4 ways to nurture your friendships in South Asian contexts
Dil Chahta hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Veere Di wedding, 4 More Shots Please—what do all these have in common? The richness, complexity, and diversity of friendships, and how they can truly be the centre of our worlds. F.R.I.E.N.D.S, the American sitcom paved the way for a celebration of friendships in a way that wasn’t really common in South Asian culture.
When I consume this content, I am instantly left feeling like running away for an impromptu Goa trip with friends. It’s at this point that I usually realise that my life is not a script written by Zoya Akhtar where I get to have impromptu soul searching trips with my best friends on a beach.
I have South Asian parents who regularly tell me things like:"Save money! What friendships? At the end of the day family is all that matters” or “Don’t waste your energy on friendships, find a husband instead”.
Now I recognise that South Asian cultures are predominantly collectivist.
Yes there is space for friendships but only after family and extended family. It is so exhausting to constantly explain to family that your friendships are equally or sometimes more important than family because they offer a healing space of zero judgment and absolute fun and love. So, there are a couple of ways to nurture your friendships under such harsh circumstances where we cannot offend families yet make your friends feel like they mean the world to you.
Grand Gestures : Remember, actions speak louder than words. Sometimes, to make your family see just how important your friendships are to you, it can help to take tangible actions that make it clear that your friends matter to you. My parents used to try and talk me out of gifting my friends on birthdays or investing in them to make them feel special. It took many sacrifices, and a lot of time to convince my parents to let me do things for people I love who aren’t family, or a partner. I realized that they have been conditioned to ration the expression of adoration and love when it comes to their friendships—but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same for you! You can start with small gestures like making handmade cards, cupcakes, or just simple social media appreciation for your friends to make an impact. Schedule date nights with your friends, and make sure they know how loved they are.
Introducing your friends to your family: This is my absolute favourite! Introducing your partner to your family for the first time is such a big deal, and you can also celebrate introducing your friends to your parents In the past, friendships didn’t really have the space to become the centre of our world. One way to begin changing this is talking about your friends in in front of your family. “Rosh sent me this sweetest encouraging message about my work!” or “ Shreya is helping me to find a good job so I can earn more. She believes in me more than I do!” Let your family know that your friends celebrate you for who you are and are always ready to help. This can help make your family understand why friendships are so important to you
Being there for important events: This is a big one! From ceremonies to emergencies families trust people who show up as a support in the times of crisis! Invite your friends over for festivals, introduce them to your cousins, and that distant uncle and his family. More so, at times of crisis trust the bond that you have with your friends. Call them when you feel absolutely helpless and your family could use a helping hand! I remember when my dad had to be hospitalized and family could not immediately show up, I had to call a friend who took care of me and other formalities till I felt okay. Today my family likes my friends a little bit more than they like me.
Cultivating cultures: One of the biggest barriers in maintaining and accepting friendships is cultural differences that could include language, faith, customs which may stop our families from interacting with our pillars of love. Educating both about the differences could be very helpful. To give an example my friends respect and acknowledge the fact that meat is not something my parents would permit in our household and when they stay over they eat the dosa and gunpowder like a true South Indian! Meanwhile my parents are getting comfortable with hugs and gifts as expressions of love!
Friendships are not alien to our culture! Tagore’s Choker Bali is a strong example explaining friendships across genders and families learning to accept them. Be kind and patient, for your families are unlearning too and it may take a while.
Now go plan your Goa trip!