Where are my friends?

The question often troubles me, and invariably takes me back to a certain day in the final year of my college. My father had come home that evening, holding a booklet from a coaching centre, and declared it was the Indian Civil Services that I would prepare for.

I thought about arguing against it, telling him about my own ambitions in life, but realized I had none. So, I joined the classes the next week.

On the first day there, I sat in the crowded hall, listening to a retired IAS officer giving an orientation speech. “My future officers!” he said, an hour into it, “I can give you two days, and no more. Just two days this year to relax.”

I noticed backs straightening up around me, as I sank further in my seat, grabbing hold of all the relaxation I could.

“Diwali, and Holi!” he revealed. “But even Diwali allows you the whole daytime, my friends, and Holi the whole night. So give me no excuse.” He pounded the podium. “And keep your focus sharp. And when those aimless creatures called friends come to derail you off your noble path.” He raised his hands above his head and joined them, like Amitabh Bachchan in Sarkar. “Tell them – ‘sorry, no thank you.’”

The hall erupted in a big round of applause at this twisted allusion to the Bollywood movie ‘Mene Pyar Kiya’, while I stiffened in my seat, offended. Aimless creatures, they might be. They were friends, nonetheless. No way I was going to abandon them because this gentleman said so.

But a month later that was exactly what I was doing.

My classes began in the morning, which meant I missed college on most days; and even when I was there, I found myself in the library sifting through books, and magazines.

Weekends were free, I admit, but then I had assessment tests on Mondays, so I had to opt out of all the Sunday hangouts, movies, and TT games. And before very long, nobody was bothering me with their calls, and visits.

I was sad, but I knew it would all be well once the classes were over, so I kept pushing myself, wanting to give it a fair try. And it was around the fourth month into the preparation that I first started feeling the signs of a burnout.

Suddenly, the very sight of those hard facts, and dry concepts was making me nauseous. I woke up every morning feeling heavy in the head, thinking how much more I had to study and learn. So to lighten it, I began visualizing stories out of the dull subjects.

Like while going through medieval history, I would imagine Razia Sultana strutting across her opulent palace in her ornate golden dress like a super model, through a crowd of cowering subjects, and bowing courtiers. And, in anthropology, a Neanderthal pummeling a gorilla beneath a giant tree in a bloody fight for a piece of fruit, both growling, and roaring in each other’s faces.

The preparation went sluggish, as the days passed by. And, one fine morning, feeling guilty as hell looking at the course books, magazines, and newspapers piling up unread on my table, I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to make it. So I decided to quit.

But how to tell the hopeful father about it? That was the question.

I couldn’t face him, I knew. Therefore, I picked writing a letter as the only viable option, and immediately sat down at my table.

It took me the whole day to finalize it, as I wrote, and then rewrote it several times over, getting totally immersed in the process. It was probably the first time in my life I had done something so exhaustive, yet – so exhilarating.

I gave the letter one last look. It was a five-page beauty (front and back), dripping with my raw emotions. And, quietly that night, brimming with pride, I slipped my magnum-opus under his door.

The reply came sooner than expected, as he burst into my room before the sunlight, and threw at me the crumpled papers.

“Well done!” he said, with trembling lips, as I tried to shake away sleep from my eyes. “Very. Well. Done. My able son. What else could I expect from you?” He shook his head in disgust. “I should have known better than to…” he suddenly broke off, unable to complete, and stood staring at me, his chest heaving up and down rapidly. And then wheeling around, he stormed off out the door.

I picked up the letter, and smoothed it flat on my table. Red arrogant circles scarred it all over, marking the errors, mocking me. And, on the last page, a royal dictum read:

Clearly, you are not brilliant enough for an exam such as this. I wish you had written me a letter years ago. Would have saved me a lot of money.

That hurt. I won’t lie. But, I couldn’t help feeling a huge burden lifting off my chest, nevertheless. I pulled in a slow deep breath, inhaling the air of freedom, sweet and fragrant.

And along had come the realization that there was something in the world that I could imagine myself losing in. Writing. I know, I know – the errors, and a million other problems of being a writer. But, suddenly all that was acceptable to me. I was ready to take the pains to improve myself.

Later that morning, I went to the college, all excited to meet the friends I had so long been avoiding.

They were in the canteen, as I had expected, chattering over hot samosas and cold drinks. But as soon as I joined them, they all fell silent, exchanging looks.

I spoke up, feeling like a stranger trying to strike up a conversation. But they seemed not to hear me. So I began blabbering out all that had happened in the previous months, explaining my position, and ended up sharing my newfound love for writing.

“What!” they all shrieked in unison, finally out with a word.

“F**k my a*s, you can be a writer!” one of the guys cried, taking it as some kind of a personal insult.

Every head in the canteen was now turned in my direction.

“Easy…” I urged him, and glanced at the other one beside him.

“Don’t say that, man,” he admonished him, “he’s got potential. I know. He can write some horny stuff like that mastram. Right?” He looked back at me, as others burst out laughing, spraying cold drink out through their noses.

