All dressed for the evening I was ready to go for dinner with my college friends. It was the send-off of a friend, and we reached an expensive restaurant in the suburbs of Mumbai. Sometimes, I feel I have to keep quiet about my preferences of where we can go because my friends feel limited thinking of a place where Vaishnava food (without onion and garlic) would be available.
It was a nice, pleasant evening. As it is with friends, jokes and laughter filled the atmosphere. It was time to place the order. The others did it first. And then I was asked. In my attempt to explain what I really wanted, there was a little confusion. This ticked off certain unnecessary remarks from a friend who’s known for his satire. It was annoying. But I kept mum so as to not spoil the evening and continued placing my order. The dinner was done. Everybody seemed to have a good time.
As we left the restaurant, a pub stood across the road. Two of my friends wanted a drink. I was a little hesitant and tired too. But they insisted that I come for at least 15-20 minutes and then I’d be dropped home. Since one of them was an old friend and she was going to be leaving the country the next day, I agreed. We entered the pub and found ourselves among seventy other people. A friend came to me with the news that people who don’t drink cannot stay in. Another friend who doesn’t drink, and myself, stood pokerfaced. I was happy since I wanted to leave anyway. We all walked out. But as we did, I heard the same friend swear, saying, “Why did she have to come if she didn’t want a drink!” I couldn’t believe my ears! Seven years of good, close friendship and was this the result? And he knew I don’t indulge in drinks. I felt less important than a drink that he so desperately needed to have. I had to get out of there and asked to be dropped home.
On the way back, I was furious. I criticized them because my ego was hit hard. And I didn’t stop venting for quite some time. Another friend listened attentively and supported my complaints.
After a while I fell silent, watching the brightly lit streets of the city through the window of my taxi. At midnight it was nearly as bright as evening. The rickshaws and taxis stopped each time they saw somebody stick a hand out for a ride, people waited for the light to turn red to be able to cross, the ambulance rushed ahead in urgency, a policeman stood checking the licenses of violators of the law. I observed that everybody was doing his or her duty. And that’s when I realized that when my friends went for an expensive dinner, they were following their principles. When they got annoyed with my restrictions, they were following their principles. When they insisted that I join them inside the club, they were following their principles. When it irritated them that because of me they had to leave the club and they spoke rudely, they were still following their principles.
The only misfit in all of it was me because I was the one was not following what was really expected of me by my inner self and also my seniors. I blew so much money on a Chinese dinner that wasn’t even satiating. Certain satirical comments also played their part in spoiling my mood. But I still went.
I have been a fence-sitter for a long time now. I believed I could live my life with these two opposite routes that cannot tolerate each other: spirituality and modern-day material culture. But on that day I realized I needed to make a choice. And it was urgent. Otherwise I’d have to lose both!
One cannot please everyone. I tried changing my priorities that night, but I succumbed to their demands partially. I compromised on my code of behavior but failed to please my friends. Like all neophytes, I too was a victim of questions like, “But what about my friends? Will I have to leave them to practice spirituality? If they don’t follow it, are they bad people?” I was always told, “If your friends are true, they will support you despite all inconvenience. They will respect you and your happiness, they will love to see you do it.” I didn’t discard the thought, but because of lack of experience to back it, I didn’t take it seriously.
REAL FRIENDSHIP WHAT IS IT?
But yesterday was an eye-opener. My friends know how much my spiritual priorities mean to me. They did support me all through too. But when it affected their convenience, they thought I should have compromised a little on my principles to make the evening a success. That’s not friendship, is it? I don’t blame them. As I mentioned, they were so dedicated to what they think was a way of life. It is so inspiring that they are not willing to compromise on their life style no matter what. Then why should we? I didn’t think my friend was lower than me when he decided to drink. Then why did he speak mean words when I put my foot down?
If you don’t associate with like-minded people but remain with people who follow contrasting ideals, the conflict is natural. And it results in no happy faces on either side. A choice is therefore necessary. I’m upset to see my friends rely on a can of drink for pleasure. Happiness is so subtle how can one find it in something so material and gross, something that has a limited life? My friends constantly remind me of how fortunate I am to have taken to the path of Krishna consciousness. Sometimes, their acts urge me to take to it much more seriously, so I am even more grateful. It is nice to have friends. Friends always inspire. But when you have only one life, you must carefully choose whom to draw your inspiration from. Devotee friends will always pull you closer to your real goal pleasing guru and Krishna. Because they will always show you your humble position so that you respect everyone. Because they will always guide you in a way to bring you closer to Krishna. And the greatest reason is that because they see you as part and parcel of Krishna and want to share immense love with you, which in turn, will make you share that love with everyone else.
I have made my choice now; I have burnt my fingers and won’t touch fire again.
Rashi Parikh is a freelance graphic designer and stays in Mumbai.