Sixteen months have passed since the universities have been under lockdown. This has disrupted my recreational means such as hanging out with friends, gossiping, and indulging in an informative discussion.
And, I am left with the emotional conundrum of not feeling exalted anymore over a cup of tea.
After all, a cup of tea was merely an excuse to be with my friends even though tea has never been my preferred savoury drink. This year the essence of friendship day seemed less meaningful to me, over phone calls, as I was missing the jubilant faces of my friends.
Who would have imagined a world without friends on friendship day? However, keeping my spirit intact, I turned to a radio cassette to tune into songs from Bollywood playlists.
Just as I was enjoying a gust of euphoria, I was stung by a nostalgic flashback when the cassette recorder kept on a table in the corner of the room played:
“Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge
Todenge dam magar
tera saath na chhodenge
Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge…”
(We will never let go of this friendship. Even at the cost of death, we will stick together)
With a tipsy ambiance in my head, I discovered myself in a maze of ideas. Is the notion of friendship similar for a man and a woman? Why was the evergreen song was sung by a male singer? No offence to his voice, which has me smitten like it has others.
However, after 46 years of its release, what contemplation can one make of the song?
Have you ever wondered if the above mentioned popular song from the movie Sholay (1975) was enacted by female actors, would it have acquired the similar recognition that it has today?
If your answer is yes, you may say to me, “After all, who does not enjoy friendship?” You may even go on to say that, “Friendship is an abstract concept free of gendered notions.”
Forget the hypothetical situation I just asked you to think about. And, look inside your homes. You will find your mother’s friends to be either your aunt, your father, or your father’s family. Doesn’t it trouble you that her list of friends are so different from yours?
The very root of keeping our mothers alienated from their childhood friendships is our centuries-old tradition, wherein a daughter is married off from their native place. This separates her from her childhood friends.
And, she is asked to accept new friends within the matrimonial alliance. So, her husband’s friends become hers’ too.
Sometimes, this tradition is so rigidly enforced that she is asked to find a replica of her friends in her husband. Aha! So, the popular rhetoric “husband number one” is nothing but a master craft of cynical minds.
Men enjoy the privilege of having friends throughout their lives by continuously expanding the horizon of the friends circle.
What does such systemic alienation of women insinuate? Does it redefine the boundaries of womanhood or codify the popular idea of friendship in our society? The structural segregation of woman pushes her to husband’s safekeeping.
A culture loaded with stereotypes confines a woman to household chores and forces her to find solace in her children or husband.
Her lack of mental rapport with the same age group becomes an accepted part of her life. She is constantly reminded about that’s how life should be because she is a nurturer! The forceful departure of a woman during her marriage places her under the shackles of patriarchy.
Her limited or lack of interaction with her sakhis (friends) places her within the parameters of being a good wife and mother, the so-called susheel bahu (obedient daughter in-law)—one who doesn’t venture outside her sasuraal (husband’s home).
Thus, begins the process of controlling a woman’s identity, body, emotions, desires, and life.
The estrangement of women gets strengthened by the notion that women do not talk or converse, but indulge in gossip, that is of a low value. Whereas, a man’s conversation is healthy and mature as per the social parameters rooted in the binary division of gender norms.
Preserving the territory of cordial relations with one’s husband is presumed to be his birthright, something that needs to be explored together only after marriage. This gives legitimacy to the conservative mindsets to shun friendships of brides post-marriage.
The keepers of social norms lock the gates of intimacy for the female partner. Thus, they reckon that the idea of a “soul mate” is the universal truth.
The cynical policing of women’s friendships arises from the fret over the character of future children, and family values. Such mothers are confined to working in the kitchen and household chores.
The surveillance and constraints over her company and movement outside family, forces her to take recourse in new ways to feed her emotional needs for the rest of her life.
She does this by engaging herself in performing the rituals of an ideal wife, by participating in karva chauth, teej, jitya, vat Savitri etc. These may give her some relief from her monotonous life.
Hence, the social and political presumptions made about women’s bodies feed on their sense of belongingness.
Friendship is one of the ways to channel their claim over her in a patriarchal set-up. But, what if a woman has tasted the freedom of friendship and sees no turning back from the territory… by sacrificing her friends for her family?
She will be doomed to be perceived as a witch, sooner or later, and considered unfit to be a wife and mother!