‘20…. no make it 25.’
‘25? The two of you have 25 buddies?’
‘Nope. 25 each.’
‘That’s ridiculous. You don’t have 25 friends each and I am not buying that many friendship bands.’
A few seconds of surprising silence later, Ishaan says, ‘you seem to have grown up friendless.’
I smiled and said, ’10 is all you get. Want?’
So we agreed.
After the agreement, the younger one got curious and somewhat sympathetic, ‘you really grew up friendless, ma?’
Now I burst out laughing and gave him a much disapproved, tight hug.
‘No. I had the craziest bunch of friends. We just didn’t exchange any bands.’
Mistaking it for one of those ‘our times’ lecture, Vivaan just slipped away without asking how we could stay friends without commemorating it? And he left me standing in the bylanes of distant memories – some as distant as a quarter of a century but still as fresh.
So how did we assert friendship? There were no fancy bands to mark our territories. We did that by standing by each other in the silliest of things. School years were made crazier, courtesy the utterly out-of-whack friends I had, and thankfully, they still remain senile. So you guys, thank you. Thank you for bringing chaos in what would have been otherwise entirely boring and academic schooling. Thank you for sharing lunch boxes and the loot from the stolen ones. And for taking the fall yet never squealing on me – I still remember the bunch of us getting a dressing down from a certain Physics teacher for bunking his class and not once did anyone question the origin of the brilliant idea. So, here’s to running off to the bicycle stand, five minutes before dispersal, to just tip the rows of cycles and watch the fun, to argue with the canteen guy for extended credit for the sticky oddly coloured chow mein, to all the hidden crackers in the washrooms that didn’t go off, to purposefully scoring lowest in biology class and basically just sticking together through school and now, as we see the little ones tie friendship bands in a bid to bond.
Then came college. From a small town to a premium institute, nervousness doesn’t even begin to describe what I was going through when I stepped in that small classroom which seated my classmates for the next three years. I quietly slunk off to the last row, more out of habit, hoping I’d be invisible.
‘Psst…How do you spell Psychology?’ A girl asked, a wide grin firmly in place, ‘with a P or S?’ And at that moment, I knew I’d be okay.
The four of us stuck together – from watching ‘The Bodyguard’ everyday for ten days, to trying to teach Hindi to the lost one (who still remains lost and well, the lesser said about fluency in Hindi the better), from fudging up data (very accurately, mind you!) for the practicals to frantically making and sharing notes, from patiently calming the crazed one who’d invariably get her digestive system in knots just before exams to going and getting our ears pierced since Valentine’s day was exceptionally boring for us and we’d rather not watch girls swoon over the huge bouquets of red roses they got. The L-special ride offered it’s own bunch of madness that we looked forward to every morning and on the trip back. Thank you, girls, for staying with me all these years. What makes it special is the fact that we disappear for long periods of time and yet pick up from the same abuse that we ended the last call with.
The two years spent in Kolkata saw me get luckier, with more friends albeit crazier (I do seem to have a crazy magnet). From jumping over balconies, to picking random fights because one of us had been offended by an equally random course mate, to staying up late trying to finish super late assignments – we did it all. Err… the lesser said about all that, the better! Stop grinning, you guys!
Then came a blur. We all got busy. Life happened. Marriage, job and children- it got us all busy in our own little beehives. But I was lucky enough to find friends where ever I went- from the narrow lanes of Banaras to the swanky mad rush of Gurgaon- I found my pillars who continue to be just that even today. All through the years, the pillars kept adding and today I have the wackiest bunch of friends whom I can call in the middle of the night, take advice on anything under the sun, or generally while away an afternoon with over a cup of coffee and a handful of gossip.
So does friendship day mean anything? Nah! My buddies need much more than a day to celebrate them. A band, a greeting card, a sickly rhyming ode – just do not do it. It also makes me wonder- will the children ever find that? Or will they be too trapped in the shameless commercialization of each relationship to see true friends? Maybe, a few odd decades later, they’d be sitting and wondering the same about their little ones – who knows! Till then, I am happy not tying any bands, or exchanging any cards, or in some cases even phone calls for prolonged periods of time, while the boys are busy making a list of ‘friends’ who’d be given a friendship band tomorrow.