I stared at them, rooted to my spot. I wanted to retort, to say something witty and equally mean, as I used to earlier, and normalize things, but my words caught up in my throat. So I turned around to go back, and as I did it, cold water splashed hard on my face, and the whole canteen rang with laughter.

Gasping, I looked up, and found another of my dear friends running away with an empty glass in one hand. “Just wanted to wake you up buddy!” he shouted back.

One of the girls stepped forward then. “I’m so sorry, yar,” she said, handing me her handkerchief, clearly no longer enjoying the show. “You know them, right? They’re all a**holes.”

My eyes flew at her boyfriend (the one who took it as a personal insult), at the same time as hers. His death stare made her recoil; and she snatched back her hanky, and scurried away towards the counter, with the other girl.

I too rushed back home, after that, feeling angry, and maybe hurt.

I knew I had avoided them during my preparations, but I never insulted them. And I had assumed they would understand, and even support me.

I did not approach them again, and neither did they. Soon the final exams came and the college was over, leaving me bitter about the whole friendship thing. So much so, that even during the next two years, while doing my post-graduation, I rarely ever opened up with another soul.

And then I started working.

It was during this time that I picked up writing again, out of sheer frustration about the ways of the corporate world. I wrote, first in the notebooks that I burned at the end of the year for fear of someone discovering them, and later on a blog where I stayed anonymous, never daring to show my name and face.

To work, I went with a solid armor of a persona around me that no one could pierce through. I worked, mingled with people, and then came back home and peeled it away.

I did make friends there, a couple of whom are still in touch, if only occasionally, but mostly, friendships there were motivated by very different objectives. Many of them I saw flaring up at once, and then vanishing just as quickly.

The only friendship that I seemed to be enjoying was with books. So I spent all my spare time at work reading, often at the risk of being mocked by my fellow employees. And then back at home too; a childhood love, rekindling.

Books provided me the peace I needed, and the escape I yearned for.

I kept scribbling too though only on the margins of my day. It did take some time to put aside all the negativity surrounding it, but I managed to finally find back the joy I had once felt so strongly in it.

In addition, over the years, writing has connected me to some amazingly like-minded people. They are all mostly faceless connections, and they come and go like seasons, but I have felt the sensitive hearts beating hard behind their words. In fact, they’ve been more of friends to me than the ones I have ever had.

And those other ones from school, college, and locality, the people I once cared for so much, they’re all there too, somewhere. I see them all the time on Facebook, and Instagram, clinking beer bottles, and laughing out together. It’s just that I am no longer in those pictures.

Truth be told, they seem to be doing quite well without me. I knew, they wouldn’t notice my absence from their worlds.

And they never did.

Sundaram Chauhan

Image Source: Pinterest

73 comments

  1. I think anyone who reads this can relate on some level. Some more ,some less. What you said is so true. We may have many friends on social media but hardly any 4am friends whose pictures would be incomplete without us. And if we do, then we are lucky and should cherish and hold on to them. If not, there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Lovely read.👌👌

    Liked by 4 people

  2. This post is straight from the heart. Friendship is at times over rated. Its not important that everyone gets a loyal understanding friend. People will come and go but books will remain with us. Good you found some solace in books and in writing. There is something liberating about writing your thoughts out.
    Between ironically the post Where are my friends reminded me of the show FRIENDS the way you mentioned ‘front and back ’😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha…right you are…I’m sure it must have been the hidden inspiration behind the words (I can recall Ross shouting them: front & back! 😁😁)
      Reading and writing is what I love the most, and strangely enough my insistence to stay aloof and spend time doing that has earned me more friends than going out and partying had ever done.
      Thanks Yeshu for taking out time to read…🙏🍀❤️🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sometimes, we just have to, stand up, speak up against our parents, because we want to pursue our own dreams, which are not the same as our parents’ plans, for us, and, kudos to you, for finally, speaking up for yourself, must have taken you, a lot of courage, to tell your father, what he wanted for you, wasn’t what you want, for your self.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was a difficult work. I distinctly remember the day, and the feel of that letter in my hand. I wish I had saved it for later. Thanks for joining in the discussion. Appreciate it. ,🙏🙏🙏

      Like

  4. This is like my story read out to me, that relatable 😊 right from the civil services fiasco to getting drawn into one’s own cocoon to seeking solace in books and writing 🙏
    Well friendships can change with time, I am reminded of Judah and Messala from the epic Ben Hur. Sometimes I myself haven’t been too responsive, maybe due to renewed commitments as life grows, it takes two hands to clap. But then again, friendship cannot be a loose term. It should not be seeked from all, nor distributed freely. I called only few as friends, and am confident most of them would own me through thick and thin of life, as I would them. The rest are just fireflies 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautiful words of wisdom…I knew we had something in common 😀 I know what, now.
      Thanks Deb… I agree. Friendship sure is a much deeper term than what it has been made into nowadays… and I guess I have myself been at fault many times, not reciprocating enough.
      The natural ones are the most resilient of all. And I love the expression: The rest are just fireflies. 👍🤘👍
      Thanks so much 🙏🙏

