Tag Archives: Friends

Bonds Over Books

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A friend reminded me, after my last post how she had been a part of my reading escapades in school. I took a long trip back into childhood and had an epiphany – that my closest friendships have always been with readers.

As I let nostalgia take me on a ride down to my early years of pre-primary and primary in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I gazed with wonder at Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Huckleberry Finn, Dicken’s and a dozen others scattered over my bed. With it came the memory of my first ‘bosom’ friend, Nanda D Gurbani she was to me what Diana was to Anne of Green Gables. Petit and pretty and oh so perfect. Malory Towers and St Claire’s made us Sigh for boarding school and our exasperated parents complied. She was packed off to MGD in Jaipur and I equally unceremoniously waved off to Welhams, Dehradun. With impressive promises and fervent oaths we hoped to keep in touch and then faced with the vagaries of the postal system lost touch forever. I name her here since I do hope there is someone reading it here who will put me in touch with her again.

My first night at boarding school is when I met a minx with a ropes of curls, who I will forever address with her surname and never with her given one. She and I bonded over thousands of pages of adventure and misadventure, classics and non-classics. Both of us would be placed together in dorm after dorm till we parted after the 10th grade. We would exchange books and read them by torchlight, sweating under the covers of our uninspiring counterpanes. After a hiatus of college, marriage and kids we were united by Facebook many years later to my delight.

During the Welham years, there were two more with whom I forged bonds over books that last till today. With one I was her partner in crime. We hid the books we wanted to read from others behind obscure titles in the school library. We borrowed for ourselves and shared with each other, breaking rules of asking the owners before further sharing their books. But, then loyalty was always towards each other and no one else. We coerced relatives and friends with well-worded letters about the horrible loneliness of boarding school, and how the mentioned title would relieve us of it somewhat. Some of our letters were heeded and some sadly went to unsympathetic postees. The one or two books that did trickle in managed to find their senders places of fondness in our hearts till they too turned unsympathetic and were relegated to the dark recesses of a hurt child’s psyche, never to trust such adults again. We read and read, then discussed each book to shreds – dismayed at a character’s sorrows and jubliant at their fortunes.

Then there was the other friend, a delightful cuddle on whose lap I put my head and we read the great romances – Gone With The Wind, Far Pavilions, Thorn Birds; the sagas of Sheldon, Archer, Segal, Steele. A quirk she had which I never understood – reading the end of the book first!! Sacrilege, if there was any term for it! The anticipation of the end is always the most exciting part of the read, I debated. With the coolness that to her was second nature she bothered not to respond. I still have never ever tried to read an end before the rest of a story. The magic would be lost and I still wonder at her. The eternal romantic she found treasures we read, my head on her lap – one book in her hand and another in mine.

School ended and college began. Another girl became my concomitant to the bookstores in the neighbourhood. We shared the same name in addition to a quirkiness of the mind. We bonded over the stories we read and defied the seriousness of the world, laughter rang out and continues to over the love for books and the ridiculousness of the world. She is the one who brings out the ‘stupid’ in me and makes me realise that solemnity is actually a vice. To her I owe in friendship more, in madness even more.

There came a long period of lull, in which I read rather alone. Then came along a group so Drunk-on-books, sobriety suits them not. We read the woes of the world, dissect each aspect of writing and debate loudly on the author’s voice. We eat and drink with the passion we reserve only for the venerated written word. We each bring into the discussion a viewpoint that another has not thought of, a perspective brought on from another way of life. Each book we read and discuss enriches the experience of looking at it through multifarious lenses. The women in this group are erudite warriors whose reading choices make me break out of my comfort zone to read books I would never have picked up otherwise. They are also my biggest support system and champions.

Another group that enriches my reading experiences is one of women who live around me. Rocking grandmothers who redefine the maxims of age and women of my age who rewrite the expectations of stereotypes make up this sapient group. Again the discussions are designed well and structured to be deep and meaningful. A different experience which releases wisdom from the written words of so many authors stimulates my intellect. With laughter and encouragement the group grows, with love and companionship we support.

Quoting PG Wodehouse to end this post, “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” And I have beautiful friends to share not only literature with, but my life with, too.

Live With Thy Neighbor

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Today’s post is in appreciation of good neighbors. The hammering going on, on my head brought this thought to mind that I have, till now, had amazingly understanding neighbors who have turned into lifelong friends.

Growing up in a small town one takes neighbors for granted, they have been around forever. My grandparents and parents had already forged relationships that had me calling some of them Chacha, Bua, Masi when they were in no way related to us by blood. Food bowls would be passed over boundary walls and festivals would be celebrated with each other. Gossip and recipes would be traded in the evenings over cups of steaming tea by the ladies sitting in one garden or another. And kids would be pampered by aunties or uncles and hauled by the ear to homes when caught making mischief.

Newly married I set out to establish my own household in a new city. A lot of things were on my mind, neighbors were not. Moving into condos in Delhi the first few days were very busy in the hustle-bustle of settling in, I smiled at the people that I would cross on the stairs and received friendly greetings in return. In the flat opposite mine lived the Gupta family and Aunty who would soon become my guide to the then unknown world of housewifery knocked on the door the very first day offering help, advise, gossip and so much more. Over the next few years we became great friends and when I shifted from that house to another, copious tears were shed and promises to keep in touch exchanged.

Over 19 years I have lived in different homes in different places. I’ve had a neighbor celebrate my son’s 5th Birthday in Bangalore as I had just shifted into a new home three days before. I’ve knocked on the doors of a newly married couple who shifted into the flat next to mine and been friend, guide, counselor to them. I’ve gone on numerous holidays with another. I’ve partied into the night with some and talked for hours with others. I’ve been sent numerous meals for my family when I’ve been laid up in bed sick and I’ve cooked numerous such meals and sent them forward to others. I’ve cooked and baked and pickled and shared. I have laughed with many and I’ve cried while leaving their company. I have given numerous farewells and been fare-the-welled many times.

What has been my biggest learning from all these people is that to live in harmony one must extend cooperation and consideration to each other. As the hammering above my flat continues I try to convince my new, yet to move in neighbors, that my son appearing for his decisive college entrance exams is affected by the noise. And my husband who works US timings needs to sleep for just an hour more. I bargain for asking for just a two hour delay in their work starting and hope that they will understand. At home I explain to my son and husband that the new neighbors too have to work towards a timeline that allows them to shift into their dearly bought home as soon as possible. I have already received a few offers that my son go and study at their home from neighbors who I have discussed this situation with. I also know I will receive dozens more after this piece of writing is read by friends and family and my neighbors who know the value of living in harmony with thy neighbors.