Category Archives: friendships

For the love of the Blue one: or an unlikely girl writing about faith

Dear Reader,

I am writing a story here. But then, it is not really a story. Because nothing quite happens, and you do most of the work. But you can stay you know. I can promise it will be good. The veracity of the promise?

I don’t know.

(Also, Kiran Nagarkar has used the phrase ‘the blue one’ for Krishna in his Novel Cuckold, but that is the only similarity here. Just wanted to make sure I was clear on where the name came from.)

So she was curled up in a fetal position, in the pitch dark of the night. Utterly and completely alone. Was she crying? Well, from the dirt on her face, and the quietness in her body, you could imagine that she had just finished crying for a long long time.

What was wrong with her?

Whatever you want. She is your mirror today. Your insecurities. Your deep feeling of loss. Your sense of inadequacy. Your fear of rejection.

That traumatic incident which happened many years ago. That broken home. Violence. That flaming row. The loss of a loved one. That insensitive friend. Those jungles cut down. All the things that burn you like spent embers not yet quite cold. The fierce force of a life that  will not quit.

Project that on to her. That was what was wrong.

She is all of us in that moment, anyone and everyone.

The night is pitch dark, and the walls a pleasant cream. Funny, you would think the walls would be a more depressing color. The ceiling flat. Like pain. Boxed in, all of us. Unable at that moment to escape the prison of our lives, and box-like apartments.

She remembered a story from long a ago.. A story of a boy who used to be afraid of setting out in the dark forest. Was the forest dangerous? Or was it just his imagination? I don’t know. But he had to cross the forest to get to school. He was one of those boys you find in fables like these. (and this is a real fable from my childhood, mind you. This is not something I made up, though I am taking liberties with the retelling.) He was good, and poor. And always listened to his mother.

So he told his mother that he was afraid of the dark forest, and asked for her help. The mother was widowed, and had her own work to do. She could not really chaperon her son. So she said, if you are ever afraid in the forest, call Madhusudan. (for non-Indians, Madhusudan is another name for the Hindu God Krishna). He lives there. He will help you get across the darkness.

Now this story would be much less exciting if she had said Hanuman (or more exciting, depending on your perspective). Hanuman would probably just uproot the school and move it over to near his home. Anyway, she said Madhusudan. So that is that.

The next day our nameless protagonist went into the forest, he called out to Madhusudan. “Madhusudan Dada (brother in Bengali), where are you?”.  Lo and behold, there were soft footfalls behind him. There stood a man so marvelously blue. So delightedly, wholeheartedly committed to his blueness. With curly kinky hair, and a peacock feather tucked in behind his ears. He was wearing something yellow that certainly could not be found in Big Bazaar’s mega sale. And in his hand was a flute.

You are a musician? The boy asked? Madhusudan Dada smiled, and put the flute to his lips and played sound. He played color. He played the first song the first Koel would have sung. He played the feeling that you get when you smell the fresh earth. He played melancholy, and affection (he did not play love, because few have survived to tell the tale). As he played, he moved, swaying with the wind. He was the darkness, but luminously so. This was the Krishna of Vrindavan. The Krishna on whom Radha had staked her claim. The God, who was so Godly because he was possessed and owned by his devotees. Is there not real Godliness in being claimed? In playing along with mortals the eternal game of love, while you juggle planets on the side?

Well so the ritual was. They would meet in the forest, and Madhusudan Dada would escort him to school everyday. Playing the flute sometimes. Sometimes walking in peace. Sometimes speaking the language of the birds.

Needless to say, no adults in this story figured out that a God had come down to chaperon our dear protagonist. The mother, probably attributed her son’s ramblings about the blue one to white-lies of childhood. And the son, did not quite understand he was dealing with a God here. Kids are like that.

But one day, there was  a feast in the school, and each child had to bring one item of food for the whole school. (A rather unreasonable request, but then perhaps it was a small school.) When the protagonist went to his mother, and said “well mother, I have to take yogurt for the whole school tomorrow”, the mother panicked (because they barely managed to put two square meals together), and did what panicked people often do. Deflect. She said, “why don’t you ask Madhusudan Dada”.

So on the day of the feast, he asks the blue one for some yogurt to feed the entire school. Krishna, took out a small pot of yogurt and gave it to the boy. The boy took it with a sinking heart, because there was no way it would feed the entire school. But he took it because it was better than going empty handed.

Of course the yogurt was magic! When the people at the school, who made fun of him for only bringing so little, tried to pour the yogurt out into something else, there was a tiny problem. You see the yogurt never finished. It went on and on. No matter how much people ate. (And might I say Krishna has done this sort of stuff before, with Draupadi’s sari). Someone needs to speak to him about overkill.

Of course the boy was asked where he got it from, and replied with a straight face that his blue colored, flute playing, peacock feather wearing friend had given him the magic yogurt. Of course everyone rushed to find Krishna in the forest. But they din’t, did they? Because he never lived in the forest. Where was he? Go figure.

But our unhappy lady, on her floor, utterly alone, in the dark night thought of this. The corners of the mouth twitched in a smile. She understood why Radha, Meera and countless Gopis had longed for Krishna. He was the only God who switched places with the devotee. He took the pain, and the hardship, and you became divine. For a moment, you became unreal.

She called out. Softly. Very softly to the carpeted floor. Madhusudan!

The night descended on her.

