Hey there, pal!

Hey there, pal!

There are many relationships in the world that transcend the mundane, often defying all logic.

Happy Friendship Day!
Some believe we have no control over who we meet in life as it is pre-destined. That may or may not be true, but who we choose to retain until the end is surely in our hands.

In 1989, Gilberto ‘Chito’ Shedden, a fisherman in Costa Rica, found a dying male crocodile on the banks of Reventazon River. Weighing barely 70 kg, the crocodile had been shot in the head and showed little signs of survival.

Chito brought the reptile home in his boat and nursed him for the next six months, feeding him chicken, fish and medicines. Until he obtained the necessary permission from the authorities, he hid the crocodile named Pocho in a small pond in a nearby forest and showered him with all the love and care he could.

Once Pocho recovered completely, Chito released him into the river. To his surprise, the next morning, Chito found that the crocodile had followed him back home and was lying in the veranda. Pocho would then on become a member of Chito’s family along with his second wife and daughter. After the fisherman’s first wife left him complaining that he spent way too much time with the crocodile, he had famously remarked, “Another wife I could get, Pocho was one in a million.”

The unique friendship between man and crocodile continued for the next two decades with Chito spending every day at the river cuddling, caressing and playing with Pocho before both returned home. The crocodile died of natural causes in 2011, leaving his partner heartbroken. He was given a public funeral and his stuffed body is now an exhibit at the Siquirres Town Museum in Costa Rica.

Beyond the obvious

As we celebrate Friendship Day today, what usually conjures up in the mind is the image of starry-eyed youngsters exchanging wrist-bands and flowers, but there are many relationships in the world that transcend the mundane, often defying all logic.

Take, for instance, the moving story of friendship between two improbable companions — Akkai Padmashali, a transgender based in Bengaluru, and Vasudev V, an LGBTQI activist from Magadi on the city’s outskirts. The two first met nine years ago when they were working for an NGO, and a bond developed between them, only to grow stronger over the years.

As days passed, Vasudev’s admiration for Akkai, herself a well-known activist, turned to love and he proposed to her on numerous occasions. But Akkai remained non-committal due to her professional pre-occupation and apprehensions about marriage, but Vasudev remained patient, until one day she was finally convinced by her friends. When Vasudev informed his parents that he was marrying a transgender, he did not meet with any resistance as they were already familiar with his body of work. They tied the knot in 2017.

A few years ago, Denmark-born Anton Kraft, now living in Florida, and his partner China Bell, had drawn international attention by their unusual comradeship. Kraft, a world record bodybuilder who lifts four times his own weight, was all of 4.4 feet, while China, a transgender woman, was 6.3. While China, who was born male became female after a sex-orientation surgery, was bowled over by Kraft’s weightlifting skills, the latter credited his girlfriend with inspiring him to break new records.


Tarra the elephant and Bella the stray dog forged a strong friendship
BFFs Tarra the elephant and Bella the stray dog.

When it comes to true friendship, size does not matter. And what better proof than the relationship between Tarra, the elephant weighing over 4,000 kg, and Bella, the tiny stray dog. While Tarra was a resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, Bella had strayed in, and a chance encounter between the two resulted in a union lasting more than a decade.

The pair soon became inseparable, wandering the grounds all day, eating and playing together, and even sleeping in the same barn. Once when Bella suffered a spine injury, the elephant stood outside the sanctuary clinic for three weeks, waiting for her friend to recover.

The friendship came to an abrupt end when Bella was killed by wild animals and Tarra carried the body to the barn where they had spent most of their time together. The elephant was distraught and literally inconsolable. The wounds healed in due course, but the scars remained.

One of the most touching tales of friendship is perhaps that of Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi,  both in their mid-50s, living in China. Haixia, who was blind in one eye due to cataract, lost vision in his good eye too in a factory accident, rendering him completely sightless. Wenqi had lost both his hands at the age of three when he came in contact with a live electric wire. How these friends overcame their physical shortcomings to navigate each other’s lives is stuff fairy tales are made of.

Steeped in poverty, the friends decided they had to do something to secure their old age. They leased a few hectares of land from the local government where they could plant trees and earn money in the future by chopping and selling them.

