My best friend in Delhi (as opposed to my best friend in Mumbai and another one in Kerala) is dear to me not only because of her company, which I love and thrive on, but also because of how she has changed me for the better over the years.
There’s not one aspect of my life that she has not touched and moulded into something deeper and purer. From my attitude towards my relationships, to my understanding of Indian poverty and institutions, to an appreciation for our cultures and traditions, to even my taste in food, my friend P has had a dramatic influence on my life and lifestyle — not consciously of course, but in a subtle, automatic, involuntary way, with neither of us noticing anything going on.
Today, however, I suddenly realised how differently I now view ‘beauty’ because of her. For me, say 10 years ago, a beautiful house meant lots of shiny crystal, leather sofas and gilded mirror finishes. A beautiful outfit meant something boutique-made and expensive. A beautiful piece of jewellery meant rubies and pearls and diamonds and gold. A beautiful woman meant one who wore the latest cut in trousers, had a blow dry, a designer bag and manicured nails. A beautiful man was one who held the door open for a woman and brought home lots of money. A beautiful holiday meant a five-star resort in a popular location with all the luxuries money can buy. A beautiful journey meant one made in an air-conditioned vehicle, preferably business-class, and a snazzy destination at the end of it, with lots of shopping.
But my friend P sees things differently. And now, over six years of knowing her and spending lots of intimate time with her, I see things differently too.
A beautiful house now means one made with love and thought and concern for another, where a well-worn but much-loved wooden cabinet shines radiantly while a shiny steel and glass one pales in comparison; where a child’s butterfly stickers on a wall are more appealing than a synthetic, factory-produced texture; where memories are the only decorations required.
A beautiful outfit now means one made using natural fabrics and age-old traditional weaves and techniques, because we are then encouraging the rural craft industry.
A beautiful piece of jewellery is one that comes with a story – how excited P gets when narrating the tale behind a handmade pair of thread earrings she bought for Rs 40 from a roadside in a Maharashtrian village.
A beautiful woman for me now is one who loves and feels freely, without fear, who is in touch with her inner God, and can lift the burdens of the entire world on her fragile shoulders with a smile – and maybe the company of her girlfriends.
A beautiful man is one who, despite a busy day, can turn the cellphone off when he is with his family; who values human relationships over monetary ones.
A beautiful holiday is one where you learn something new, where you delve into the local culture, weather, clothes, food and people, and end up discovering more about yourself and your loved ones.
And a beautiful journey is one where you come out a different person. Where you fight the demons in your own head and reach out to help others do the same. Where discomfort is only a small price to pay for revealing a sordid truth or a battle against injustice; where the purpose is not to escape reality but to understand it.
All my loved ones have shaped me into who I am. But today I’d like to pay my respect and homage to P, who is not only a friend and soul-mate, but something uniquely more. If beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, then P is my pair of glasses. She’s shown me a different world altogether. I would be short-sighted without her.