It was Friendship Day last Sunday. A friend sent me a message on WhatsApp, ‘attributed’ to William Shakespeare, cheesy as hell. “New friends may be poems, but old friends are alphabets. Do not forget alphabets, because you will need them to read the poems.” Shakespeare did not write this, I messaged. In fact, he may do a slight jiggle in his grave if he were to find out the kind of stuff that’s being peddled in his name.
He did, my friend insisted (though I got the feeling he was messing with my head).
So, I Googled, and came across a fact-checking site, where this ‘attribution’ was marked “false”. I took a screenshot and sent it to him, all the while remembering Shakespeare’s best — and authentic — quotes on friendship. “Most friendship is feigning, most loving is folly”, from As You Like It. “Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love,” from Much Ado About Nothing. “The band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity,” from Antony and Cleopatra. And so on.
But the words that were put, willy nilly, into William’s mouth made me think: who are my oldest friends, and what’s their status in my life today?
I had my first best friend when I was in Standard 1, a girl in pigtails who I shared tiffin with every day, unfailingly — (among other goodies) she used to bring the same biscuits every day, which I loved, which would’ve, by tiffin-break time, turned a bit soggy (strangely, that imparted a new dimension to the flavour). I couldn’t bear to be without her in school, and on rare occasions when she’d be absent, I’d mope the whole day. Holidays were insufferable because I wouldn’t see her for weeks on end.
I switched schools in Standard 3, and never saw (or heard from) her again.
In my new school, I made new friends, ones who, over the years, became “old friends” because I spent a good decade with them, evolving from child to tween to teen to almost-adult. On our last day in school, we wrote on each other’s shirts: lines that solemnly swore we’d be friends forever. Pretty much the same thing happened on the last day of college. The last day at my first workplace. The last day at my second-last workplace. The last day in my old city, before I moved out. You get the drift, right?
In life, you compulsively meet new people. At times, when you meet newbies, you realise you have more in common with them than you did/do with the oldies. Then, there’s that other thing: someone you never took a fancy to when you were younger you suddenly take to like a fish takes to water when you run into them later, years after you first met them and decided you couldn’t be friends with them.
Rules of engagement also change constantly. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine being friends with anyone older or younger than I was: they had to be in the same age bracket. I came out of that straitjacket long ago. Just as I have emerged from the other one: you cannot be “friends friends” with the opposite sex. So not true.
Facebook, despite my inherent dislike for social media, has been a meeting point. I’ve been in touch with those who I knew two/three decades ago. Yes, most of the interaction is fake and transient and superficial, but you get a window. And through that I’ve managed to reconnect with a handful — scattered in different geographies — I genuinely vibe with. It’s not easy to keep up with the vibration, but I do my best… often asking myself whether meeting someone, however enthusiastically, once a year or twice a year, at times once in two years or three years, relegates friendships into acquaintanceships.
The other day, someone asked me if I’m gregariously in touch with my “old friends” in Dubai — the ones I knew and hobnobbed with the most in my earlier stint.
I took a minute to get my thoughts in order. “Some of them have moved on — out of Dubai, so there’s an actual physical distance… A few of them I’ve outgrown. Some have changed over the intervening pandemic [admittedly, I think I’ve changed too], and I don’t find them very agreeable. There are some who I’m in touch with, yes… but, overall, I think I now have more ‘new’ friends in my circle than old ones.”
I don’t know why there was a little tinge of sadness when I said that — especially since I knew I had thought it through and it wasn’t simply a convenient paragraph I’d strung together loosely.
If you substituted “the intervening pandemic” with “the journey of life”, it would, perhaps, be stories of friendships all around the world.