The fierce power of friendship in our lives

Did you know that the 30th of July was designated as the International Day of Friendship by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011? The idea behind this observance is to encourage “friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals” to inspire
“peace efforts and build bridges between communities.” Friendship has been a powerful force in my life, and it makes me happy to see it get its due recognition by an intergovernmental organization such as the UN.

Today, I am going to share with you excerpts from two articles that I have written recently. Both foreground the significance of friendship. This one, written for Firstpost.com, introduces you to a children’s book titled Friends Under the Summer Sun written by Ashutosh Pathak and illustrated by Kanak Shashi. And this one, also written for Firstpost.com, is a semi-academic-semi-conversational book titled Friendship as Social Justice Activism: Critical Solidarities in a Global Perspective edited by Niharika Banerjea, Debanuj Dasgupta, Rohit K Dasgupta and Jaime M Grant.

The plot of the first book “revolves around a heartwarming encounter between a child called Nimmi and her neighbour Shri who likes to be addressed as Akka.” As I mention in that piece, the author portrays the child’s curiosity with great affection. “He invites the reader to come along on this journey of discovering who Shri is, and who Akka is. There is a simplicity in this exploration; it focuses on feeling, and is uncluttered with dense explanation.”

This character of Shri, also known as Akka, is modelled on actor-director Pradipta Ray whose personal story appears at the end of the book. Ray writes, “As a child, I always felt like a girl, even though I had the body of a boy. My feminine behaviour attracted unwanted attention and I realised very early, that the world was not an easy place for me.”

Fortunately, home was not a place of abuse for Ray. “I felt safe at home because my parents never really harassed me for my feminineness – be it wearing makeup or women’s clothes. At school too, my teachers were loving and this is where I found other amazing friends who also identified themselves as girls.” This book has been published by Pratham Books, and can be read for free on their digital StoryWeaver platform.

What is the second book about? In the introduction to this volume, the editors spell out their interest in showing how “a life structured around friendships can disrupt the heteronormative codes of family and marriage.” Their book is filled with contributions from people who document “how unconventional forms of kinship inform social justice work and how people who meet as part of movements navigate desire, love and heartbreak.”

This book, published by Seagull Books, features writing by academics and activists in a variety of genres, styles and registers. As I point out in my column, “The connecting thread is that they all examine how living with friends and political organising within friendship circles can offer new ways of dreaming and struggling for social justice.” The essays, poems, dialogues and reflections depict how “misfits, imposters and border-crossers survive and thrive by claiming the fierce power of friendship in their lives.”


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