I was 11 in 2010, just to provide context to the period I refer to. We did not have social media while we were growing up – only the cool kids in class had access to such sites, that too in their senior years. Instagram was a year old, and Reels, TikTok and Musically were still far away on the horizon. We did have something called Dubsmash though.
So, the major influence of pop culture on us was via Bollywood. We shipped Geet, Desi Girl and Shanaya – unlike today’s generation, who ship Fleabag, Eleven or Maeve.
Growing up in the shadow of mainstream Bollywood, I was convinced that stereotypical heterosexual relationships are what is sacrosanct for our generation. The characters could move mountains, wait for an eternity and run through airports just to be united with their ‘ranjha’ or lover. This consistent style of storytelling, however, forgot to teach us about friendships. One could fairly argue that there was Rang De Basanti, Dil Chahta Hai, 3 idiots, Jaane Tu ya Jaane Na, and other movies that beautifully portrayed the virtue of friendship. They all have their own set of flaws too, of course. Nevertheless, were a handful of movies amidst an ocean of conventional love stories enough to convince and introduce an entire generation of youth to the nuances of friendship? I guess, No.
I am angry that no one spoke enough about how friends can break your heart too, perhaps in ways worse than lovers can. I am angry I wasn’t asked to be prepared for it. I am angry no one taught us the importance of friendships – why being a friend is not so easy, how support is basic and not an achievement. I am angry we were not given elaborate resources to navigate the choices, the experiences, the types, of friends, of expectations, of what should be normalised. I am angry there weren’t enough conversations.
I personally took pride in the very fact that my elevated idea of friendship was truly manifested by my friends, they materialised the virtues that I’ve been wanting to promote until I actually decided to take off my rose-tinted glasses and identify the red flags.
I almost convinced myself that I am acutely narcissistic and that my loneliness was solely my responsibility to deal with, that in the 21st century everybody is lonely. I also convinced myself that even in my story, I should not aim to be the protagonist because this constant dilemma of care and conflict between my friends and me were just complications in my head, made out of the hunger to be at the centre of all kinds of conversations about me. I became unbelievably comfortable in my solitude.
As I evolve individually and get exposed to more and more people, read more books, I realise how much I have romanticised the least amount of effort a person can put in for me. This warped idea of making peace with ‘something better than nothing’ made me settle for individuals for whom I ripped myself apart to such an extent that I am now wounded. So, you see, friendships can be the epicentre of grand theatre too – a perfect potboiler of drama, fun, conflict, differences and reconcilement.
There’s so much of dialogue on romantic love around, seen through a binary lens, a lens that tries to keep friendships away from the messiness of romantic love, the screenplay of soft gazes and the tranquillity of long hugs. Only if there were vehement conversations about how being a good friend to someone must be a cardinal goal for the human race – an entire generation of lonely souls, forced to mature before age would have had a longer childhood, a brighter smile and a warmer heart.
When Nighat M. Gandhi, in her book Alternative Realities, wrote “All are alone and all are in company,” I finally felt heard. I finally got the courage to say it aloud to myself that I have made the wrong choices and the onus was on them to rectify and educate themselves about the core principles, ideologies and virtues of friendship and that being a friend was not easy at all.
Some days, when I appreciate my friends for their achievements and growths, I simultaneously get consumed in my thoughts:
Do they also feel the same about me?
“Of course, they do, they just don’t know how to articulate it, you’re the writer here, don’t expect too much,”
“You’re just overthinking, Support doesn’t have to be vocal, or visible, or consistent. Relationships don’t need symbiosis. The world celebrates the agony of unreciprocated love, you are the hero here, open Instagram, you are a stereotyped aesthetic.”
The voices in my head kept trying to persuade me until I decided to walk away from uncomfortable spaces, gracefully, silently.
As Ladybird says,
“We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved; we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed.”
But we are strong, we are vulnerable and are filled with love in abundance, and hopes so big. Our portion of shared grief will provide us with the solidarity we need. I see you; I hear you.
By choosing to talk about the importance of friendships, I am liberating the child in me who felt drained, abused, and used for a very long time.
Priyasmita is a student at IIMC who loves talking about social issues and enjoys having coffee in cafes, alone.