Emerging from the confines of the zenana (female) and mardana (male) enclosures of the mind, young women in Lucknow — the seat of the erstwhile regal Nawabs and tehzeeb (etiquette) — are finding it sometimes easier to share their secrets with friends of the opposite sex. Debunking myths that such friendships cannot be platonic, a growing number of young women now have male friends with whom they are not — much to the confusion of those with traditional mindsets — romantically inclined.
“What’s the big deal? I think girls of Lucknow can also have boys as their best friends. I mean, it’s not like you want to date everybody you meet,” pipes up undergraduate Leena Chandra (18), when asked to comment on young women of her city now becoming friends with members of the opposite sex.
Sunaina Bhalla (18), a student of Pioneer Montessori, has, in fact, realised how normal it is to have a male friend, termed as a ‘guy pal’. “There was this boy I met at an inter-school talent hunt and we connected as friends. We began to hang out together and even studied together. He showed me a side to things I couldn’t have fathomed in this traditional city!”
Interestingly, while these newfound friendships have broken gender barriers, they do bring out the best in terms of stereotypes, albeit in a rather helpful way.
Neha Khanna (21), a primary school teacher, admits: “My guy pal was my knight in shining armour — tackling all my problems from holidays to advice on men, to careers, to the right kind of gadgets to buy.”
Oddly enough, there are some young men who find the ‘guy pal’ concept ridiculous — perhaps an invasion of their gender turf. Says Jatin Singh (20), “It’s just wrong. Guys and girls can’t relate to each other, they live such different lives. Guys are all about sports and tricks and keeping it real with the boys. Girls are gossips and back-stabbers! A girl may want to be friends with guys because girls are so vicious towards each other. If a girl is in your life she’s either a relative or your girlfriend, there’s no need for them otherwise.”
Jatin’s outburst would indicate that platonic friendships have a long way to go before they become generally accepted, but there is no mistaking that things are changing.
Explains R C Pandey, a Lucknow-based psychologist, “It is a recent and rising trend. Whether or not a boy and a girl can be just friends depends on how the friendship started, whether or not there is a physical attraction, and the personalities of the individuals involved.”
The changing dynamics of the city have also thrown urban youngsters together.
According to government data, 53 per cent of the total urban population of Lucknow comprises youth, who may be studying or working. Employment opportunities, income, mobility and the growing number of co-educational institutes are just some of the factors that have helped solder such friendships.
According to Meenakshi Bahadur, senior school teacher, Study Hall, a co-ed school in Lucknow, “You can be friends with anybody you want. Gender is not the deciding factor. If you meet somebody and like him or her as a person do not let petty issues keep you from being friends. Good friends are very hard to find. While there are situations where physical attraction is a factor, it is rarely so overwhelming that it makes a friendship impossible.”
Ayesha Khan (26), who works for a BPO, says: “If physical attraction is the only viable reason for a friendship, then you were never friends to begin with.”
What’s gender got to do with it?
Even parental attitudes are shifting. Saurabh Singh, a businessman and father of two teenage daughters, believes in the importance of a good friend, irrespective of gender. “It’s natural to have more friends of the same sex, but if you also have a friend or two of the opposite sex, consider yourself fortunate! In today’s world, finding well-wishers is difficult enough, let alone discovering true friends. I support my children and ask them to judge people on the basis of their character and not on the basis of gender or caste.”
With mom’s approval
Vibha Saxena (36), a city-based interior designer, can appreciate the significance of Singh’s approach. After all, she is ahead of her times judging by the fact that she has had a male friend for the past 35 years and both their respective spouses are comfortable with the idea. However, she admits that her guy pal friendship didn’t go down too well with some relatives.
The new trend is a sign of a healthier society, says Anita Desai, a banker and mother of a young girl and a teenage boy. “As a woman who has a large group of male friends, and a male best friend, I can honestly say it is possible to be best friends with a member of the opposite sex without other elements being involved.”
However, psychologist Anita Kadwal has a word of caution. “Teenagers might not feel the same way, and that is natural. Hormones are a big factor for the average teen, and while it is possible for a girl to be best friends with a boy, there is a chance that the boy might have hopes of the friendship becoming more than a friendship,” she observes.
But the last word on the subject must go to young Qamber Hussain, a student of Study Hall School. Says Hussain, with wisdom far beyond his 17 years, “Everybody makes this such an issue, but it’s not. Friends come in all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and gender.”