In March this year, as India prepared to go under lockdown in its war against coronavirus, Sony had another challenge at hand. In and out of veterinary clinics every day, her pet dog cradled in her arms, she was desperately trying to save his life. On March 22, the day of the Janata Curfew, however, Akki lost the battle against age-related ailments, leaving a bereaved Sony with 15 years of fond memories. Forced to remain indoors in the following months, Sony coped with the grief with few distractions and fewer friends to share it with.
One day early in May, Sony received a call from a dear friend and colleague, Mira, asking her to step outside her Andheri residence for a few moments. “The lockdown has been tough on all of us. With our social lives reduced to nil, I went thinking she wants to meet, even if for a few minutes.” What awaited her was a surprise she could have never anticipated.
Mira had brought for Sony, Angel, a cute little pup who had been rescued off the street after an accident.
Friendships with girlfriends are intensely therapeutic for women. These relationships see them through various stages of life, from moving out and getting over toxic relationships to moving into new homes, through illness or weddings and then childbirth. From physical pain to trauma, women often find girlfriends to be the best listeners, the most empathetic critics and a whole support system. With the pandemic unfolding, the lockdown, the fear of the unknown and at times the crushing burden of work, lack of space and domestic chores, girlfriends have showed up for their women friends spectacularly, and have been their primary coping mechanism.
OF HEARTBREAKS AND HEALING
“Having known my bond with Akki, she had understood how much I was missing him. She thought having Angel around would help me cope with the pain,” recounts 34-year-old Sony.
Sony eventually had to turn down Mira’s gift as she needed time to get over Akki’s passing but the friend’s gesture moved her immensely. Angel has since been adopted by Mira, who did anticipate the possibility. “One pet cannot replace the loss of another but dogs have the power to help in healing. That’s the thought I had on my mind when I got Angel for Sony. The lockdown had only made things tougher for her and I had hoped Angel would be able to help Sony through it while the puppy also gets a loving home,” says Mira.
According to clinical psychologist Sujata Sharma, each one of us has had to struggle with a sense of loss during these gloomy months of lockdown. “For some, like Sony, the loss is personal. Then there are others who have lost their loved ones to coronavirus. Many have lost their jobs or are having to learn to live with reduced pays. And then, in addition to all of this is the loss of normalcy and sense of community that as humans we thrive on,” she points out.
“What makes it worse, Sharma adds, is that we are having to deal with it alone as we try to get on with life while cooped up inside our houses. “At such times, even the smallest unexpected gestures uplift our moods. The intimacy felt in these gestures give us a sense of normal.””
What makes it worse, Sharma adds, is that we are having to deal with it alone as we try to get on with life while cooped up inside our houses. “At such times, even the smallest unexpected gestures uplift our moods. The intimacy felt in these gestures give us a sense of normal.”
FOOD FOR THE HEART
On her birthday earlier this month, Janaki’s friends — a Mumbai-based journalist — had a breakfast of butter croissants and tea cake delivered to her residence early morning, which she feels was the best gift she received that day. “It’s been more than three months of lockdown and every single day seems just like the previous or the next. There is nothing to look forward to, really,” the Mumbai-based writer said. So when after days of housework and making her own breakfast, something as simple and warm as breakfast food landed at her doorstep right in the morning, Janaki was elated.
For Megha, however, her friend gave her memory that she knows she will cherish forever. Megha was excited about the success of her directorial debut What Are The Odds? which released on Netflix in May but had no one around to celebrate with as she has been living alone. That is, until her friend Sugandha dropped by with a bottle of champagne to mark the occasion. “She lives right around the corner but her driving down to see me and make a celebration out of the evening was very sweet. It was a lovely, socially distanced evening in her car to mark the important milestone in my life,” says Megha. In fact, the care her girlfriends extend, with their regular video calls, keep Megha cheered up through the lockdown.
Janaki believes that more often than not, girlfriends “get you” better than anyone else. “The girlfriends you are close to will have seen you without any filter. This means they have seen you at your worst and know what will make you bounce back,” says the 38-year-old.
“Megha was excited about the success of her directorial debut What Are The Odds? which released on Netflix in May but had no one around to celebrate with as she has been living alone.”
There was no scope or plan for an elaborate wedding and Ridhima didn’t mind it. But the idea that most of her friends and family will not be a part of this important moment of her life did feel disappointing. But she made her peace with that too. However, during the wedding ceremony, the planners began to screen a video featuring her favourite people ― friends, extended family, cousins, colleagues ― she was overwhelmed. “I knew they were watching the wedding via Zoom but this part was a total surprise. The AV had them all congratulating Sundeep and me, sharing their memories of us. And some of my closest girlfriends had conspired with my sister-in-law to put it together. They had called for the footage and edited it so beautifully that it made me feel like all of them were with me right there,” Ridhi says.
A LAYOFF AND A NEW BEGINNING
Namrata seconds Janaki. She recounts having a difficult time after she lost her job in Bengaluru’s tech sector and was forced to return to her hometown in Jamshedpur. “I was aware that many people across the country were being laid off due to the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic. Yet, when it happens, it is difficult to not take it personally,” Namrata said. For weeks, Namrata said, she felt like a ‘loser’, like a failure, and told herself she was not goon enough for the job, whereas, the truth was the layoffs were based on people’s salary and the kind of implications that had for the company.
