a few months ago my mum got in touch with her old friends. growing up, these friends of my mum's were considered beyond reproach. they were reverentially referred to, in hushed tones almost. there were very very occasional phone calls or letters from them, and sometimes, she would hear of them or of their children from someone. there were a few photos. they all looked really chic in their small-pallu saris and large monalisa sunglasses. mum was a different person in those photos, a relaxed, happy young woman, in contrast to her normal state of wrinkled brows and super-fast walking speed. yes, there were a few men as well in the 'gang' - though rarely in contact.
this time around after much egging by us all, they had a small get together. then another. a few of them had recently lost their spouses, most recently one of the guys had nursed his wife who finally succumbed to cancer. i wish i had a telescope or something into their meeting, mum's account of it was sketchy and focussed on what food she served, mostly. nothing on feelings or sharing of joys and sorrows. what did you talk about, i asked her. but in her usual way she warded off that one and went into more mundanities. what was everyone wearing, i persisted. again ignored. anyway, they are her friends, and i can hardly claim any ownership! and, if i was present there, she would have found an excuse to avoid meeting them, i am pretty sure.
at this point of my life, i seem to really understand why she so rarely met up with her friends. dad's friends used to come home often, they used to hang out and smoke and guffaw. some of them had children and brought them, which was fun and strenuous at the same time (if they were younger than us). mum ran around like crazy making food and cleaning up. i am sure no one would have made such efforts for her friends, and, tired out from doing this stuff, it would be easy to totally avoid meetings. sure, outstation folks would drop in for chai, but not with any sense of regularity. gifts even would be exchanged (which never happened in case of dad's friends) but not with much planning, thought or anything. just a sari that was hanging around at home or something like that.
in a sense, i am happy that my husband and i have 'common friends.' which means they are guys, mostly. for an independent and rather eccentric person who pretty much leads a parallel and very complete life outside of her husband's presence, i find immense satisfaction and pleasure when a friend of mine is really liked by my husband and vice-versa. sometimes, that pleasure is akin to jealousy, i do feel that the male-bonding possibilities rob me of the chance to be friends with my friend. but then again, when the friends move away or get married or something like that, and we realise we are just the two of us again, the pain of missing the other person is shared and laughed away, so this common friends business is overall quite a good thing.
if you see me hiding my girl-friends from the husband though, you can attribute this crazy behaviour to one of several things going on in my head. i would be too jealous to see a girl-friend of mine get along too well with my husband, even if i am not that particularly close to her. though it would make me feel too stressed out if they did not get along and i had to play mediator. and, of course, there is some feeling of a loss of personal space, my space that is. and the final reason is that usually when a girl-friend and my husband get along they talk about realllly boring things such as banks and markets and stuff and i find it virtually impossible and unrewarding to be awake. :-)
i have been a zillion times to chennai, to bangalore, to hyderabad, to other cities where people i call friends, some of them really dear friends, live. but i do not always meet them, despite the fact that i feel super guilty about it, not guilty at denying them something, i know i am not that important to them, just guilty about my inability to manage time and do things in life that are really meaningful. guilty that when we are sixty and we finally get together for chai, the sorrows will outweigh the joys and our children will be too grown up to develop meaningful friendships between themselves. in this, unlike in the case of my parents, there is virtually no gender difference in our marriage. i feel the same about the various people that are my husband's friends that we are unable to meet when we go to their cities.
i think my problem is of course one of attitude. i love family functions. i love my family and look forward to the opportunity of meeting them at functions. and i consider it my duty to be there and participate somehow, even if it is to just sit and sit. i dont like to act important and take phone calls during lunch. not that i can, considering my hands are pretty full managing a monster wearing green paavadais and fifty bangles on each hand. but the day before the function, the day after it, etc. leave me totally drained of energy. meeting friends, driving to their homes or figuring out a location to meet them at, the effort seems immense. the joy that i am sure to derive from such a meeting, seems a luxury i can ill afford.
i can imagine my mum living in the same city she was born in, rationalising things. friends who had flown away call her when they come home to their parents, the first few times they meet. mum acts busy, father-in-law to look after she insists. children have fever, she says, her voice breaking a bit. the friends see her stressed out and dont call for a few years. and its not like they dont have preoccupations. their brother gets married. they invite mum. she cannot go for whatever reason, or she goes, and the friend is too busy for them to have a meaningful conversation. dad is generally co-operative in these things, always finds friends to have long chats with in such situations, and is quite relaxed, but mum is worried. children are at home. school tomorrow, lets go, she says. they leave. the next time the friends call is several years later. perhaps phone numbers are lost. mum moves away to another house. loses some friends that way, the ones that lack the enterprise to track her down (which used to be real easy, you could ask pretty much anyone and they would tell you, at least thats what it felt like).
yeah well, i love mum. she is wonderful. the most remarkable energy and discipline. but her priorities need not be mine. friends are precious, just as much as family, sometimes more so as i cannot connect with many of my family members as much as i can with my dear friends. i do like it when my daughter bonds with her cousins, especially important for a single child. and my closest family - my sisters, my sisters and brothers-in-law, are real cool and i do think i have good equations with all of them. but i do need to hang out with my friends and chat and be nostalgic and perhaps sing (even if off-key), compare notes on this and that, whatever. be with people to whom i am kenny and nothing else.