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          Volume 10 |Issue 38 | October 07, 2011 |


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Food for Thought

Finding “Forever” Friends

Farah Ghuznavi

I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend catching up with my best friend from my university days. It turned out to be one of the best times I have had in a long time; and it left me in a somewhat reflective frame of mind. Katy is now a full-time working mother of three with a demanding job and an incredibly hectic life in London. Despite that, she somehow manages to squeeze out the time to keep up with close friends - assisted by her very understanding husband Andrew, who volunteers for solo child duty as necessary - and somehow, she always manages to meet people more than halfway.

As someone who prides herself on nurturing friendships, I realise how much I have learned from Katy over the years. And in an era when friendship has been somewhat devalued by the casual way in which we toss around that term, it made me really think about what the actual qualities that make someone a true friend, one that sticks around for good (since sadly, in most of our lives, there are invariably a few friends that have been known to misbehave, disappoint - and above all, lie – in the process that usually bestows on them the status of being your ex-friend!). If all or most of the following criteria sound familiar to you, that's good news. You clearly have some real friends, in addition to your virtual ones - some of whom may also do a double duty shift in the real category. And in the end, there are few things in life more worthwhile than good friends.

So, starting off with the basics: the foundation of most solid friendships is layered, sometimes intricately, on the basis of common interests - whether other people can see them or not. At first, second and third glance, Katy and I are very different. She's elegant, and very social. I'm neither. But if you scratch below the surface, we are so similar it's frightening. I tested this out recently on another friend who knows both of us reasonably well. When I asked her if she thought Katy and I were at all similar, she said "Not really, but you're obviously good friends". When I asked Katy the same question, she responded without hesitation, "We are very similar". She's right. Among other things, we share a genuine interest in what makes people tick, and an almost limitless capacity for worry. She just hides it (a lot) better than I do!

Such common interests often extend to tastes and preferences in books, movies and music, though not always. Raised on a solid diet of George Lucas' Star Wars films, we can both quote our favourite lines from Episodes IV, V and VI. But here I will admit to being considerably less knowledgeable than my friend. When she saw the set of three Lego fridge magnet figures I had been given for my birthday by another friend's child, she was actually able to tell me which Jedi uses the purple light sabre, and which character the red one. I just knew that the green weapon belonged to Yoda, possibly chosen to match his complexion…

To be fair, Katy has a significant advantage in this regard. All three of her children are Star Wars addicts. Her twin sons watched the films from relatively early age. So much so that her daughter, who is three years younger, had as her first word “Tawoz” - which is what she uttered while pointing at the television and DVD player. Yes, of course she meant "Star Wars" - what did you think?!

More recently, Katy has been able to extend her encyclopaedic Star Wars knowledge further to absorb the finer details of the Harry Potter series of books and films. This enabled us to have a very satisfying discussion about the incredible level of detail and creativity exhibited by JK Rowling in the creation of her wizarding world. My personal favourite remains the "pensieve", which allows a wizard to remove the excess thoughts and memories in their brain and store it in what appears to be a gigantic bowl of shimmering threads - boy, would I like to have one of those! – while Katy prefers the idea of platform 9 3/4 which is set in the otherwise very real surroundings of King's Cross station in London; and neither of us like the way Hermione's character has been turned into a quivering wuss in the final film. Another friend, overhearing our conversation, said she could not believe that we could spend that much time discussing fictional characters -but then she hasn't known either of us as long as we've known each other.

A very important factor in determining friendship is a shared sense of humour. And sometimes that humour can be incredibly silly. Sometimes nobody else gets the joke; and that's just as well, because occasionally, the joke can get you in trouble. Like the time the two of us went through a period when we spoke to each other in silly French accents (apologies to French speakers, but it is undoubtedly an accent that lends itself to childish and inappropriate entertainment when speaking in English). I don't really know why we found it so funny; I think it may have been the influence of the Pink Panther films. We both love Peter Sellers. What I do know is that it got us more than a few (justified) dirty looks from the French students at our university, when they were sitting at nearby tables in the university cafe. So much so that we decided to cease and desist whenever there was anyone within hearing range.

Good friends are invariably aware of each other's tastes, even when they don't share them. While we were at university, Katy was greatly in demand, but the path of romance didn't always go smoothly. And on occasions when she needed to cheer herself up, her preferred comfort food was buttered toast with Marmite. That was much too bland for me, but I did keep her company on those occasions by eating toast with chilli oil, procured in bulk from London's Chinatown. She asked me for a taste of my chilli oil toast once. It was the first and last time she tried that particular culinary experiment! On the other hand, she did start eating deshi food with her fingers on her first visit to Bangladesh, so it can't be said that I have totally failed to influence her in the right direction…

And of course, no matter how well you know someone, it's good if they can surprise you (positively) once in a while. Despite knowing her for so many years, it was only on this trip that I found out that apparently, like me, Katy doesn't like horror movies. However, unlike most people, the reason she can't watch them is because she actually passes out at some point during the movie! Now I'm trying to figure out how I can persuade her to watch a horror film when I'm around, since the potential entertainment value is considerable. Maybe if I ask really nicely?!

Anyway, people value different qualities in their friends, but I think you can't go too far wrong with friends who are loyal and whom you can trust to look out for you. Sometimes, that can mean they have the unpleasant job of telling you painful truths when you are about to make stupid decisions; at other times, it can simply mean hanging around until the consequences of your bad decisions have come home to roost, and helping you to pick up the pieces afterwards. But above all, I believe it means that however harsh the truths are that your friends need to tell you, they will always fight your corner where other people are concerned.

I was reminded of that, quite accidentally, during this weekend with Katy. At one point, I had left the room and was about to walk back in, when I overheard the tail end of a conversation she was having with another friend of ours. The latter mentioned that her siblings tend to drop by more often when I'm visiting her, because "…they really like Farah". Without missing a beat - and in a tone that implied that that was simply how it should be - Katy loyally responded, "A lot of people do"!

This is, I might add, the same person who kept a bin bag full of my things in her house when I left London for Dhaka, after completing my time at university. I was supposed to pick them up on my next trip, but one way or another that big bag full of stuff - everything from clothes to comic books - spent more than a decade with Katy. And perhaps most amazingly, they survived the three moves she made during that time in excellent condition. There is no question about it: this is a person who takes her commitments seriously. And perhaps, in the end, that's really the best quality any of us can ask for in a friend - and it may well be what makes someone a "forever" friend.



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