A few days after she returned home, the 26-year-old became increasingly aloof. She would find the idea of communicating with friends and family unbearable and tear up at any time of the day.
““I was aware that many people across the country were being laid off due to the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic. Yet, when it happens, it is difficult to not take it personally,” Namrata said.”
One day, she received an email from London Film Academy. “It contained a coupon to a bunch of online screenwriting courses by Michael Holden, booked for me by my girlfriend. It was just unbelievable because I have been wanting to learn screenwriting but neither had the courage nor the resources to,” Namrata said.
Her friend Shruti, however, knew that the time was right for Namrata to pursue a long-cherished dream. Only, she needed a push. “She made the effort and spent a chunk of her hard-earned money to make me feel better,” said Namrata, who has since been spending the time she has, working on something she had always wanted to.
Namrata believes only Shruti could have extended a gesture so generous. “To begin with, she is among the few who know of this dream I have secretly nursed. Secondly, it takes a lot of love, understanding and knowing what makes me happy or sad. And she is one of the few who do.”
Mira, 39, believes when it’s a gesture being made for a dear friend who you hate seeing in pain, it is worth the effort. “I had been in touch with several foster parents to adopt a puppy for myself. But when I came across pictures of Angel, who was recovering from the accident, I felt there was something special about her. It seemed like Sony and Angel would make for perfect companions and draw each other out of their respective suffering,” Mira recounts. Glad to have Angel for herself, Mira says when the time is right, she would be happy to once again find Sony a pet she can love.
More often than not, it is not the grandness of the gesture but the thoughtfulness behind it that is enough to cheer up the ones we love. Psychotherapist Gagandeep Singh believes women are often better-equipped for it, especially in the bonds they forge with other women. “Women display more empathy than men and are able to bond with other women over shared experiences. With fewer inhibitions towards each other, they are able to give more freely,” he says.
When S*, a school teacher in Kolkata first heard of her daughter’s panic attack during the lockdown, over phone, she did not know what to make of it. At 62, she knew her 35-year-old daughter got ‘easily stressed’ but a scientific knowledge of mental health is something she did not have access to. Her expertise with the internet was restricted to scrolling through what surfaced on Facebook and Instagram or WhatsApp, accounts her children had set up for her.
Her daughter briefly explained what happened and that she needed medication — only S, couldn’t understand a single bit of what was happening. Her daughter, a journalist who lives in Delhi, also was too exhausted to explain. For the first time, she did not know the illness that had gotten her child, and it was new, scary and took her sleep away.
Her husband too did not really get any of it and instead concluded their daughter ‘worries too much’. So she called her best friend, R*, a bank employee who lives in a small town on the fringes of Calcutta. R, too, couldn’t fathom what was happening to S’s daughter. “I woke up every morning almost feeling guilty that I had slept off, what if something had happened to my child there and I did not know?,” she told R.
S and R had gone to college together and the latter had often lashed out unreasonably, spent days being inexplicably sad and feeling anxious through her college days. “S didn’t get why I was doing all this, but never lost it with me. She just assumed I was upset and was quietly there for me, ” R said. So this time, when S couldn’t fathom what to do, R who was slightly more adept at the internet, searched for symptoms of ‘panic attack’, read up in English and then Bengali and after a couple of days, over a long call explained what may have happened to S’s daughter.
“When S couldn’t fathom what to do, R who was slightly more adept at the internet, searched for symptoms of ‘panic attack’, read up in English and then Bengali and after a couple of days, over a long call explained what may have happened to S’s daughter.”
“When I called my daughter and asked if this was what she was feeling, some of it was right. And she started opening up to me a little. Before that she had said, she just didn’t have the energy to explain. But now she felt I would understand,” S said. S and R talked daily, about ways to talk, read links and checked with their other children if those links were genuine.
Like Singh said, S couldn’t quite turn to her own husband, but it was a girlfriend who took the time and effort to understand that even she had no clue of.
Several decades younger than S, 23-year-old Surabhi had a similar experience. In the months since the lockdown started, she has been living with her flatmate. At least thrice every week, the Gurgaon-based banking professional has to show up at work. With reduced staff and increasing work responsibilities, she has had no time to take a break. On weekends, in the absence of a cook, she merely rustles up fast food and tries to give her mind a rest. “Netflix, video calls with friends and family and some cooking and cleaning is all I can manage over the two days of break. It’s exhausting because neither can I go on leave nor can I be home without constantly thinking of work,” she explains. And every time she speaks to her friends who flew back to live with their parents during the lockdown, she cannot help but envy them. “I feel homesick now.”
A month ago, when the delivery services restarted, her friend Nethra, 24, got a dabba of home-cooked food delivered to her place on a Sunday, now a weekly practice. “Just eating a wholesome meal without having to go to the kitchen made me feel so much better. The first time the dabba arrived as a surprise, I literally cried. It has a lot of downsides but the pandemic has sure made me value so many things, and friends are on the top of that list.”
*Name withheld on request of the people.