The heartache of a lost friend


What is it that hurts so much when an old friend decides to part ways? Is it that you are aghast that your gift of unconditional affection, loyalty and steadfastness has been refused? Does it come close to a repudiation of your worth? Does his or her unwillingness to continue on a shared path of knowing and closeness make you think you are now essentially unworthy of any sustained meaningful contact with any other fellow human being?

I have spent many hours wondering what it is that I may have done wrong – did my becoming a parent do it? I do remember quite well how another friend and me were puzzled by how dramatically different a third friend of ours had become after becoming a parent. And how in some ways we were hurt for no longer being part of her inner circle in the way we were used to. Until her life changed with the coming of her first child, we were a close threesome who’d find ways to have walks together, coffee together with lots of silly giggling and shared laughs with not much worry about how time flew.

Is the fact that my life is arranged quite carefully now irksome? Is it an irritating sign of an illiberal, unexciting, rather drab life that my friend feels ashamed of being associated with through any extended contact with me? Because it’s true I can no longer step out on a whim and stay out for as long as I want. (It’s another matter that I never did very much before either.) Nor can I agree to meet anybody without thinking through what it would entail and what effects it may have on my immediate family. Especially if my friend decides to invite me to meet him/her when special security arrangements have been made in a part of our city in view of an extraordinary political situation: I would then be thinking of pretty dull stuff — what kind of commercial vehicle on rent will be safe enough to ferry my young daughter and my elderly mum and me to the proposed, undoubtedly hip but not convenient venue of meeting? Will there be access to clean washrooms on the way? Will there be the possibility of buying finger food if the need should arise? How long will the journey take? How much will it cost with waiting time?

Or does my managing various responsibilities seep into my conversations that are then wholly uninspiring and putting off? Should I be focusing instead of having interesting conversations about what books I have recently read; which coffees I have recently tried; whether I am planning to include long leaf tea in my morning breakfast. Or talk about the trendy new craft shops that have sprung up in our vicinity; the organic colours they use; how increasingly planet friendly some of our small businesses are becoming.

Should I be watching more carefully how much time I spend sharing my pride and joy at the hilarious things my little girl does or says including loving things she has to say about my friend; should I try to remember that not everyone is equally fascinated by what the theosophists have to say about the open nature of children; should I be more cautious that the insights I think I have gained about human beings at large as a parent are not somehow relevant unless the person listening to them shares a fundamental love for young ones.

Do the personal and professional choices I have made seem utterly unworthy of continued association? Should I have been clearer, braver, and spunkier to be currently leading a more unfettered life than the one that my friend thinks I seem to do? Does my ambivalence and willingness to experiment with unforeseen possibilities come through as a sign of cowardice?

Should I be feeling apologetic that my friend is not yet a parent? Could he/she possibly be envious that I am? Does the fact that my little girl adores his/her parents make it hard all round? Should it? Don’t most of us love children who love people?

Or is it just a break that some friends feel the need to take when the differences get all too much and can then there be hope of a return to what an old friend of mine once called the ‘refuge from life’?

The languor of summer afternoons


Being able to lounge around in your night clothes on a lazy weekend afternoon with no great plans and no burning ambition to achieve anything of any significance is the kind of life I remember having had in my youth. Often enough what that state of being was usually a precursor to was long bouts of reading — cooped up in a room, with some light in the vicinity switched on, or beside a window through which the unparalleled light of the sun was pouring in.

Unexpectedly, I got the rare privilege of having a considerably large window of time the other day to do exactly that. Not with the same sense of gay abandon I suppose — which is only fair given how much older one has become and given how one must know that time cannot be lived in the exact same way at some other time under other conditions but even so — achingly close and similar to that earlier memory.

And in doing so what I found was how the mind lets you float back so easily to memories from so long ago — the soaring songs a lover once played in a language you once knew as a child which came back to you in snatches, the confusing look of acute concentration on his face that frightened you in its innocence and intensity, the pleading in his eyes as he hoped you would stop giggling from nervousness and just listen quietly in the stillness of a hot Delhi afternoon, in a room too large, too ornate, too filled with carefully placed artifacts to do any justice to the Soprano’s song of loss and longing.

And it makes you think what if you had given in? How different would life have been? Would you have felt a closeness to his river, the Danube? Who knows, really?

And then, another old memory. Of having lost vision suddenly in one eye on my first trip abroad on my own as an adult, walking in thankfulness side by side in the shivering cool breeze by the Thames in February with an old friend, who always had time to meet me when I finished work, who always took me to a new cafe or restaurant with ‘student rates’ to ensure I tucked into some dinner, who always listened openly and fully to whatever it was that I was saying — whose steadfast friendship, affection and love helped me get through my first professional training course while fighting the horrifying possibility of going completely blind.

But also in retrospect now the embarrassingly ungrateful way in which I fell madly in love with his best friend a quiet, reserved Irishman — who took me in, made me for the duration of my stay in his city a part of his inner circle, who spoke to me at length of his family, his ailing mum, his distant, calculating siblings, his father’s painful passing — and then almost just as quickly dropped me off. Leaving me wondering even now what exactly ‘went wrong’ as though one could ever really understand why we feel what we do — whether meeting him at another time may have led to other outcomes — and if what had to happen, had to happen then why at all it did?

The book that precipitated all these old memories did so in part because it was also about young love. It made me remember the exquisitely painful experience of being wrapped up in another person’s life as though there was nothing else really worth living for. And yet, in hindsight, the wonderful thing seems to be that it is all worth it. All the pain, all the anguish, all the suffering. What exactly for I cant quite yet say but worth it, yes, without a doubt.

To be reminded of who you are


Old, dear friends can surprise you in the most unexpected and heart-warming ways.

You could have been out of touch for decades and not known much at all about the million small and big events that have swept up in their lives and yet, when you sit down with them, with faces (your own and theirs), enriched by the often difficult, challenging and at times gut-wrenching choices they and you have made, you can return, in an instant, to the closeness you had long-lost.

And what can make you gladder still is when such old friends can effortlessly reach out and establish an easy and deep affection with your young child — not because they want to please you or be polite, but because loving children is to them, as it is to you, one of the most natural things in the world and their wonder at the miracle of the birth and existence of a young person can remind you of your own, now often forgotten wonder — submerged as you often are in the necessary although uninspiring humdrum of the everyday.

In the past few months, I have had the wonderful chance to have had two such old friends of mine pass by our home. And although neither is much like the other, what both do have in common is an unwavering respect of young children, the ability to effortlessly fit in to a home centred around the child’s needs, and an unbridled enthusiasm in celebrating play, spiritedness and mischief.

Thank you, both!

A sentimental state of mind


It sounds like such sentimental trash. But it’s true. Old friends, true friends, good friends morph themselves to do and be exactly what you need when you reach out to them.

You could have last spoken to them years ago, last seen them a decade ago, last exchanged real news of each other’s lives even further away in time gone by, and yet, when you reconnect, all the good things are right there to be had, unconditionally.

Isn’t that amazing.

They will tell you the nice lies when needed — that the clothes look great, that the grey hairs peeking out suit you, that life is a shit, (sometimes!) that your choice of restaurant is impeccable even if they drove half way across town to get there — all in all, reassure you when you are all but crumpled, and make you feel like the best thing on earth when you have all but given up.

What would I do without them?

One day I shall perhaps flesh this out and give them names!

But until then, please know, all of you out there, whom I have been so inattentive to, for so many years, that without your love and support and ungrudging presence as and when I have called around, keeps me ‘on the path’, keeps me sane, keeps me happy, keeps me keen.

What more could I possibly ask for?!