Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle described a friend as a single soul dwelling in two bodies. The earliest friend I recollect was one I had in Class 3. An incident still vivid in my memory is that it was raining heavily when I reached school only to find that a holiday had been declared. With an immediate thought of sharing the joy, I hurried to my friend's house but found him missing. The fellow had beaten me to it when I discovered him waiting at my place with the news. An instant chord was struck and we felt a sense of belonging. We lost touch thereafter but the bond we shared is alive within.
Years later in 1979, after the services selection board screening in Allahabad, I along with a newly acquired friend went boating at the religiously significant Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. In a celebratory mood after our recruitment, we got high on a bottle of beer. Trying to be adventurous, I slipped and got thrown off into the turbulent Sangam. Despite a lifeguard diving in to rescue me, my friend jumped into the river too. In the end, he was the one who had to be rescued as he didn't know swimming. We have shared a life-long bond.
In the early days as a cadet at the Indian Military Academy, I developed a condition of sleepwalking that would often land me in unpleasant situations. My course mate discovered this and saved me from potential dangers, including once when I almost walked into a heap of horse dung at the nearby stables and another time when I sauntered into the flag staff house of the chief instructor whose beautiful daughter had probably occupied my subconscious! This buddy remains the closest for his act of saving me the agony of being dismissed from service even before it commenced. We have been pals, in thick and thin.
While posted in the Kashmir Valley during the peak of terrorism, orders were passed that soldiers would move in buddy profile, which meant no venturing out alone. In one of the cordon and search operations during the wee hours, I proceeded towards the wilderness to answer the call of nature. My buddy followed me silently, unnoticed. Suddenly, an unfriendly guy with an assault rifle confronted me at point-blank range, literally catching me with my pants down. Stumped, I recited my last prayers only to hear a carbine burst and the terrorist in front collapsing on his knees. My buddy, the radio operator, had hid himself at safe distance and saved me from certain martyrdom under embarrassing conditions. This saviour remains the closest in my thoughts.
Talking of friends how can we forget the wife? Well, we love our wives and so do I. Like with all true wives, our obsession with friends remains a mute point, which my better-half rubs in often. Yet we are thick-as-fog friends, I mean wife and me. German philosopherFriedrich Nietzsche was bang on target when he said, "It is not lack of love, but lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages."
Heartwarming memories of my wife and friends notwithstanding, it's my golf caddy is my best friend. He silently suffers my putrid game for over five hours every day with a stoic smile for a paltry sum.
On the eve of Friendship Day, here's a toast to all the friends wherever they may be!