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Age no bar
Twenty-somethings hanging out with octogenarians? As society in our cities becomes increasingly informal, heterogeneous and lonely, people don't mind bonding with those twice, sometime thrice, their age if there are similar interests to share, stories to tell and passions to follow
In the Hollywood film Finding Forrester, an ageing, reclusive writer becomes friends with a gifted black American teenager, sharing the secrets of his writing and his life with the boy. The film looks at the way friendship between an older man and a much-younger boy can transform the lives of both, enriching and changing them in the process. In real life, too, it is now common to see people with vast age gaps befriending each other as they confront the loneliness of urban life.
Avik Swarnakar and Subhashish Chakravarty, for instance, have been friends for eight long years. When they first met, Swarnakar was new to Delhi and their friendship grew in the smoking zone of their office. Says Chakravarty, "Avik was much junior to me, both in age and professional experience. We would meet during our cigarette breaks and talk about politics and the Indian economy. But what first got us talking was that we both were from Ranchi and we had a common mother tongue, Bangla."
Age never mattered to them as they shared many interests, like reading. Even after they left the organisation, they would still meet up for a drink at least once a week. Swarnakar says, "Subhashish would always insist on paying the bill but since I too was earning I would insist on sharing the amount. I was all alone in the city and Subhashishda was my only friend. He introduced me to the city and its ways. "
There are enough reasons for persons from hugely different age groups to hang around together. Young achievers find it is easier to connect with an older crowd than their peers. Twenty-one-year-old Amit Malhotra, a graphic designer with a UK-based publishing house, admits that most of his friends are in their 30s or 40s. "I really do not have many friends in my age group, " says Malhotra. Talking about his best friend, 37-year-old Iona Naylon from the UK, he says, "She is a very mature, strong, sorted-out yet fun-loving person. " The two like to go out together for poetry readings, exhibitions and parties.
They have been friends for over a year and are always there for each other. It is not just Malhotra who takes her advice, even Naylon consults him on matters of relationships, boyfriends and work. Unlike other people her age, Naylon, who works as part-time bartender besides freelancing for a magazine, does not have any qualms about taking advice from a 21-yearold. Nor does she pay the bills when they go out. "We always split it up, " she says.
But is it easy to connect well with a person much older or younger than you? Delhi-based psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh says, "We live in a heterogeneous, plural society where friendships between different age groups, castes, creeds are but natural. Two friends may be of different ages, but they may have more interests in common than two people of the same age. "
In the case of 27-year-old budding filmmaker Kuber Sharma, who lives in Delhi, and his friend and mentor, architect Dehlia Contractor, 82, it was their love for arts, cinema and poetry that bought them closer. Sharma and Contractor met, as they say, in a very 'filmi' manner. "It was straight out of Amar Akbar Anthony. Deedee, as all friends call Dehlia, was hospitalised and needed blood and I donated blood to her. After the initial introduction, I kept visiting her in the hospital and that's how our friendship took off, " says Sharma. Contractor lives in Sidbari, Himachal Pradesh, and Sharma usually sends her 50-odd films in a year. When he goes to visit her in the hills, they discuss each one of them threadbare over cups of masala chai and hot pakoras.
Thanks to her age, she is always there to guide him but she is not a mother figure. As Sharma proudly says, "She's very wise. For instance, she told me that the older I become, the more women I will get. And it's been happening. "
However, for Rashmi Apte, a 53-year-old school teacher from Pune, her best friend at her work place, 25-year-old Malati Rane, was like a daughter to her. "I had recently joined this school and was having problems adjusting to the new environment. That's when Malati held my hand. We immediately got along. Even though I was the older friend, it was Malati who would always be advising me on almost everything - be it what to cook for a Sunday lunch or how to deal with a difficult colleague at work, " says Apte. Now she has moved on to another school, but Rane continues to be in touch with her.
It's not just age, people also bond across socio-economic barriers. Ruby Shukla and Zuleikha Gupta met through a long term accompaniment programme, Big Friend Little Friend, introduced by Udayan Care, a Delhi-based NGO, in partnership with the New Path Foundation, USA. But their friendship is anything but usual. Shukla, who is 17, comes from a poor family while Gupta is well-to-do and in her mid-twenties. They meet twice a month and write letters to each other. "We write about everything that is happening in our lives...about our friends and family, the latest movies we watched or the books we read, " says Gupta.
She even gifted Shukla a copy of Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. During last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the two went to watch a boxing match. For Shukla, Gupta is her best friend. "It was a great day when we met for the first time. We clicked almost instantly. Now I can tell her just about anything and she always has something to say that makes perfect sense, " says the class 12 student. For Gupta, too, sharing her life's experiences with Shukla is a "great thing" to happen and it strengthens their friendship. "When I have those bad days I often talk to her and that immediately makes me feel better. It is all about listening to and caring for each other, " she says.
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