Is fighting with friends a way of fighting for your friendship – of caring enough to go through heartache?
By Priya Naresh
Illustrations by Shivani Parihar
It was one of those days when the gods of Delhi decided to take a break from playing “Khatron ke Khiladi: Who will survive the extreme?” and blessed us with some nice weather and a shower of rain. Little did we know that what was going to come next was Bombaywali humidity. Yuck! While cursing the gods and regretting wearing a tight kurta, I stood by the road waiting for an e-rickshaw to the metro station.
I had been fighting with a close friend of mine and now, it was confrontation time. As adults, fights with friends is strange. We have our love lives where we constantly fight with the lover for attention and love and then we have our friendships, where we depend on each other for support. When the friendship starts getting demanding, we feel like it has become a burden and we’re better off disposing of it. We feel it’s easier to get rid of it because we have always prioritised our romantic relationships over our friendships. I mean, all of cinema has been about finding that one true love, not about finding that one true friend. Greta Gerwig once said in an interview that we will never marry our best friend, and that is the ultimate tragedy. Is it, really? The philosophy that is taught to us by our parents is, friends will come and go, only family will be there for you. It seems like an understood norm, that all friends will choose their families (boyfriend/girlfriend i.e future family) over their friendships. So, then one wonders, what’s the point of fighting with and then confronting a friend? Wouldn’t it be easier to just let it fizzle out?
As soon as I sat in the e-rickshaw next to an old man, I checked my phone to see if my friend had messaged to inform me where exactly we were going to meet in CP. He had texted. We usually call each other for these small things, so his texting me where to meet was a sign of coldness. Sigh! While I was replying to him, the e-rickshaw stopped near a college and a boy in his late teens slid in and sat opposite me. He pulled a girl of the same age in, though she resisted and suggested that they catch a different rickshaw because otherwise her hair would get all messed up. The boy asked her to stop whining, and then reluctantly, the girl sat next to him.
An unusual perk of living in Delhi is being able to shamelessly stare, from staring at someone to staring at someone’s chats while sitting right next to them in the metro. In Bombay, this would be considered rude. I personally think it’s lovely – all boundaries between strangers should be burned down, without shame. Without staring, how am I to know and understand people? Privacy in public spaces feels like such a modern idea, especially in a country like ours.
So there I was, staring at the girl, who looked quite fashionable. Long, painted black nails, winged eyeliner, a black full-sleeved chiffon see-through top that looked a little tight and revealed a bit of her cleavage. Her hair stood out the most, no wonder she was worried about it. Long, thick, silky and shiny hair. I then noticed the boy, he had razed off the hair above his ears and coloured a little chunk in the front light brown. He wore a tight red T-shirt and black cargo pants, and was carrying a backpack in such a way that it hung over his chest. Then, my gaze went to the boy’s lips. They were very pretty, quite well defined. Suddenly, I was aware that the boy had quite feminine features. I smiled. Both of them were so into each other that they didn’t even care to see that right in front of them there was a gawky girl staring and smiling at them.
The boy was talking about how he wanted to join the NCC and didn’t have enough money. The girl very seriously asked him how much money he needed and how she could help. He said, “Yaar, 50 or 500 nahi chahiye…5000 toh lagege hi.” The girl laughed out loudly, indicating that she couldn’t really imagine having that kind of money on her.
The boy went on to say, “Pata hai tujhe kal kya hua. Main metro mein thi. Ladies seat pe baithi thi…ek ladki chadi aur mere paas aake boli, ‘Yeh ladies seat hai’. Maine bhi keh diya…‘Main bhi ladies hi hoon.’ Aas paas ke log hasne lage. Thodi der baad, main phir se baithi toh ek aur aunty ne aake kaha ki yeh ladies seat hai. Iss baar uss ladki ne aunty se zor se haskar kaha, ‘Aunty yeh bhi ladies hai.’ ”
That’s when I realised that because of the short hair and boyish clothes, I had wrongly assumed that person’s gender. After feeling very stupid, I became extremely curious about what the short-haired girl was talking about. She spoke about someone who had overheard this conversation on the metro who came up to them, said he was from the LGBT community, and asked if she was a lesbian, to which she replied, “Nahi”. He spoke of a mutual acquaintance, gave her his number, and asked her to call him if she ever wanted to join the support group. She narrated the entire incident as a funny story to her friend.
The long-haired girl burst out laughing, and asked why she didn’t tell that guy “Ki tu pure girl hai”. She felt that the man was very strange because why would someone come up to you and tell you that he’s gay? The other one cut her off in exasperation and said that her reaction was precisely the problem. The short-haired girl rebuked her for being so narrow-minded about such things. “Maybe that man thought I was from the LGBT community and needed help, so he came. What’s the big deal about that?” Somewhere here, I imagined a big fight and one of them sulking. But to my surprise, the short-haired girl did not become preachy or arrogant while explaining what LGBT was and the other who seemed ignorant at first, was patiently listening. Egos are usually such a big part of our fights that we forget to listen to one another. However cliched that sounds, listening is the only thing that diffuses a situation so quickly. In that moment, it didn’t look like they would obsess over these ideas then fight and drift apart. I couldn’t imagine that happening to them.
Once I got off the e-rickshaw and saw them leave, a strange feeling of loss lingered. I missed my childhood, when friends meant the world to me. They made me feel like we could conquer the world together and nothing was impossible. We could all look after each other, us together, some guys and some girls, before those annoying things – romance and coupledom – began and pulled us apart. These two in the e-rickshaw were so immersed in each other, like the world did not exist outside of them. I know that in that moment, it is very hard to see the future very clearly. It feels like there is no future without the other in it and I could only feel jealous of them.
During the metro ride, I kept thinking how impossible it was to have differences with friends at this stage in life and still love them and still have them around and most importantly, LET IT GO. As I have grown into my late twenties, certain ideas of the world have solidified in my head. With the lover, the fight is supposed to be endless to make them understand your concerns but with friends, we don’t need to invest that kind of time and we want to be around people who understand those solidified ideas in our head or we want to move on as if the relationship were a consumer good which isn’t working for us, and not a road we are walking down together. With all these thoughts in my head, I started feeling very nervous as I reached closer to CP. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, neither did I want vulnerability from my friend. I just wanted both of us to let it go. Vulnerability is a tricky thing in a friendship. We want it, but we can’t really deal with it or do anything about it. It requires a lot of attention, understanding and work from the other side to do something about the problem and it is tooooo fucking hard. Or maybe it’s just me who feels that way, because I seem to not know at all how to keep friendships. I started to feel almost dizzy with the storm in my head and then it came to me: I would just use the incident I had witnessed in the e-rickshaw to lighten things up, in case I felt uncomfortable and needed an icebreaker.I met my friend and nothing much happened, we spoke but avoided the real issue bothering us. I guess neither of us could figure out how much we wanted to fight for our friendship. How easy it is to let friendships fizzle out! Maybe fights and confrontations in friendships force us to have some stake in the relationship. I wish I was okay with fighting everywhere, with my family, with my lover, with the world and then with my friends also. It’s quite sad, friends are the first in line to be lost over everything in life – at least in my life, and many I’ve seen. I have lost quite a few close ones and for some reason, that loss doesn’t seem to leave me. I guess my parents were wrong, friends don’t just come and go. Is fighting over friendships, the only way of fighting for the friendship – of caring enough to go through heartache? I guess the answer is to be found in that feeling of loss that rocked inside me through that metro ride.
Priya Naresh is a filmmaker based in Delhi.