A lifetime of being friends

first_imgMrunalini Joshi and her friends sit around the drawing room, giggling and chattering nineteen to the dozen. What’s unusual about four gal-pals getting together, you ask? They’re all in their eighties! Both Mrunalini Joshi and Usha Deshpande have known each other since they were five – a comradeship of 75 long years that is still holding strong. This is thanks to progressive ideas of women’s education that held sway in Maharashtra even as far back as the 930s, where Mrunalini Joshi and her lifelong friend Usha Deshpande met in “bal-varga”, the all-inclusive nursery class, at the Maharashtra Education society School. The two girls were in the same class till the second standard, when Usha was transferred to a different school. But fate decreed that hey were to meet again and renew their old ties in their golden years.While Mrunalini lost touch with one friend for a time, she found another in Mina Parande, with whom she went to high school. After being married and moving to Kolkata with her husband, Mrunalini caught up with an old family friend Saral Phatak, who lived close to the Marathi Mandal in Calcutta (as it was called back in 1958). Their husbands were colleagues and good friends, and the two couples soon became close. ‘When we’d get bored in the evenings, we would simply drop in on each other. We had that comfortable a relationship,’ reminisces Saral fondly. Over gossip, tea and food, the bonds of another lifelong friendship were forged. An old tradition among the Maharashtrians is to change a woman’s first name as well as her last name when she marries. To her friends, however, Mrunalini is still Sudha, the girl they went to school with. Even Saral, who met her only post-marriage, knows her as Sudha. ‘I never knew your (formal) name was Mrunalini! I just found out today!’ exclaims Saral, laughing. Today, the four women are closer than ever, meeting at least once in a week, destiny having brought them all to Pune now. Each one of them is part of a dynamic group of alliances and associations formed over the years. ‘It’s nothing special,’ shrugs Mrunalini modestly, when asked how these friendships have survived the test of time.A former classical singer, Mrunalini sang for the All-India Radio in Kolkata for nearly 10 years, while her friend Usha distinguished herself by graduating with a B.Sc in Botany and joining the Western Circle office (in Pune) of the Botanical Survey of India in 1958. Mina Parande, meanwhile, dedicated her life to sports, as fourtime National Champ of Table Tennis, sports coach and Central Railway official at Pune Station. Saral followed her husband around the country, dedicating her life to home and hearth. As the women got on with their busy lives as homemakers, mothers and working women, old associations took a backseat. But these affiliations, though neglected, were never forgotten. They’ve gone all over the country, enjoyed their travels, and finally settled down in Pune, close to their roots and their friends. A common interest in spirituality was instrumental in rekindling their old friendship. Mrunalini and Mina had mutual acquaintances at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, which facilitated a happy reunion. Usha also got in touch with her childhood playmate Mrunalini through the Pondicherry connection. The Arvind Mandal, a Pune-based branch of the Auro Ashram, became a meeting place for the long-lost friends. Mina, who had turned from the more vigorous tabletennis coaching to teaching yoga and pranayam, was taking a class at the Arvind Mandal in Pune, where she later reconnected with her former classmates and friends. Now, every Friday, she visits the ancestral home or “wada” where Mrunalini lives with her daughter, son-in-law and their family, to conduct 2-hour sessions of yoga mudras and pranayam for her group of four friends. In an ebullient spirit, the other women laughingly chide her for being a hard taskmaster. Once a year, Mrunalini, Mina and Usha, singly or with other friends, visit Pondicherry to spend time at the ashram. Meditation at the inner sanctum or spending time near the tomb are the highlights of the visit for them. Staying at Pondicherry, the women travel to the ashram during the hours allotted for meditation, soaking in what they describe in their own words as “the quiet”, “the peace” or “the atmosphere”. They find the place rejuvenating; but the bond that holds them together is more than a shared allegiance to a spiritual guru. Though Saral does not accompany her friends out of town, this easy, undemanding rapport these women share isn’t dependent on everyone being part of the “Auro clique” – Saral is as much a part of the group as anyone. She lives in Pune, and catches up with her old friends just as she did back in 1958, in Calcutta.None of them sought each other out actively. It was pure serendipity that brought these soul sisters back into each other’s lives. Today, with all “the girls” living within 10 minutes of each other, popping in and out of each other’s homes with potluck meals, going out and visiting new places are just some of the ways to spend some quality girlbonding time together. ‘We can’t travel too far out nowadays. The traffic makes it impossible!’ says Usha ruefully. Today, all four women live peaceful, retired lives, and make plenty of time for old friends. Mrunalini has deposited the care of her home on her daughterin- law’s capable shoulders, while her nursery friend Usha has retired from active service. Mrunalini’s high-school buddy Mina has hung up her boots as table tennis champ and coach, but continues to pursue fitness through teaching yoga and pranayam to friends. Saral first met Mrunalini when they were both young wives, and much like her friend, she now makes time for herself, her homemaker’s duties on the backburner.Knocking on wood, Saral says that it’s been pretty much smooth sailing so far in their friendship, with everything in orderly progression, without the ups and downs that mark some associations. ‘Even when we were younger, we fought in a sporting way,’ reminisces Mina. As for squabbling, in friendships that have weathered through decades, that sort of thing is in the past. ‘Now there is no question of fighting. We are way over that stage in life. People get into little quarrels when they expect something from someone and they are left disappointed. But among us, there are no expectations now. We don’t want anybody to give us anything or to do anything for us. We don’t think of things such as “I have more than she does” or “she has less than I do” – that’s the sort of thing that leads to mistrust and discord. We accept one another, and we’re satisfied with our lot in life,’ says Usha wisely.Neither has retirement brought them dissatisfaction. Quite the opposite in fact. When other friends tell Usha that they’re retiring, she’s happy for them, glad that another one of her compatriots can join in the fun. ‘We have lots of time, and much more freedom today,’ explains Mrunalini. ‘Now we aren’t answerable to anyone the way we used to be – no need to explain to anyone why you’re late, or where you’ve been! Nothing to hold us back from what we really want to do,’ exclaims Saral. Freedom from the responsibilities and limitations of a hardworking life is sweet respite, and they live life to the fullest . ‘We do not know what will happen tomorrow, but today, we are happy!’ concludes Saral. And so we leave them, discussing an absent ally in the hospital, whose doctor has forbidden visits from her friends because she talks too much when they are there! Soul sisters, compatriots, boon companions and comrades-in-arms, they are living proof that there’s nothing quite as resilient, or as wonderful, as true friendship. Get inspired and get started today, it’s not too late!advertisementadvertisementadvertisementlast_img

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