The other day, while chatting with a male friend, I remarked that I am happy in the company of women. Why not men, he asked. I struggled for an answer.
Later, I pondered over it. The real reason wasn’t really that men were in short supply but the plenitude of woman power. I have great male friends but my bond with women – starting with the poet and writer Madhavikutty aka Kamala Das and the characters she wove in her stories, to women of courage in real life – is much stronger.
Das’s characters, feisty and indomitable, yet compassionate, were my first precious companions. I laughed, dreamt and cried as I spent rainy mornings and summer afternoons poring over her books. They brought a sense of solace, assurance and intimacy, and taught me lessons I would never forget. But most importantly, the characters helped find myself.
Eighteen years ago, I underwent an orthodontic procedure. I was put on a liquid diet, which left me extremely weak. One day, a colleague, whom I had known for just a couple of months, walked in with a small box of home-made custard and a big smile. “I thought you would be able to have this, Yami,” she said. Homesick in a new city, my eyes welled up to see a girl my age stand so tall. She has stayed as one of my best friends and a pillar of support since then.
At the working women’s hostel in Chennai, my roommate, like an extra-protective mother hen, would ensure that the television in the common room was played on low volume so that I could sleep after night shifts. She would fight with the warden to enter the kitchen and make porridge for me when I fell sick. A woman with a spine of steel, she gave me the courage to stand for my rights.
Women. They never cease to amaze me.
It’s not that men don’t care. But it always takes a man to put me down at the most unexpected time. A male friend, a champion of women’s rights, once persuaded me to change a sleeveless top to one with sleeves, saying “it doesn’t suit you”.
On my 40th birthday, in the city I was vacationing, I went to a pub with a man who has been my friend for nearly two decades. I was upbeat that day. I chose a cocktail with the name “Because I’m happy” to celebrate my day.
On our way back, in the car, my friend, who never fails to remind me that my biological clock is ticking and hence, I need to get married soon, brought up the topic again – “You won’t get good guys after a point”. I retorted, “Age doesn’t matter. Look at Sushmita Sen.” I was referring to the actor’s relationship with a man who was more than a decade younger to her. To my disbelief, my friend remarked: “That is Sushmita Sen… look at you”. I felt shattered. Had it been any of my woman friends, I thought to myself, they would have cheered my remark with a high five.
My gang of girls have helped me sail through the roughest of seas. School friends who organise a quick get-together whenever I’m in Thiruvananthapuram; the girls who took me for my first night out in my hometown, where I was not allowed to be outside alone after dusk; the cherished trips with my ‘travelista’ friends; and the long video calls from different corners of the world. As I grow older, I realise they are the ones who’ll be my constant companions.
I casually remarked to a colleague recently that evening tea was like Red Bull for me. I’d say my women friends are my go-to Red Bull.
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the ‘She Said’ column. You can write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org