Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you? - Hindustan Times
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Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you?

Aug 06, 2023 11:58 AM IST

There are the fleeting friendships of youth, the decaying ones, the until-death-do-us-part bonds. Check out shades of friendship in music, art and pop culture.

We’ve been singing and writing of friendship for as long as stories have been told. What kind of friend are you? What kinds of friendships do you favour? Take a look at archetypes from art, music, clay tablets, videogames and film.

The alien Garrus Vakarian (extreme left), a vigilante and military adviser, is a steadfast friend to Commander Shepard (centre) in the videogame Mass Effect. PREMIUM
The alien Garrus Vakarian (extreme left), a vigilante and military adviser, is a steadfast friend to Commander Shepard (centre) in the videogame Mass Effect.

Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Paul Simon: The 1970s song about two boys growing up in Queens, New York, quickly escalates. What starts out as just another whimsical escapade has caught the attention of parents, the police, and Newsweek. Julio sounds like the kind of friend who is blamed for introducing one to weed, or cigarettes, or bi-curiosity. His parents likely swear it was the other way around. We’ve all had that friend, blamed that friend. This is the kind of friendship that can play with boundaries in a way that is only possible, for most, for a fleeting few years in one’s youth.

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Sakhi Ve Mujhse Keh Kar Jaate (He Could Have Told Me Before He Left), Maithili Sharan Gupt (1886-1964): Sakhi is Hindi for friend; the “he” is Siddhartha Gautama, the prince who renounced it all to become the Buddha. The speaker is his wife, Yashodhara. In Gupt’s tender, evocative poem, the wife and mother wakes up to find the husband gone, and turns to the one person she knows will be on her side. Did he think I would stop him; did he not consider that I might want to bless his quest, she goes on to say to her friend, in the poem. Did I not mean enough that he would even include me?

It’s the kind of conversation they will likely have over and over, through the years. Because that’s what you do when a friend’s heart is broken; even if some people saw it coming, even if the other person left to find their bliss; even if they went on to find it.

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Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you?
Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you?

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Friendships may atrophy and decay, but perhaps none as dramatically as in the plot of this metaphorical film, starring Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as Colm and Padraic, lifelong friends in a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Through the course of the movie, the viewer is led to see how toxic and damaging their friendship has proved to be. The unique plot looks at how friendships can alter how we see ourselves, measure our self-worth, frame our ambitions and our place in the world. What’s the worst thing a friend can do to you? The answer, the film would suggest, is “Nothing”.

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. (Wikimedia Commons)
. (Wikimedia Commons)

Shakuntala Removing a Thorn from Her Foot; Raja Ravi Varma; 1898: This timeless work shows Shakuntala (the abandoned daughter of an apsara and a sage, raised in a hermitage), pause as she pretends to draw a thorn from her foot, hoping to catch another glimpse of King Dushyanta (the ruler of Hastinapur). The two have fallen in love after meeting at the hermitage during one of his hunting expeditions. Her two friends, Anasuya and Priyamvada, seen with her in numerous depictions, are chatting as they wait. She’s going to insist there really was a thorn. She’s then going to ramble on about him for at least a few minutes. We’ve all been there.

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Mass Effect (2007): Friendship plays a vital role in a large number of role-playing videogames. A rather wholesome example is Mass Effect, in which the protagonist, Commander Shepard, fights mercenaries and sentient machines to save the world from extinction, with the help of his steadfast friend Garrus Vakarian from the alien Turian species. Vakarian is the Samwise Gamgee to Shepard’s Frodo; the Harold to his Kumar. A vigilante and military adviser, he is also the source of funny one-liners through some of the tensest scenes in the game.

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Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you?
Pal’s labyrinth: What kind of friend are you?

Only Murders in the Building (2021-): The May-December friendship is an eternal trope. Think of Mitch Albom’s bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie. Or Marvel’s buddy pairing of Iron-Man and Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the streaming series Only Murders in the Building, Charles and Oliver (played by a 70-something Steve Martin and Martin Short) bond with a 20-something Mabel (Selena Gomez) over a love for true-crime podcasts and a desire to do some detective work of their own after a suspicious death in their building. They look out for each other, swap life lessons, confront hidden vulnerabilities, and through their friendship, take steps towards healing from individual traumas.

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(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Epic of Gilgamesh, carving on clay tablet, 2000 BCE: This tablet found in ancient Mesopotamia is the earliest surviving work of literature. It tells the story of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh of Uruk, and his friendship with Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to end Gilgamesh’s terrifying reign. They make each other better, balance each other out, become inseparable, go in search of adventure. If it feels like this tale has been retold, over and over, in different cultures, across millennia, that’s because it has been. Not because we’re trying to recreate this specific bond. But because, at its core, this is what friendship is.

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