July 30 was Friendship Day. Friends I fondly remember thought of me with caring affection, but my closest friends didn’t pause to pay heed to the day’s pageantry. What does it say about Friendship Day that many of us, who count our friendships as our most precious treasures, were unmoved by the day or totally lost to its happening?
I have never looked at friendship as my gateway to popularity. I was not the least popular guy in school, but not the most popular either. In fact, my friendships in school, bar a couple, were rather superficial and meaningless. My classmates were friends of utility for the most part. We had to study and play together; we had to socialise and make peace with one another.
As I grew older, friendships of pleasure came my way. Friendships of pleasure are those that take a relationship between two people beyond mere usefulness. These are friendships where we begin to share common passions and indulgences, where we find the ability to connect. These are bonds that go beyond school, jobs, social-networking groups, gardening or book clubs.
But, as pleasurable as these friendships are, they also have their limitations. They, too, can be friendships with barriers and boundaries. We keep in touch throughout the year, but often just enough to keep abreast of each other’s happenings in life, and never more than is needed to simply keep a connection going.
As I scan through my mental book of friends, I see more often than not names of those about whom I know little beyond the cursory superficialities. It is this reality that makes me remember what Papa told us about life and friendships. He said we should align our lives with those who are like-minded and who will help us stay on our track of self-growth. People we can count on, in every crucial moment, who will laugh and cry with us. Those who will be there for us when our own betray us. And, so, he told us to be open to welcoming such friends into our lives and, once we find them, to give them respect and care, love and affection, trust and confidence, and, above all, full access to our lives and our loves. These friends he called the perfect friends.
I’m lucky that I have a few perfect friends. We might be broken and scarred, ebullient or ecstatic, but we can show our cracks and failures to one another and never have to put on any airs or make up any stories. With these friends, I have a mirror showing me what I might never want to see. They keep me honest and make me strive daily to be a better person and a more sincere human being. These perfect friends listen to me, give me support and strength, stand by my side as my world slips from under my feet. They ensure that I don’t sink with it, but make me watch what I am losing lest I be foolish enough to repeat the mistakes from my past. Without this help, to take into account what I lack and what ails me, I can never become better and bigger versions of myself.
Perfect friends are people we have taken our time to choose. They can be our age or younger or older. In my clutch of such friends, I see my connection to what was and what will be, and so I have friends my grandparents’ age and some who are younger than any children I could have had. These friendships keep me grounded in reality, happily afloat in dreamy lands of fantastical living. They are friends who care and have the comfort of knowing they can speak up and scold, challenge and warn; they are not afraid of the truth.
We must strive to have a handful of such friends, as then we will know that we have lived a life worth living. What better way to leave this earth than knowing we mattered beyond the ordinary? And so I hope to daily feed these perfect friends with love that keeps us connected beyond a day. It takes a lifetime of honest back-and-forth to keep these perfect friendships perfectly comfortable.
Unlike the family we inherit and have close bonds with, these are people cherry-picked by us after much trial and error, and once we find them, it is up to us to feed the bond of friendship with the right dose of honesty, integrity, drama, tedium and laziness. Perfect friendships can last a lifetime or a short time. Sometimes, it takes many such friendships, forged and lost, before we realise the virtues of a perfect friendship. But once we experience it, nothing is more sacred and precious. These are friendships where ammunition gifted from us about our own failures will never become weapons wielded for our destruction. Perfect friends keep our failings in their hearts and teach us how to cope with them, how to improve upon them, and how to move forward. And so, these are the friends that are perfection personified.
This past Friendship Day didn’t send any messages from my perfect friends my way. A single day cannot define a friendship, just as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Sibling’s Day cannot define the love we have for our spouses, parents, or family members. But Friendship Day reminded me that utility, pleasure and perfection are all parts of the world of friendship. The day brought a flood of memories — some sweet, some sad, but all rather personal and special, each taking me back to the people and places that mean the world to me. If this is what a day like this does for us, then I think it is good to mark it and celebrate those we love, respect, admire, adore, have lost to life, or lost touch with.
(Suvir Saran is a chef, author, educator and world traveller)