Living alone in the big, bad city isn’t as big or bad any longer. City dwellers feeling the sting of separation from the family fold have found a welcome balm-their best buddies. “I came to Mumbai, and started working for MTV when I was 19. I couldn’t have survived without my newly-acquired family,” says VJ Cyrus Sahukar. “Mini Mathur and Kabir Khan, as well as Maria Goretti and Arshad Warsi, looked after me like they would have looked after a child.” Much needed then, for Sahukar “didn’t even know how to set up a kitchen, let alone a house.” But even Mumbai born and bred filmmaker Karan Johar sings the same tune, “Maybe because I was an only child, friends have been the only family (besides mum and dad) I’ve had. I’ve never missed siblings.”
In fact, today one notices a growing number of youngsters living in the same city as their parents, but in separate homes—often with a group of friends. Like management executive Abhishek Kapoor, who moved out of his parents’ residence a year ago, to stay with friends he’d known for five years. “It was a smooth transition. I wanted to move beyond the sheltered life I was used to at the age of 23. There was also a need to not be answerable, constantly,” he grins. Vikas Mukherjee, who works in a marketing solutions firm, affirms, “I left home at the age of 20 and have been on my own since, with just friends for support. It’s not that I didn’t love my parents. However, at that transitional age, I needed not only support, but complete freedom to experiment, explore and only then decide my course in life.”
“I think it’s about non-judgemental acceptance,” replies Sahukar, when asked why friends are so essential at this coming-of-age stage. Lawyer Pragya Tiwari, who’s been living away from her Kolkata home for around six years, agrees and expands, “In India, things are changing, culturally, at a very fast pace, causing the generation gap to widen at twice the speed. Hence, your parents might love you unconditionally, but you need friends who understand your choices in life.” She also feels parents tend to see you in their own image. So naturally, if you do something that doesn’t meet their approval, it worries and hurts them more than it would an objective pal. Model and actress Koena Mitra, whose family is in Kolkata too, adds, “I can’t tell my parents about what I’m going through, because they’re too far-away to do anything about it. I don’t have the time to explain an entire comprehensive situation to them. So such information will only make them anxious.” Hence, whether Mitra needs advice or an emergency pad to stay (like she did after her house burnt down last year), she calls friends like Tapur and Tupur Chatterjee, her ex-public relations manager, Rohini Iyer, or her current one, Parul Gossain. Mukherjee adds, “Today’s youth often has an unconventional approach to life and career. So youngsters keep questioning whether they’re doing the right thing. Unfortunately, parents are too biased already to answer that question.”
Shifting to a more macro viewpoint, adman Prasoon Joshi points out, “Earlier, we had large joint families and, besides your parents, you always had the odd uncle, aunt or cousin—who was closer to your age—to connect to or share your problems with.” However, with most nuclear families in metros today, young people need to, in Joshi’s words, “find another security system”. Joshi came to Mumbai an outsider and has gone on to make so many friends, that he doesn’t want to name his close coterie: “it’ll be too long a list”.
With serials like Friends doing the popularity rounds, is a ‘western’ influence another reason for this sociological shift? Joshi maintains that, “this pattern of friends becoming one’s family is evolving from an internal need, and not an outside influence.” After all, in the west, family does not retain the significance it does here. But Mukherjee feels that this exposure has played a role by “introducing Indians to the possibility of another social format.” Tiwari links another trend to this one: “A generation ago, there were fewer people living on their own. But today, with people moving all over for work opportunities, there are that many more strangers in strange lands and, hence, that many more friends to be made.”
Such friendships have even affected career choices. “When I came to Mumbai in ’93, I had a group of seven friends (including theatre director Makrand Deshpande), all of whom were into artistic fields,” reminisces actor Kay Kay Menon. “I’ve reached where I am and made my professional decisions because of those people.” In the days when he didn’t have work, Menon would sit with his group and have long reading sessions of Camus, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.
“That was my introduction to literature—it prevented an empty mind from becoming a devil’s work shop; and generally guided me towards the arts.” Johar adds, “My friends have moulded not just my personal but also my professional life. Aditya Chopra convinced me that I wanted to be a filmmaker, and Shah Rukh (Khan) acted in my films to make them what they are.” Kapoor emphasises this too: “My friends act like anchors, when I’m drifting away. They remind me of what I want to do, like my reference points.” Remembers Sahukar, “My main problem was that I constantly suffered from selfdoubt. So my friends were important not just to guide me, but also to believe in me.” He also goes on to narrate how, because he was “technologically backward”, a pal used to come in just to print his bills for him, saying, “Dude, you’ll end up putting your name in the middle instead of on top!”
That said, what births these friends-forever relationships? While it’s difficult to shortlist criterion for that ‘ideal friend’, there are some common parameters. Mitra feels that as one gets successful, “your friends remain your greatest critics, just like your parents would be. That kind of objective, yet relevant, opinion becomes essential.” Menon rounds off, “There has to be something in a friend to make you connect to him/her, even if your careers are completely different. The whole thing is very organic.” Adds Tiwari, “I think it’s a combination of two things. One is a shared experience of life, when a lot of time and emotions are shared. Two, a similarity in backgrounds and opinions. But being family is about a lot more-it means going through ugliness together.”
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/pg55