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Friendship ties get stronger in COVID times

Manu Shrivastava | Mumbai

Who would have thought a dreadful viral outbreak like the COVID crisis would present an opportunity to 'reconnect' with old friends or provide opportunities to develop spanking new relationships? This Friendship Day is that silver lining in the gloomy times suffered by most. 

The five months of 'isolation' might have been a bane for most, for several others it was a blessing in disguise. Some got a chance to revive old friendships, others strengthen existing ones and a few managed to strike 'unique' ones too. This year, Friendship Day is special and memorable for a few!

Often, the best of friendships, over time, blend into oblivion. Like was the case with Ahmedabad-based award-winning Gujarati film actress Aarohi Patel. Her ‘gang of friends’ from college, who once filled her life, gradually drifted away chasing their dreams. "After finishing college in 2015, the eight of us stayed in touch but personal and professional commitments didn't allow the liberty we had in college," says Aarohi. Some of her friends moved out of Ahmedabad, some out of the country. 

FRIENDS IN DEED: Actress Aarohi Patel (Extreme left) with her friends
The friendship was restricted to an occasional message or call. "Last year, we took a trip to Goa and that was the most we could have of each other," she recalls. The lockdown and the absence of ‘work’ provided Aarohi and her friends an opportunity to reconnect “like never before”.

“We started talking through group video calls...and since no one had to hurry to go to work or run an errand, we could simply 'hangout' for hours." The time spent together, even virtually, strengthened the bond. "As we discussed instances and stories from our college days, we got a chance to clarify old misgivings, get the closure needed and move on."

Goa-based actress Meenacshi Martins rediscovered her friendship with Merlyn Subawalla whom she has known for over twenty years now. "Both our children went to the same school. When the kids were younger, we spent a lot of time together…going for picnics, working on our children's homework, attending PTA meetings, and the usual stuff," explains Meenacshi known for her work in National Award-winning Konkani film Nachom-ia Kumpasar

Merlyn and Meenacshi were like "two peas in a pod." Over the years, as their children grew older and embarked on their individual paths, the friendship got confined to "attending birthday parties, Christmas and Easter."

PRETTY PEAS: Actress Meenacshi Martins (left) with her friend Merlyn Subawalla
The lockdown, however, changed everything...and for better. With all the time at hand, Meenacshi now got a chance to rekindle her friendship. "Our interaction increased a lot when the lockdown began. We began to talk daily on the phone sharing our problems, even met a few times when the lockdown was relaxed," says Meenacshi. 

Not only did Meenacshi revive her friendship, she began to recreate authentic Goan food during the lockdown with her friend. "We are reviving Goan cuisine made from traditional plants. So, now we exchange plants from our gardens and spend a lot of time cooking separately, but together in spirit." They have started visiting ancestral homes in the neighbourhood to look for plants not found in nurseries anymore and ask the elderly to share old recipes.

"Merlyn still cooks at home on a ‘wooden fire’ and makes wonderful 'meat roast'. That's one dish I am still trying to make just the way she does," says Meenacshi, thankful to be able to 'reunite' with an old friend.

And, among the more uncommon friendships that developed during the lockdown is the one developed by South Mumbai’s Bharat Gas distribution agency owner and entrepreneur Rashida Amir with her 40-odd employees. As an essential service provider, Rashida's responsibilities escalated overnight during the lockdown. 

RARE BOND: Entrepreneur Rashida Amir (centre) with her staff
"I had to ensure deliveries were made on time despite the sudden spike in demand," she says. And, all this, while ensuring the staff reported on time, ensured ‘laid-down’ precautions and stayed safe too. 

"During the lockdown, we stood together as one. The friendship that I developed with my staff in these five months is there to stay. Not even once throughout the lockdown, did anyone tell me s/he didn’t want or couldn’t report to work," says a proud Rashida.

With her staff commuting from far and food options being limited during the lockdown, Rashida had to keep their morale high. "They need to know they are being cared for. So, during the lockdown, on a few occasions I cooked for all of them even brought meals over. Who doesn't love palak paneer, dal rice and raita? On another occasion, I got vada-pav and chutney as they missed that a lot. I realised that food is a great way to bond," she says.

Life for Mumbai-based biker and entrepreneur Abhinaya Natarajan had taken several turns and she hated being unable to catch up with a bunch of biker buddies she rode with two years ago. And then, the lockdown happened making it a possibility…finally! 

HOT AND WHEELS: Biker and entrepreneur Abhinaya Natarajan
"I had met these girls on a biking expedition to the Himalayas and had the time of my life then. After that, we all got busy with our lives and drifted apart. During the lockdown, we not only reconnected but got a chance to know each other well sparking the beginning of a life-long friendship," says Abhinaya.

TECH TALK: Abhinaya on a video call with fellow bikers
Any relationship between a doctor and a patient is based on trust. For Ophthalmic surgeon Dr Shaila Patel, a professional relationship developed into a special friendship with her patient Ujwala Kambli. "When I met Ujwala, there was an instant connect. Despite the difference in ages, she has become a close friend now," says Shaila.

On her visits for treatment during the lockdown, Ujwala would bring home-cooked food for her ‘friend'. "Once I got her tendli rice and boondi raita and she loved it," recalls 54-year-old Ujwala. "Now, I share everything with her...my deepest fears that I don't share with my daughter too." 

FOOD FRIENDLY: Dr Shaila Patel (left) with Ujwala Kambli
And, Shaila has found a friend she never had. "I trust her a lot and know she cares for me. So, whenever I feel low or sad, I reach out to her knowing she’s there for me," says Shaila.

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