. This quickly became a tradition I followed with other male friends.

Also read: Your Love is Not My Love, My Love is Not Your Love

Now, to address the elephant in the room: it was often difficult for people around to digest that we were just friends. Hence, we were teased a lot.

We are all conditioned to think that way throughout our schooling. Many teachers too would call out a girl and boy frequently spending time together. Naturally, the system doesn’t change suddenly in college. But what’s sadder is the huge prevalence of Indian opposite sex friendships that do not receive adequate representation in mainstream culture – be it movies, books, videos or songs. It’s either romantic or the male is depicted as being gay.

I’ve often noticed overcompensation in remarks by male friends, who use the popular phrase, “She’s like a sister, yaar!”

Kartik avoided these clichés. He’d speak to me about the night he’d spent with the new girl. I’d be his go-to whenever he’d question his decisions, but our choices were in a strict no-judgement zone. When Kartik graduated, we stayed in touch sporadically. He’d never say he missed hanging out. He was dead honest in that way. He’d pick up the phone and bring up the most unrelated incidents.

Kartik may seem like my advisor, but he advised in a way that didn’t change the balance in our dynamic. I have heard him call himself many things, but he never breathed the word feminist. I suppose that’s what made its meaning richer.

Rings are no longer fragile. At least, not the ones I selected for his soon-to-be wife. A ring from the circle of life. We’re entering our second decade of the millennium, but most TV series, and commercials playing in between continue to have a jarring emphasis on outdated notions of happy endings. They nudge their characters towards romantic sidelines, often discarding friendship possibilities as satisfying, as enough.

Adam and Eve have long left us and so have Romeo and Juliet. Maybe it’s time we address the friends in creaking swings that befriend evening winds, instead of constantly varnishing lovemaking bedsteads.

Spatika Jayaram is a fourth year student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, pursuing an Integrated Master’s in biology. She is also a contributor at Feminism in India, and Delhi Poetry Slam, and a senior editor of her institute magazine.

Featured image credit: Ricardo Moura/Unsplash