Something about geography influences the nature of friendships and one always tends to compare with the way it was back home, because one longs for the same closeness.
When I moved to the US for studies I realized the important role of friends in my life. It’s really different in India because we as children, till around 21, do not have to work for a living. So we have a lot more time to spend with each other. Our evenings after school or college are usually for hanging out in the neighbourhood, cracking jokes and just talking about random things. If you ask me now, I won’t be able to recollect a single thing, but it was a lot of blabbering and laughing.
But I knew of my friend’s troubles and s/he knew about mine too. We did vent to each other a lot at different points in time. Our parents knew our friends too mostly, and they are kind of an extended family. I would just drop in uninvited to my friend’s house and ask for him if I felt like or if I was bored. There was a lot of freedom in the way we interacted with each other and pretty much knew everything about each other. We were then only focused on studying and had quite a lot of time on our hands of course.
This dynamic was challenged once I moved to the US. I chose a field which had no Indians which forced me to integrate in the new culture. This was advantageous because I could understand the new place and people but at the same it made me a little lonely. My roommates weren’t the most cooperative of people so I was facing hell there, plus I was dealing with the ‘newness’ of the course as well as the culture. If I had friends like back in India, things would have been much better, because I could have easily opened my heart out to them.
I would have to make an appointment with a ‘friend’ here if I wanted to meet that person. It’s not that people in the US are bad; it’s just not in the culture to open up as easily as we do. For example, in Bombay, one could easily make friends on a train journey to work, in an hour! Their people ask deep questions and that is not considered as ill-mannered or as interference. If someone unknown to you is crying in a public transport, it is not uncommon to ask that person what went wrong and that person would respond too. It’s sort of understood that people have problems and that they can share with each other, because life is not that easy for everyone.
But here, if you complain about anything or express your dissatisfaction with anything, people listen and then behind your back they tag you as a “whiner”! Or if you express your opinion which is not in keeping with the majority, you are seen as “argumentative” and as not a team player. In India though, if you stand up for something, people respect you for expressing your opinion, basically character is held high in India, or at least was, when I was there. I have friends whose points of view are completely opposed to mine and they are people who will stand up for me and help me if I need. But here, an unsaid distance takes over if we differ in points of view. As unsaid it is, so is it inexplicable!
I guess in India everyone except friends, judge you. In fact you also allow the others to judge you, but you aren’t usually friends with people who judge you and the options for such non-judgmental people are many. Here in the US, that population is a lot less, the kind that does not judge and therefore options are a few. So one has to monitor every word and emotion before it is expressed because you get tagged very easily and somehow everyone buys into that tag.
The journey of finding the ‘right’ friends has been tough, but not impossible. I have found a few now I can say, but for US being a democratic country, the social reprimanding of opinions and viewpoints is quite stark. For example, if I don’t belong to a popular ideology today, I might lose a lot of friends or acquaintances, because that is the trend. Unfortunately, India is heading there too, but we still have room for redemption. For example, if I didn’t share the same view as the popular opinion in India, I wouldn’t lose any friends, as long as I don’t act on my thoughts. We will have heated arguments and might use abusive language but we won’t let go of each other. Somehow we can see the human being behind the ideology and his or her like or dislike.
I think in India it’s okay to be a Marxist and be great friends with a Capitalist, because none of this makes anybody a ‘bad’ person. It’s really simple, one person doesn’t agree with an aspect of the other, but there a million other aspects to like in that human being. This is obviously just amongst friends, not applicable to everyone or society at large. But in the US too, after being here for a few years, I now have managed to make such friends who are very accepting of my idiosyncrasies as I am of theirs.
Somehow US’s instantly judging environment is harmful for healthy friendships, but in spite of the environment, some great friends do exist here as well!