Yet Untitled 014 - A Long Newsletter about Long Friendships
Brothers from other mothers, sisters from other misters and having know each other for yonks
Dearest Yet Untitlers,
Howdy. Welcome to my ‘friendship’ edition. There are so many Bollywood-centric memes I could share just now, but I’m going to try and avoid making this newsletter anything like its lesser cousin (oh so cheeky) - social media.
I’m friend-rich. I have a wealth of friends. There’s one in every corner of the globe and man do I feel fortunate. If I could bottle the collective goodwill present in all my friendships, then that bottle could well be the antidote to everything perturbing, tiresome or undesirable in the world.
I am particularly proud of my long friendships. While today it feels easy to “stay in touch”, god knows you still have to work at it. I am particularly good at being a picker-upper of threads, happy to cold-call and remind people of that event then, or that conversation when. What also helps is that I have Rain Man’s memory when it comes to details about my friends. One of my oldest close friends often tells me that his own personal biography is housed inside my head. He sometimes calls me to corroborate facts about his life, which I do for him, adding layers that he had somehow missed. I like playing this part for my friends - being their dramaturge. It’s one way through which I show gratitude for having them in my life.
Interestingly, I remember trivial details about everyone, not just friends. Often, this leads to situations where I meet people years after having met them only once and then totally weirding them out by repeating random sentences they said or recounting trivial happenings that had eluded their attention.
“Yeah, that night - X (who you don’t know) puked on the carpet. We all saw the babycorn she’d eaten at dinner. It was surprisingly clean and intact.”
The problem arises when I lead with such information. I probably shouldn’t.
Social misfiring around what I like to think are fun facts aside, the mounds of memory-information I carry about the wonderful people I call my friends deserves some airing and sharing (I love this phrase, perhaps I should copyright it!).
The Universe can be banal when it wants to tell you who your friends are.
Sometimes, I feel that the universe could think of less obvious ways to convey that “Ye twain shalt be amigos.”
I mean…having not one, not two but four or five of the same books on our shelves (that too, some non-obvious ones), which we discover for the first time after having known each other for 16 years, that too on a zoom call: that’s like the universe twice underlining my connection with Umut with a gigantic sharpie.
Umut and I met at a film festival with our short films in South Korea in 2006. More recently, his mum who had watched the Netflix show I co-wrote told him in plain words: “You must work with this man.” I really admire Umut. We live in different corners of the world but we push against our boundaries in a similar fashion, and we keep encouraging each other to push harder.
Here’s a photograph from when we first met. Funnily enough, we were reading the same book then too:
Age no bar!
Zul Vellani. I knew him for a few years, but we became friends after he agreed to act in my short film Shanu Taxi for the princely sum of one rupee. He has told my no-budget ass:“I am an actor and I must be paid.”
Come to think of it, Shanu Taxi won me a lot of friends, Umut mentioned above being one of them!
In my bachelor days I used to wind up at his amazing South Mumbai flat (where his bathrooms were the size of my current bedroom) overlooking oval maidan to chat about his younger days doing theatre in Mumbai alongside the biggest names of his day. There was always so much to talk about. I missed him and his company after he passed.
My short film Sukrit’s Sundays was shot in Zul’s house. It’s a seven minute silent film about a friendship between a little boy and his grandfather, so very appropriate to pin here. Do have a look.
After Zul, it never surprised me when I’d see friendships between those very far apart in age. Perhaps we are reluctant to let this happen - some useless construct coming in our way - but I consider my older friends one of the most enriching bounties of my life.
Here’s one that’s developing: my daughters Ananya and Aahana take my friend Michael as their friend. Age no bar indeed! I’m certain that it’s going to be a long and beautiful friendship.
PPS: None of my short films would exist without the intervention of my friend Alankrita.
I said I can’t.
She simply said I can.
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Bollywood’s most go-to song about friendship:
You can read the translation of the lyrics here.
Here’s my brother Sumeet and his crazy crew of lifelong friends singing the same song at his 50th birthday. A few of them have been friends for 40 years.
