OPINION

Shallow Friendships and Missing Friends

March 19, 2007
Shantanu Dutta

I just finished reading a book with the quaint title of Clive Avenue written by a guy called T.S.Tirumurti and published by Penguin.. the book is about a cul de sac street by the name of Clive Avenue, which is so obscure that even after Madras became Chennai and Mount Road became Anna Salai, the tiny Clive Avenue remained as it was, too obscure to rename. In its confines live a few assorted families - friends, more than neighbors, who love and live out their lives together and living together for decades, actually grow old together. There is a certain bonding, a certain closeness and tenderness that one cannot but envy, especially people like me, who are perpetual migrants and have no one to bond with.

There are many disadvantages in being a perpetual migrant, even though it seems that I have lived in Delhi for almost all except a small piece of my life. When I first stepped into Delhi, I was a son of a bureaucrat and so were all my friends from school, drifting through Delhi because their dads happened to be also in the service of the government of India. We finished school and drifted off into our different careers and courses and for all practical purposes for ever lost track of each other. Till today, I do Google searches for some whose names and faces I remember, but no batchmates.com and classmates.com has helped me to trace out anything. Even if I did turn up with anything, I am not sure what we would be able to talk about meaningfully as we would have drifted apart, not having grown up together now for decades.

Although most of us chase after urbanization and come and live in the metros, there is some thing to be said for living in the smaller towns, where your immediate neighbor is not a total stranger, friends are not people you meet at weddings, birthdays or funerals but people you have known all your lives and have grown up with. To know that speeches need not be made or bouquets delivered to drive any point home because you are always home.

Orkut, Friendster and their many clones express the modern yuppie's yearning for communion and look for the elusive human touch through the tap of the key board and the flick of the mouse. While online sites and hubs do provide the theoretical opportunity to meet with people one might otherwise never meet , relationships and friendships carved out over the net are at best shallow and meaningless and and at worst abusive and exploitative.

The cloak of anonymity that the net provides may be a platform for sharing thoughts and emotions that one would be hesitant to do in real life but if one is looking for support, love and concern from merely an online "friendship" , then more often than not one is headed for disappointment. Encouragement and empathy can be expressed when all is said and done and when all the emoticon buttons and avatars exhausted, not by instant messaging but by looking a friend in the eye and asking for and receiving love and support and giving it in turn.

True friendships take a life time to cultivate and nurture. Friends cultivated over instant messaging and chats and networking sites can certainly be the springboard for meaningful friendships provided we recognize the limitations- that when the browser window is closed and the cache cleared , we would have nothing left but the memories of a chat session - not an anchor that we can rely on in the storms and sun shines of life.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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