Recently I fell out with two of my 'friends' ' one betrayed my faith and another one stabbed me at the back. These repeated assaults really made me sit up and I decided to take a fresh look at the very institution of friendship, with special reference to our own context.
One of the standard English dictionaries defines friendship as 'affection, affinity, alliance, amity, attachment, benevolence, closeness, concord, familiarity, fondness, friendliness, good-fellowship, good will, harmony, intimacy, love, rapport, regard' between unrelated individuals. It is thus evident that the term has much more depth than what we usually understand and more often we tend to use it loosely. I seriously doubt whether any of our normal friendships ever reach such lofty levels of sincerity and purpose; but the pertinent question is whether it is a basic necessity to have any friendship at all?
Why it fails?
The primary reason why most (Indian) friendships fail is due to the ego problem. Except for a small percentage of highly evolved ones, most of us 'suffer' from ego and more often it is bloated too. Usually, friendships are struck and nurtured based on helps extended by one to the other. But every such act develops obligations on those who are getting helped. This is where human psychology starts playing its part in a negative fashion. No human beings, especially those who are socially and economically in the same social stratum, would like to be obliged to one another. In the past there was much more interdependence in the society and day-to-day helps were considered quite natural. There was not much feeling of obligation at being helped because it was quite natural to help others. But now the situation has changed and all of us have become too individualistic. In the changed scenario, it is more often the rule that those who bother to help others get stabbed at the back at the very first opportunity. Those who get helped would like to see their benefactors out of their way (and sight if possible) at the earliest.
Another reason why true friendships are few and far between now is the huge turn over of people whom we meet in a lifetime. In olden days, there were many who would spend their lifetime in one village or in one district or state. Such limited exposure and limited resources provided adequate reasons for more co-operation and friendship. Scores of people of same age spent their lifetime together in the same area and chances of striking friendships were very high. But in this jet age when most people spent their productive lives outside their state or country, chances of long lasting relations are rare. Most people are content with having more acquaintances and very few friends.
In a highly competitive society like ours, there is hardly anything that one can offer another and consequently true friendship among equals is like a mirage. More often it is foolishness to strive for it. Stories about meeting of minds, conscience keeping and friends from last birth are all things of the past. Nowadays we have only convenient relations to get things done one way or other. The fact that participants in a friendship have no blood relation calls for some other binding force to hold the relationship together. And such a force can be unleashed only by offering a helping hand, monetary or in some other manner. Strong and true friendship breeds only on feeding each other and those who have nothing to give can never strike a friendship. In other words, friendship is akin to debt and unless one can service it, never go for it.
How can it succeed?
The ideal friendship that most Indians eulogise is that of Lord Ram and Hanuman. But very few realise the fact that the said friendship was successful because of the inequality of the parties concerned. One was the Lord himself and the other a lesser being. The point to note here is that one had something to 'give' and the other was willing to 'take'. While analysing some of the contemporary 'friendships' in my own neighbourhood, I have always noticed that more the disparity between the parties involved, the more intensive and meaningful the friendships are.
It is an accepted fact that human beings are created unequally and we have already rejected any form of ideology that attempt to create an artificial feeling of equality. The utter failure of enforced socialism in countries like Soviet Union is a case in point. But it is essential that all human beings to show feelings of compassion towards fellow beings and righteousness in order to sustain humanity forever. If this was not the case, I am sure that humanity would not have survived all these millions of years. With the kind of evil minds we have in our midst, we would have wiped out entire humanity for purely selfish ends.
With the kind of unequal social and economical strata we have in our society, a durable and strong friendship is possible only between people from different levels. Friendship can sustain only in an atmosphere of give & take and only if there is such a possibility, will the relation blossom. Others are merely hollow relationships designated as friendships for want of a better term.
Is it really required?
Now let us come to the most pertinent point in this fresh look at an old social institution viz. whether friendship is an absolute must for any human being. My own conclusion is in the negative. Apart from the above arguments, I feel there is a religious and philosophical aspect also supporting my conclusion. We in India have always believed in individual pursuit of God. Perhaps no other culture has 'interesting' practices like Maunavrida (Silent Life), Vanaprastha (Forest Life) and Antharyamam (Looking Inward). All these point to the possibility of a lonely pursuit with compassion and acquaintance with one and all. We need not have enmity with anyone but we need not have friendship either. It can be a dispassionate love for all beings with detachment from all. There is enough space for everyone in this world.