By Lata Jha:
One of the earliest memories I have of my childhood is that of enjoying biryani and sewai at a dear Muslim friend’s place every Eid and Bakrid. Her mother, an extremely affectionate lady, would feed us both equally fondly, and I remember partaking in the ritual for close to five years. As a child, I never understood why my parents were so glad I visited her each year and how extra happy they seemed when I would narrate my stories of all that we’d done and eaten during the day. For me, she was just another friend. Over the years, we kind of drifted apart but we’ve still kept in touch. She’s also studying in Delhi, and I try and wish her on birthdays, besides every year on Eid of course.
I’m curious about how often any of us gives a thought to the friends we make. To their backgrounds and affiliations. Maybe more importantly as kids, but even as adults. Does it even cross our minds that our friends might belong to different castes, or even different religions? More often than not, no. I’d like to think that our youth is not only progressive and broad minded but also that it thinks and acts completely from the heart when it comes to matters of friendship.
For most of us, our parents taught us to make friends, based on the kind of individuals they were. And we carry that lesson ahead in life as we take the opportunity and often make an effort to interact with people of backgrounds different from ours. To share thoughts, ideas, experiences.
An important principle of the 5th Space that we cover this week is that of engaging with peers beyond borders, of culture, upbringing and norms. To connect with them and in turn, build and enhance our own skills. It is a hang out zone that does not recognise boundaries.
As cynical as we may be about the world, bonds and friendship are not something we can scoff at even today. Friendship is still for life, and I’m happy about the fact that our educational institutions offer space for us to reach out to people, make friends and in the process, build our own character. In schools and colleges, we’re encouraged to embrace and be a part of the crowd. Each one out there is worth making friends with.
Besides, a lot of institutions even partner with NGOs or take their own small initiatives to reach out to people of diverse, and often, underprivileged backgrounds. Delhi University’s National Social Service Scheme is one example. As part of my NSS, I was required to visit the area near Nizammuddin in Delhi once, and sometimes, twice each week. Interacting with the children there, I realized how there was so little, and yet, so much we shared in common. Just like me, they were basically starry eyed kids waiting to take their flight. The only difference was that while I dream of high scores and a good job, they merely hope to be able to learn to read and write to fend for themselves. I want to one day visit exotic foreign locations while they’re okay with enjoying the Monday fair.
If the proverbial horizons in life can only be discovered by losing sight of those shores, there is little we can do by staying in our comfort zones. Travel and exploration are more than just about expensive holidays. Life is a journey in every sense of the term. And it is important to allow people to enrich you with their own varied experiences. Spaces like school, college, workplaces and the entire public domain, in general, exist for people to break boundaries and stereotypes. And we’re fortunate to have come a long way, at least in some sense, from archaic notions of purity and hierarchy.
The 5th Space is essentially that, a free zone where you meet and interact with people, sans rules, restrictions and encumbrances. It reinforces the belief that friendship knows no boundaries, and it is for life.