For about 15 years now, they have taken the same route to what was once a wasteland in Hebei province, planting over 10,000 trees. Only two of the 800 saplings that they planted the first year survived, but that did not dissuade them. Wenqi, the double-amputee, leads the way while the blind Haixia follows holding on to his friend’s empty jacket sleeve. When they reach a river on the path, Haixia carefully gets on to Wenqi’s back. “I am his hands. He is my eyes,” Haixia had once told a documentary.

Though they admit that the initial motivation was money, now with donations, rewards and recognition flowing, they might no longer need to depend on the forest they painstakingly created for their livelihood, but the ‘brothers’ have promised they will not stop planting trees as long as they are physically fit.

While Wenqi and Haixia collaborated to turn their weakness to strength, others like Emmanuel Macron have proved that neither age, distance nor time-lapse can come in the way of a friendship that rests on a strong bedrock.

"Friendship is a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity." - Kahlil Gibran

Macron, a 15-year-old high school student in the French city of Amiens, had developed an attachment with his teacher Brigitte Trogneux, about 25 years his senior. By age 17, he proposed to her, but Brigitte, a mother of three, said she could offer him no promise. Macron’s father, who heard of this, quickly packed him off to Paris to create a distance between the student and the teacher. But the bond between the two refused to die.

Eventually, Brigitte got divorced and Macron went about seeking the blessings of her three children — one was two years senior to him, and another, his own age — to marry their mother. Finally, almost 12 years after he first proposed to her, Macron, who had now turned 29, married Brigitte, 55, in 2007. Macron became the president of France in 2017.

Like Macron, a nearly 24-year age gap separates US President Donald Trump from his wife Melania, except that he is the older one in the relationship. It all began in 1998 when Trump, a real estate baron who had just separated from his second wife Marla Maples, met Melania at a party in Times Square. He was then 52 and she 28, but that would not come in the way of fostering a friendship that would conclude in marriage seven years later in 2005; Melania’s first and Trump’s third.

Back home, an age difference of about 27 years would not deter model Milind Soman and air hostess Ankita Konwar from pursuing a passionate friendship leading to wedlock, while actor Priyanka Chopra has reportedly struck a chord with American singer Nick Jonas, 10 years her junior.

But not all lifelong friendships culminate in marriage. Take the case of former prime minister A B Vajpayee and Rajkumari who first met each other while studying in Gwalior. While Vajpayee remained a bachelor, Rajkumari went on to marry a professor, B N Kaul, and be known as Mrs Kaul for the rest of her life.

When her husband died, Mrs Kaul moved into Vajpayee’s residence with her daughter, and they lived in the same house for over five decades, till she passed away in 2014 at the age of 88. Some disapproved of their unconventional arrangement, but Vajpayee felt no need to explain. They were two soulmates locked in friendship, though not in matrimony.

The beauty about friendship is that it can creep in any time without warning and leave an indelible mark on our lives. When Anuradha Gajaraj Lopez from Mysuru found herself all alone in the United States in 2007, she was taken in by Grace Longeneker who was introduced to her by a common friend. Longeneker, who had lost her husband, was looking for companionship, while Anuradha was lonely in an alien land. “Though there were several differences between us in terms of age, food habits and culture, we bonded over scrabble and gardening. She became a mother and friend teaching me all about the American way of life. A few months later I got married and moved out, but our friendship continued until she passed away some years ago,” says Anuradha.

Needs work

While some friendships are a breeze with all the jigsaw pieces falling perfectly in place, most others need adjustments, even sacrifices. Garima Girish Sharma, a pure vegetarian who met her husband on a social networking site, was in for a shock when she realised he was a hardcore chicken eater. “Initially, I would not even kiss him the day he ate meat. But my husband loves his chicken so much that eventually, I started cooking for him. Now, while I continue to be a veggie, I actually love watching him relish his favourite chicken dishes. We have never allowed our food preferences to drive a wedge between us,” she says.

Some believe we have no control over who we meet in life as it is pre-destined. That may or may not be true, but who we choose to retain until the end is surely in our hands. We are alone when we enter and exit this earth, and it is our friends who make the journey in between beautiful. Some friendships are transient like the migratory bird that perches on our tree in fair weather, others, permanent. The longevity depends on how well we nurture the relationship with love, understanding, and honesty. As Kahlil Gibran said, “Friendship is a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.”

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