passion called friendship
Of late, ‘passionate friendships’ have been much in the
news thanks to Pandit Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, a couple who have had reams of newsprint devoted
to their mutual devotion. I read it all, the unending speculation about the
exact nature of their relationship, the curious probing into the intimate lives
of two people who are no longer with us. And I recall the words of Lillian
Hellman on her special relationship with fellow author, Dashiel Hammett. “I
know as little about romance as I knew when I was 18. But I do know the
pleasure of continuing interest and excitement, of wanting to know what someone
else thinks, will do, will not do; the short cord that the years make into a
rope…” This could well have been the case with Nehru and Lady Mountbatten, too.
Because I believe passionately in passionate friendships.
I know all about it, I’ve been there, done that. It is the best deal ever made
between a man and woman, believe me.
What is a passionate friendship, you may well ask. The
way I see it, it is a special relationship between a man and a woman who find
each other mentally and physically attractive but for a variety of reasons,
prefer to be no more than platonic friends.
The mutual advantages far outweigh any disadvantages. The
female half of this partnership gets a guide, philosopher, confidante, rolled
into one. If her friend is someone on a corporate ladder, well, then, she gets
her mentor too. The advice is direct, hard-hitting, and wholly free from the
restraints that a romantic relationship automatically brings in its wake. His
interest in her is genuine, it’s real, he loves her, warts and all. She does
not have to deal with lateral levels (the obvious and the hidden-meaning
levels) as she does in her friendship with most women.
This is a friendship which has genuineness as its
touchstone. Neither partner ever asks, ‘what’s in it for me.’ They know that
what they have cannot be measured on any scale and, more important, need not be
The male half of the duo gets invaluable, sensitive
advice on how to deal with life’s verisimilitudes, in areas where his friend
has an in-built advantage over him. A wife has some stake in her husband’s life and career, her advice
therefore cannot be totally objective. This is not the case with a good female
friend. She can help, with no strings attached. She can put an astute finger on
where he is going wrong in his relationships with other women. The ever present
male ego can actually be dropped in her presence, he can be as he is, just
another vulnerable human being who unfortunately is caught in the age-old
gender (‘Men don’t cry’) trap.
There are no subterfuges in this relationship. He
sees her at a bad time in her life, with
her hair lifeless and straggly, her face full of pimples, her career on the
road to nowhere - and he loves her
still. She sees him with his mask off, his petty traits exposed, his figure going to seed from too much drink, superceded at
his workplace - and it makes no difference. She loves him still. The two of them can pull each other out
of their respective ruts and carry on with the business of living. The two of
them can dare to be with each other what they dare not be with their spouses or
It is a passionate relationship. This is an enduring
passion that goes far and outweighs the ephemeral romantic passion. This
relationship is one jump ahead of a
marriage. In a marriage, stability follows euphoria. In a passionate
friendship, the two have bypassed the physical plane and gone on to settle for
a more stable, solid equation. Men and women being what they are, it must be
admitted that in some cases, this decision is a deliberate rather than involuntary one. Chemistry sometimes does raise its head
at some stage or the other and has to be slotted, categorised and dispensed
with, for the sake of the relationship. Sometimes, the other half is happily
married. Sometimes the attraction is one-sided. But always, the knowledge is
implicit that, ultimately, the equation they will work out between them is the
best deal all around. The view is best seen from Mt. Platonia.
Norman Mailer has this to say on passionate friendships:
‘When good friendships turn belatedly into Sexual Street, it really doesn’t
work. Too many mutual habits built on friendship, have now become a safeguard
against sex and get in the way of such a change in the relationship.’ Then
again, in today’s hyperactive, liberated age, romantic liaisons crumble like
stale cookies or turn as hard as a half- baked one. Passionate friendships, on
the other hand, go on and on, rejuvenating themselves, feeding upon themselves,
growing stronger over the years. There is life after sex and these two know it.
There are no petty lies, no carping, no sexual jealousies that tear one apart.
All the passion goes into preserving the rare quality of the relationship, a
discreet code of honour exists that defines such a liaison.
The relationship needs no constant stroking. The rules
are not written down, the demands are nil, trust and faith take precedence.
This partnership needs no constant stream of letters, no regular meetings, no
spoken declarations of commitment. It thrives on a complete and fulfilled sense
of complacency. The rest is a bonus. Nothing else. The sense of safety in such
relationships can never quite be explained fully. It is a security blanket to
shield you from life’s coldest blizzards, it is a gaily striped umbrella to
shield you from the sun’s harshest rays.
It is not always a smooth relationship. It has
its ups and downs, and pretty tempestuous ones at that. The disagreements can
be vehement, the disapproval can be vociferous, words can inflict wounds. At
times, the need does not match the demand, the attention can be a mite diluted
with preoccupation. While the ‘making-up’ after such rifts can never be as
exciting as between two people in love, old wounds are never opened, old recriminations are never flung at each other. The
embarrassing past never once becomes a duelling weapon for either side.
In the most liberated of societies, the man-woman
equation is not easily understood. Luckily, times have made it possible, if not
entirely acceptable, for such friendships to exist. However, speculation, peer
disapproval, society’s collectively raised brow, will always be a seminal part
of a passionate friendship. The couple will find themselves forced to explain
such a relationship to their parents, spouses, offspring, lovers. The going is
never easy, can never be easy. And a link so well-forged does not delink that
The sage who said, “Whosoever finds a true friend finds a
treasure,” got his facts a bit muddled. It should, in my opinion, read,
“Whosoever finds a true friend of the opposite sex, finds a treasure.”
So, while I cannot speak for Pt Nehru and Edwina
Mountbatten in particular, I am more than willing to give them the benefit of
doubt. What they shared was special. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such
an enriching relationship in their lives. Those who do, must count themselves
lucky, in a way very few are lucky.
Labels: Feature, Features, platonic friendships