What speaks for the Long Run?
I used to really like the Eagles’ song ‘The Long Run’ as a 15 year old. God only knows why! But I liked it enough to choose my first email address as “email@example.com” (those who remember writing to me on this address have known me for a long time!).
When Vani and I got married we had barely known each other for 4 months because it was an arranged marriage. We had hit it off more or less immediately though. We spent our first year in a kind of endorphin-rich haze but when that faded we presented our real selves to each other. For awhile, it was…interesting 😄.
I remember one morning when Vani came home from work to see that my father and I had painted murals all over the walls of our small Mumbai apartment. I had thought she’d appreciate how cool this was. However it turned out to be an incident which Vani still expresses in terms of anecdotal shock!
Vani has taught me that we don’t have to like the same things in order to be incredibly close. I’m writing this around our 12th wedding anniversary, by which time I own her rough edges as much as she owns mine. I’m also confident enough to challenge (what I think are) her rough edges as much as she doesn’t hold back in doing a bit of polishing on my person.
As my longtime, lovely friend Michael (Ananya and Aahana’s WHITE GOD) says - “we must challenge our friends”.
My friendship with Vani, the longevity of our relationship (also many of my other long relationships), I feel, stems from not seeking only the comfortable places alone. Of course, overall it is a solace to have her and others in my life who I have known so long, but I do believe that the richness of these relationships has only grows for me via a little bit of push and pull over the years!
Let’s Marcus Aurelius this…
This edition needs a bit of a name check (otherwise I’m going to have a few Godfather-type contracts out on me, that too in many different parts of the world). I last did this Marcus Aurelius type name check in Yet Untitled 003 - On Adaptation.
In the spirit of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Here are some things I learned from some of my longest friendships:
From Rishabh, I learned that it was possible to be passionate about books. Not just any books but serious books - like Kingsley Amis’s The Wayward Bus.
From Angad, I learned what it meant to know a life other than mine in extreme detail.
From Gautham I learned how valuable it is to have a plan, a vision.
From Katherine, I learned that you should not give up easily on your friends.
From Philip, I leaned that someone with a very dark sense of humour can still be one of the loveliest humans I know.
From Takesh, I have learned the joy of growing hairier together. And the joy in cracking the lamest jokes ever.
From Karan, I learn what it means to love someone - and their family - fully.
From Manas (he’s going to kill me for this) I learn what it means to be an elder brother, strangely both by being one to him sometimes and having him as one at other times.
From Datta, I learn what it means to have someone’s back.
From Shreya, I learn the value of friends having seen each other through big changes in each others’ lives.
From Sandeep, I learn how a good friendship can help you sleep better at night, knowing that this friend is there in your life.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few very important names, but only because it’s Friday and I’ve run out of time!
Bikram was the first close friend I made in boarding school. Sadly he passed away only a few years after we met. I spent one summer vacation in Mumbai in 1993, spending considerable time with him and his family. Soon after, he was gone.
Today, had he been here, I would known Bikram for 31 years. I have thought about him often all through these years - to the extent of seeing him in my dreams. A few years ago, I began including him in my Buddhist prayers, where - in recognition of the principle of ‘the Eternity of Life’ - we continuing praying for lives connected to our own that are no longer manifesting on this side of the life-death binary.
These prayers for Bikram came very naturally. It gives me solace that such a thing is possible.
A small note on expanding the readership for “Yet Untitled”
Yet Untitlers, we are almost at 100 subscriptions. How about a share (or three) to help me hit a century this coming week?
Also, I’ve been thinking of sharing the existence of “Yet Untitled” on my other networks - FB, Tw, Ins (it feels a bit sacrilegious mentioning social media here, but I have to get over it). This milestone is totally arbitrary - it’s mostly me dealing with the stage fright of moving out of this yet cozy, intimate space we share together by creating this artificial fork in the road.
What do you think? Expand? Or keep growing in small steps? Let me know in a comment or by hitting reply to this email of that’s how you’ve received YU.
That’s all for this week.
See you next Friday!