The Tribune - Spectrum


, April 7, 2002

Life Ties

Male bonding out of its depth
Taru Bahl

KARAN, Vikram and Arti were together in school. They came from different backgrounds but kept in touch because of Karan's steady efforts at keeping the bond alive. Arti drifted away after her husband moved to Singapore though the occasional phone call and e-mail helped them stay in touch. It was Karan and Vikram who turned 'best' friends. Although Karan was a successful businessman and Vikram a software professional they had, between them, a level playing field, allowing them to bond.

As is the case with most school mates, they got carried away whenever they recounted the same stories, about the same people and narrating the same jokes much to the chagrin of their spouses who had heard these anecdotes hundreds of times. They met up almost every day. The final straw was when they took up golf. The wives were not reconciled to being "golf widows". They also resented their husbands' keeping them out of the loop when it came to sharing significant developments in their professional or personal lives. They would first share it with their friend, before bringing it to the attention of their wives. Karan and Vikram had seen enough friendships fall by the wayside, simply because the wives were threatened or didn't approve. They wanted their relationship to stand the test of time, without eating into what they shared with their spouses. They were friends for life and nothing was going to destroy that.


When Arti came back to India after 15 years of marriage the trio got together once again. Since Arti's husband was a real sport, their interaction was more frequent and informal. He participated completely and it was thanks to his easy demeanour that both Karan and Vikram's wives began shedding their stuck-up attitude, learning to enjoy the camaraderie which came from intimate bonding. They realised that their spontaneity had led a unique touch to their friendship. They were like a bunch of school kids coming together, without the awareness of who they were and minus the trappings of their individual social and material status. Just being together, talking, laughing, going for impromptu drives, picnics and dances took away the stress and strain of their otherwise hectic lives. It was a bond that was uncomplicated.

Arti's return to India changed the complexion of the friendship which Karan and Vikram shared. There was greater sensitivity and the qualitative difference in their lives was visible. Both men could turn to her for advice and support. This show of confidence surprised Arti. Were Karan and Vikram not the best of friends ? Had they not stuck through thick and thin ? Were they not childhood buddies who could never hide anything from each other, even if they wanted to ? Then why was it that they felt more comfortable talking to her about their insecurities and hurts than they did with each other ? She had re-surfaced in their lives only recently. Had they all these years maintained only a superficial relationship keeping their real emotions and feelings under wraps?

One day she asked Karan as to why Vikram and his wife Hema had not been able to have children. After a decade of marriage, didn't they feel they were ready to start a family ? Was there a medical problem ? Karan stonily responded with: "We don't talk about these things". Arti found it very strange. How could they be bum- chums and not know such a vital aspect of the other's life. Her gut instinct told her that everything was not hunky-dory between Vikram and his wife too. When she inquired from Karan, sure he would know, since he had been with them ever since they had wed, much to her chagrin he said: "We don't interfere with each other's lives. He has never said anything, so I presume things are alright." What stumped Arti was the men's inability to relate to each other on an emotional plane. It wasn't as if they didn't have feelings and were ferociously guarding their privacy. They were comfortable talking about all the things under the sun but personal lives were a strict no. It was just a perception that they would not like talking about "such things." Which is why they didn't probe, inquire or look out for tell-tale signals.

Arti broached the subject of parenthood with Karan. She didn't want it to seem an intrusion and she certainly wasn't asking for explanations. As an old friend, one who understood him and who wished well for him, she knew she had the right to ask. If he didn't want to talk about it she would leave it at that. But she certainly would not pretend as if she had not noticed. She could see it eating away at his insides and turning him into a recluse. Surely they could think of adoption? Karan did not get offended. After the initial awkwardness, he unburdened his pent-up feelings. He told her how Hema's inability to bear a child had created a rift in their relationship.

They had left no stone unturned. Doctors, mendicants and temples had been visited but to no avail. They had reconciled to not having a child by immersing themselves in their work. Karan told her how it hurt to see his classmates with grown-up children, of the silences in their home which hung heavy on them. When Arti suggested adoption, Karan tried evading the subject. When she took him to her brother's place to show him how beautifully her own family had accepted their adopted daughter and how much happiness and good luck she had bought, Karan showed some interest. Arti's gentle and sustained interventions helped both him and his wife to explore the possibility of adoption. It took them a year to come to terms with the idea, prepare both families, identify the right agency and finalise necessary formalities. And at the end of it when they brought the little bundle of joy, they knew that their lives were transformed forever. Karan already had plans of adopting a son after 3 years so that their family could be complete.

When Arti asked Vikram directly: "All is not well with your marriage. What is the matter?", there was no way he could evade. Besides there was something about Arti which made people instinctively trust her and before they knew it they had talked to her of things which they had not even articulated to themselves. He knew she was not taking just an academic interest. She was concerned and cared enough for him to see if there was anything she could do to help. If nothing else, at least offer her shoulder to lean on. All his hurts and feelings relating to incidents he had pushed at the back of his mind surfaced. He told her how his wife came from a richer background and had made no attempts to adjust to his rustic mother. To escape from the bickerings of mother and wife he stayed out of the house, knowing fully well that his wife could stage a walk out any day. Arti offered to help. She spoke to his wife. The threesome is still trying to work things out. Whether or not the marriage is finally salvaged is not the issue. What matters to Arti at least is that as friends, they managed to open lines of communication.

True friendship, according to her, has to go beneath the surface. The people involved should know that here is a person to whom they can turn to, anytime, with the confidence that their most private thoughts will not be betrayed, they would get the right advice and most importantly count on receiving positive strokes when they were feeling down and out. Given the highly stressful lives they were leading, it was only fair for them to share their lows, more so when their highs were signalled with all kinds of celebrations and public announcements. With her firm views on this, she managed to show both Karan and Vikram that it was not unmanly to talk about their feelings and personal lives. They didn't have to compromise on their dignity or self-respect by revealing things they didn't want the world to know about. But surely they could expect and demand a safe and welcoming shoulder from a friend.

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