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much…🙏🙏… But receiving such heartfelt comments from people I’ve never before met or seen makes me feel I’ve gained more than I ever lost. The real connection doesn’t need a physical presence I think. Thanks so much for sharing in my thoughts. Really appreciate it…🙏🍀🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ykw, reading your latter part was like having my thoughts rebound. A few days ago, I was thinking that what if one day comes when ..I would be having no one to talk to in my contacts and all I have is the virtual connections on WP if I would want to seek solace. That isn’t a great thought, you see. I mean we are meant to have some social circle. But then, it is not always worth it. For how long can we hold on to those loose threads tying some relations!
    Here are the people who are an audience to our hearts! Those who don’t judge you and you can literally feel free to say whatever comes to you.
    Friendship can’t be limited to people in some places. It is the most beautiful relation ever. And few are the ones who fits in the place of our friend.

    To have found your love for something and pursuing the same is yet again an incomparable feeling. May you keep living that feeling always.🤗

    Liked by 2 people

    • True…friendship is the purest of relation…and only a few qualify…and communities such as WP do provide a secure platform to share our feelings, and I don’t think it can ever replace the physical presence and comfort of real friends. Though I’ve seen people connecting here and graduating on in the real life. That’s something done the right way. Hearts first, and faces afterwards.
      In my case even though I’ve always had loads of people around me that I once called friends, I always knew I’ll enjoy solitude more than company. I guess I’ve intentionally cut people from my life. But the ones I know really care for me, they get a call from me every once in a while without expectations of a call back. Its my need to see them smiling, and happy. Enough for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I personally think it is important to have friends as they provide a good safety net of social comfort. But if you are doing fine without them, then cool. Well written though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely agree with you. I miss the unrestricted laughter I used to have with mine. Just that I’ve always been a person who liked solitute more tham company. Maybe because I always had a lot of friends. The post was meant more to entertain…with a pinch of my truth…😀…thanks for sharing your views brother…🙏🙏..always a pleasure…🙏🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent story. Just replace “guerilla” with “gorilla”. One fights wars; the other one gets killed by humans in wars and by poaching …unless it was a play on words, of course.

    I once wrote in an essay at school: ‘..John the Baptist wore a leather gherkin..’ It wouldn’t have kept the wind and the rain off but it might have come in handy if he had run out of food.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi
    Such incidents are eye openers they bring us close to reality and help us to assess our relationships . Like a sieve the chaff goes out and the valuable is retained . You have honestly shared your experience it is really good for at some point of time all us face such situations and draw strength from others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely….it’s looking back at events like that that make us feel we’ve grown up. From an urgent need to go out and party, to finding solitude, and the company of the family…life moves on, making us aware what’s best for us, and what’s not. Thanks for sharing your views…🙏🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s so strange that there are many people who struggle with same emotions and those who have pain for same and different reasons. Friends, well I already have stopped relying on them. Writing is what makes me keep going. Also, I’m sorry what you went through but the positive thing is that finally you stood up for yourself. I envy your courage. Never lose that again

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Kudos for being brave and following your own path..through my post Inner voice-right choice, same thing I wanted to say, as it leads to inner peace. I could relate with your feelings on friendships and books. At times, in the absence of good friends, there seems to be empty space, but if this space is filled with things giving more purpose and satisfaction, we ultimately find that true happiness lies within.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Such a heartfelt read…I guess everyone feels this way at one point if time…after that it’s upto them.. whether to go back to those friends…or not…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hey Sush…🙏…you’re absolutely right…the choice is ours after that…and I think there is no point to return to the people who are envious of you, and can’t understand your situation. Thanks so much for stopping by, and leaving your thoughts…appreciate it. 🙏🍀🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! This is exactly what I feel at some point in my life. I feel like you’ve written the words that my mind does not seem to allow me to write. Indeed, it’s when we are alone, enjoying our solitude, we learn more about ourselves and what we are capable of doing even without other people. Kudos to you, Sir!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks so much 🙏🙏 I understand it’s never easy to share things that personal. Like, just imagine if my father was to read this…😀😁
      I’m glad it resonates with you…and right you are…solitude teaches us more about ourselves…
      Appreciate the kind words…🙏🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a beautiful tale. Subtly humorous and adequately emotional. A great way to narrate a powerful life experience. Thanks for this lovely story, it gave me much joy and sadness too, a read worthy of anyone’s time. I salute you friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I loved it. Its feels amazing to hear about how a writer began his writing journey. We find friends and comfort in books and through writing than with real people, which will pave way for us to find real people who cares for us and understands us through the common love we share for writing and books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nagendra… yeah… the very words ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ stir something inside us. Difficult for non-readers to understand. Thanks for stopping by, and leaving a appreciative comment. :))

      Like

  15. You have laid so much raw emotion down on the page. ‘Write what you know’ many authors say. There is nothing quite like reality and all that comes along with it.

    Thank you for taking the time to share this story. It had twists and turns, and circled back to remind me I need to remember what is important. Living someone else’s life will only get me so far before I burn out. I love to write, so must orient my day to include as much of it in a positive environment as I can. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s