Monday, April 7, 2014

What Is This Platonic Nonsense?

If you want to test the intelligence of a dog, throw a dish towel over his head and see how long it takes him to shake it off. If you want to test the genuine progressiveness of an Indian Baby Boomer, throw platonic friendship at them and see how they deal with it – they’ll either lap it up quite normally, spring away from it in absolute horror or chew on it a while and then spit it out in complete confusion. Judge accordingly.

I've been regaled by stories of suspicious parents of women in particular. They’re constantly eyeing up the male classmate or colleague who turns up at their doorstep to hang out with the daughter much too often. There’s a definite stiffening of stance and wiggling of nose when a certain male name crops up in general conversation more than twice. An alertness creeps into the eyes when a male pronoun is mentioned. It's almost endearing that they’re so oblivious to the fact that their progeny has caught on but chooses to carry on anyway, turning a deaf ear to the tell-tale higher pitch in the parental voice as they report to another blood relative about “some colleague of hers” or “some friend” with a knowing emphasis.

This general perceived acceptance of platonic friendships is convenient to those parents in denial, unwilling to accept that their homely, domesticated, convent-educated daughter could be so bold as to be in a *gasp* relationship with a boy *double gasp*. I had the misfortune of being seated next to one such mother on a bus. She proceeded to tell me, unwilling listener as I was, minute details about her two daughters. One had been an absolute letdown to the entire family, having brought much shame to her mother for marrying a man of her choice and, horror above all horrors, not from the same community. Ooh, taboo, taboo. I clucked my tongue and pretended to feel her shame and pain.

The younger daughter was clearly her mother’s favourite. Her mother painstakingly listed out all of her myriad achievements, including marrying a “very good boy” from within the community. She then hastened to assure me that it was not an arranged match. “We are very open-minded, you know,” she gushed and I looked downright impressed. “This boy was a very good friend of hers, okay. They were friends for many, many years. They were JUST FRIENDS, okay? Just friends. There was nothing more because she is not THAT type of a girl. We told her, ‘Why not you marry him only? He is the perfect boy.’” I nodded sympathetically, concealing my amusement. “So she agreed and he also agreed and now they are very happily married!” she cooed, clapping her hands happily as I dabbed my teary eyes. 

Because that’s what truly platonic friends do, right? They leap at the opportunity to marry each other without so much as a second thought. Unfortunately for Bus Aunty, I knew the girl in question. And I also knew that she’d been seeing the guy quietly for a long while, slowly getting her folks - adherents to the arranged marriage norm - to envision him as the perfect boy. It helped that he was from the same community unlike her harlot sister.

I frowned on the girl for ruining it for the rest of us. Platonic friendships seem to be a more modern, urban phenomenon seeing as we’re a culture that is rather zealous about gender segregation, arranged marriages, female chastity, women of virtue and whatnot. The concept does not quite sit well with a lot of the older generation.

All this marrying of “just friends” business does not bode well for the rest of us who are genuinely just friends. It’s gone and muddied the pristine waters of platonic friendships. All the self-professed “progressive, open-minded” Baby Boomers think it’s perfectly okay to coax us into settling down with our good friends. Very little credit is given to our intelligence – if we thought the person was perfect for us, wouldn't we have embarked on a romantic relationship in the first place? Oh, no. The Baby Boomers are certain the scales will fall from our eyes only when they point it out. By the same token, I've seen people shake their heads in absolute consternation as they mull couples who have split or divorced and yet remain the best of buddies. “If they are such friends, why did they split?” they marvel, trying to wrap their heads around it.

I remember being asked why I hadn't hooked up with my friend Krazy Frog. At that suggestion, Krazy Frog looked like he’d smelled something really rank while I collapsed into peals of laughter at the absurdity of the notion. How could I possibly explain to someone daft enough to make such a suggestion that what I had in my heart for Krazy Frog was exactly what I had for my gal pal KO without sounding vaguely bisexual? I couldn't bring myself to form those really corny words “He is like my brother” which women from very traditional backgrounds would use to vehemently deny any sort of romantic relationship that would sully their good reputations.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for settling down with someone who is your best friend. It’s the best kind of relationship to be in. But there’s got to be some sort of “spark”, a romantic interest, thrown into that mix of friendship and perfect togetherness. Call it chemistry or attraction or whatever. It just seems completely wrong to settle for someone you’re great friends with but feel absolutely no “spark” for. Sparks do not ignite magically later.

Oh, as a footnote, anyone reading this who is thinking of turning down some arranged prospective groom with the line “Oh, we could be just friends but that’s about it” because there isn't a socially acceptable enough reason to say "No", please don’t. You’re playing right into their wily matchmaking hands because that is the perfect basis to arrange a marriage. "All that spark-shark, love-shove nonsense will come later," they’ll say. Trust me, it doesn't. It may have “come” 50 years ago, or something like it blossomed at least. It doesn't “come” anymore. Why settle for the cheap imitation?

My blood relatives thought they’d hit pay dirt with me when I reconnected with a childhood buddy and then proceeded to be good friends with him for several years. Knowing how terribly fond I was of Jatin (not his real name) and vice versa, they figured it’d be easy to convince us to throw a couple of garlands around each other and settle down to wedded bliss. Imagine their disappointment when I snickered every time it was suggested, balking at the very thought of being his missus. I was at a loss to explain to them how it didn't work that way. Yes, I was very fond of him (and still am) but the thought of marrying him made me want to retch.

I hung up the telephone after one such call, rebuffing a relative who figured it’d be a brilliant match. Chuckling I told my mother what had been suggested before breaking into laughter. "Ha ha ha!" she chimed along. "Yuck! I had to say it’d be like settling down with Scion," I shuddered, still amused and making a mental note to mention this to Jatin so we could giggle over it. "Ha ha ha!" said my mother. I joined her at the table and we proceeded into five minutes of silence - me shoveling food into my mouth, while she contemplated the table.

Finally, she looked up. Her expression was deadly serious. Very somberly, she asked, "But why not Jatin? Is it because-- is it because he is..." Her eyes widened in the certainty that she’d hit on the very painful truth and struggled to bring herself to finally say it: "Is it because he's bald?"

Gobsmacked, I sighed and gave up. Progressive Baby Boomers seem to agree on a number of things, among them: Lal Bahadur Shastri being the best prime minister, Sean Connery as Bond, reusing disposable containers and plastic cutlery, the reversibility of platonic friendships and, apparently, my complete and utter shallowness of being.