Some errors in friendship and conversation

Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am no saint. The observations I make in this post apply to me as well. I do not claim to have any authority on what friendship truly means, nor am I a perfect conversationalist. That being said, these are my observations after spending more than two decades on this planet, and I would like to think there is a grain of truth to them.

I have recently turned 25, and find (to my dismay) that conversation with most people is not enjoyable. This is not completely new. It struck me in law school too. When I first joined law school (in India) I noticed that people enjoyed doing something called ‘taking someone’s case’. To those who are unfamiliar with this term, ‘taking someone’s case’ is the process of humiliating someone in public, by making a punchline. That is saying something superficial and funny, which on deeper reflection may not really be true. I attributed this to the fact that these were scared 18 year-olds who had deep insecurities about their place in life. But as I grew older, the trend continued. The ‘case-takes’  seemed caught in their self-affirming flatulent bubble, and began to see their ability to pick on people as talent.

This doesn’t mean law school was full of such people. In fact, I met perspicacious and sensitive people, people who were passionate about what they believed in, and humble people. But these really were the minority. Most of them, I became friends with.

But I also learnt to be sharp. To zero in on people’s insecurities, and to be able to say ‘witty’ things, that in retrospect were plain ugly. Perhaps, I was an 18 year old, insecure about my place in the word, but I lost track of the one quality that separates intelligence  (I dare not say wisdom) from cleverness, and brightness from well-marketed mediocrity.  That quality was humility. Growing up in a law school you think that marketing yourself and smooth talking is all it takes to get ahead. I wish I could say this was untrue. But I will say that you can do well without any of that. Some of the most interesting people I know, and the most successful, are the humblest and most self-effacing.

At any rate, I was lucky enough to find a partner who could call my bullshit, and made me introspect on the impact my behavior could have on others. I would like to think I am a better person  now, or at least a more discerning one. These nuggets of wisdom are a result of that introspection.

1) Respect your adversary.

The worst thing you can do in a conversation is make a statement, and then check out. I wish this were not true, but a large number of people make this mistake. They make a statement, and then check out (mentally) for the duration of the time that the other person is talking. Sometimes, it is less subtle. You will occasionally meet people who if you disagree with them, will start checking their phone, or get a glazed look in their eye. Here is a tip: ditch them. No one is worth talking to, if they don’t have respect for your time and effort. If you are one of these people, then I am sure you stopped reading a while back.

2) Don’t make statements for shock value.

Conversation is about the exchange of  ideas, and the persuasion of people through reasoned discourse. If you need to say shocking things to get people’s attention, you probably don’t have very interesting things to say. Of course following this advice is not going to make you popular, it will only make you a bit less of a git.

3) Friendship should be between equals.

We all have friends who doubt their worth, or feel that one person has all the power in the friendship. Maybe sometimes we are that friend. If you have a friend who thinks that it is a one-sided friendship, or who devotes time and attention to you that you can not reciprocate.  Let them go. No good comes of holding on to people who are more attached to you, than you to them. Somerset Maugham said something like in every relationship there is a person who loves and one who lets themselves be loved. Sadly, my favorite author was dead wrong (and this kind of wrong becomes popular wisdom). Not only are there relationships of people who equally care for each other, but that is what healthy relationships are like. Holding on to someone who feels inferior or neglected all the time, is a disservice to them.

4) Pick character over personality. Every time.

If you have to chose between a boring friend and a interesting one with a whacky moral compass. Pick the former. Close your eyes and pick the former. Personalities become boring, just like youth fades. (Unless you have a painting in a cellar somewhere that ages on your behalf.. but that story did not end well). What does not become boring (perhaps because it is boring to begin with) is compassion and patience.

5) Surround yourself with people who have differing points of view.

This helps prevent you from burrowing yourself into an intellectual hole, where you only see one point as legitimate. These days I have the most interesting discussions with people, some of whom are conservative and some of whom pro-life. These discussions teach me to empathize, and to understand that reasonable people of good will can disagree on some fundamental things.

But what you should not do, is to surround yourself with people who like confrontation, and who have no intention of being persuaded. Drop them like a hot potato (as the song goes). You will just feel anguish over interactions with them.

6)Understand that most friendships have a life cycle. 

If you see eye to eye with someone for a lifetime, they are probably your soul-mate. Am kidding. The only way you can see eye to eye with a person for a whole lifetime, is through hard work. That kind of hard work can be put into one or two relationships in your life. With the rest of the people, you will outgrow them. Its inevitable, like the end of the Daily show. No one wants it happen. But happen it will, because eventually Stewart will get tired of being in the same place for sixteen years. Umm, I am digressing. Learn that outgrowing friendships is a healthy sign, it shows you are not the person you were five years ago. (Trust me, we were all morons five years ago).

7) Eat a lot of fiber. 

The wisdom of this is pretty self-evident.

8)Know that you are not self-made. 

It is unfortunate that our embracing of individualism makes us neglect all of the factors that have contributed to us becoming who we are. Our successes, and those of others are a product of a lot of help. That may seem trite (frankly most of this post does). But it is inevitable that you remember, that people’s failures are also not completely theirs. So if you see someone failing, know that in another time and place, it could be you.

9) Realize that 25 is too young to be dispensing advice. 

This last advice, is for me.

If any of you have stayed with me till the very end of a slightly preachy post, I would like to thank you. You really are the most amazing readers, to tolerate a 25 year old, talking like a 60 year old.