Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friendship Day

Today, 24th March - henceforth, I shall remember it and observe it as "Friendship Day".

It is the birthday of a very dear friend, Dayan. He died in a car crash eight years ago. He was less than 28.

Though Dayan was 15 years younger than me, he was a beloved friend. We were in the same team, over the space of a few months, that did the web-portal of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, "CALMANAC", in 2000 (that is now defunct). I connected with him soon after we first met - thanks to some "zany" interests we shared in common. And we became close friends.

On Dayan's birthday, and on the date of his passing, 19 February, I try to communicate with his parents, and visit his grave. I did that today morning. His parents were in Bombay, and so I went alone to the cemetery, with a mass of marigolds.

As it turned out, today was to be devoted to friends, and I zip-zap-zoo-ed across the city on this mission.

Another dear friend, Samrat, who lives in Assam, was in town, and we agreed to meet despite the narrow "window" of available time. (Samrat and i were on a course together seven years ago. He is also much younger than me.) So after remembering Dayan, I went to meet Samrat, in a coffee shop.

Then on to Debra, a close friend from Durban, South Africa, whom I first met in 1992, someone I would never get to meet in the normal course of things. She was in Calcutta for an important conference. She was in a very hectic situation, and the only time we managed to get was a few minutes around noon, when she exit-ed from a heated discussion to meet her friend.

After that Dr S. That is the anthropologist, Dr MKA Siddiqui. He is a father-figure for me. Despite wanting to, I haven't seen him in a long time, owing to one thing and another. As my movements across the city took me very close to his office, I thought I must see him today. So after seeing Debra, I went to Dr S's office. I had in mind to get from him the correct pronunciation of a Farsi poem by Sa'adi which I want to render to song. I could do that. And i could tell him about another friend, Madhu, who spent twenty years as a friend of the Gond people of Bastar. And also share with him my gladness at possibly visiting again a city I love, Nablus, in Palestine. I was there in 1999 and just being there helped me understand something I'd read Aristotle had said: "Men come together in cities in order to live. They remain together in order to live the good life." My friend, Marwan lives there, and it's thanks to him that I might go there again soon and meet him.

In the evening I attended a meeting and film screening organised by Nagarik Mancha, or Citizens' Forum, a civil society group, to look at what "city development" has come to mean in Calcutta. The Secretary of Nagarik Mancha, Naba Dutta, is an old comrade in public action in the cause of people, from over 25 years ago.

It was only today, thanks to this concatenation of friendly events that it occured to me to call 24 March, a day I associate with a dear friend, Dayan, as Friendship Day. I think meaningful public action can only be built on the pillars of friendship.

I remembered a Sufi tale about "friendship":

Ibrahim dreamed he saw the angel Gabriel writing down the names of the friends of God. Ibrahim asked, “Is my name there?” “No,” the angel replied. Ibrahim said, “I am a friend of the friends of God.” Gabriel was silent for a long time. Then he said, “Ibrahim, I am writing your name at the head of this list.”

And I remembered that one of the 99 names of Allah is - Al-WalĂ­, The Protecting Friend.

Here's to friends!

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