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Age No Barrier For Friendship

by Sudha Chandrasekaran
(Coimbatore, India)

Some might see a significant age-gap as a barrier to a close friendship, but the age gap was never an issue for Reena and Lakshmi. Reena, now 40 and Lakshmi in her early 60s, have been friends ever since they became neighbours 15 years ago. A chance meeting between them blossomed into a fifteen- year friendship and is still counting………….

When a young Reena moved into the shared apartment next door to Lakshmi in Dadar, Mumbai in 2005, Lakshmi made it a point of chatting with the youngster occasionally to make her feel welcome. Reena was in somewhat unknown territory moving to Mumbai and she did not currently know anyone who lived on this side of Mumbai except her father’s cousins with whom she was not very close. Lakshmi, the educationist had been born and brought up in Chennai and when she moved to Mumbai after her marriage, she had felt ‘terribly lonely –something she wanted Reena to avoid. Though Reena was born the year Lakshmii graduated from university, the two soon struck up a friendship.

They bonded over being perfectionists; laughing about how long it took them to complete each page of a story book; and soon discovered that they had many hobbies in common including swimming, reading, dancing, yoga…..

This relationship did not go beyond the cordial neighbours’ stage, however, until Reena, an artist designer, moved into a den of her own, 10 years later. The friendship developed easily and in no time they became close to each other. Lakshmi is in that position of life where being ‘Ma’ comes before anything else, whereas Reena’s focus is on building her career and her future. Continues Lakshmi, “We both are in two different phases of life, and it is likely we may not have much in common.” Laksmi would invite her to find out how she was getting on and to see if she could be any help. ‘She was incredibly supportive and I felt very relaxed with her, opening up about myself. But we would surprise ourselves at how similar our views were on topics, despite our 20-year age gap and we learnt to look at things from a different angle when our opinions differed,” says Reena.

As the days passed by, the beautiful relationship blossomed between the two of them and they regularly started meeting for tea late in the evening. Reena remarks, “It is rather funny hanging around people who are not the same age as you and are much older to you. Lakshmi uses many old-fashioned terms that make me smile. I love it when I want to take her out somewhere and she says, “Just let me put some powder on my face and a bindi and I’ll be ready”. As Reena adjusted to Mumbai life, Laksmi continued to be there for her. ‘We have often laughed and said, “Oh, I’m your daughter or you’re my second Amma”’ say they. Reena admits that she swears less in front of Lakshmi. ‘We’re friends, but if I’m feeling defenceless, she’s more of a mother figure. I admire her for her ebullience – her joy of life and generosity in helping others to make the most of their abilities.”

These days, Reena helps Lakhmi with a bit of gardening and Lakshmi in turn gets help from Reena whenever she wants to work on the computer. Occasionally they have what Laksmi calls a ‘messy dinner’, a haphazardly thrown together meal that Reena says is actually not messy at all. On seeing Lakshmi dabbling with colours, Reena is pleasantly surprised, “I was so taken not only by Lakshmi’s obvious talent as a painter but her commitment to her craft. She has invited me to many exhibitions in our 15year-old friendship and I recall thinking to myself, just because you get old doesn’t mean you stop working on what you love. She has taught me to keep going and share your gift with the world, no matter your age! That really inspires me!” The difference in ages meant there was no competition about marital-lives or careers between the two, so as Lakshmi puts it, they found themselves with an ‘an unconditional friend and there was no judgement. What Reena did in fact was reintroduce Lakshmi to fun. ‘I’d lost my husband a few years before and gone
into myself. I had got into a cocoon mode,’ says Lakshmi, a mother of three, who have all left the nest now. After a few months of friendly chatting, Reena managed to persuade her to come out for the evening-walks and sometimes movies too. When Lakshmi's 22 year-old son recently moved out of home, she was "bereft". Reena comforted her, but then said, "Lakshmi, he still lives in Chennai! It's not like he's on the other side of the world and you'll hardly ever see him!" At first, Lakshmi felt a bit annoyed, but then laughed at how true her words were.

‘I think you as you get older, you curl in on yourself, like yesterday’s sandwich,’ says Lakshmi. ‘It’s important to always be inquisitive and having a younger friend is wonderful because you see things through the young person’s eyes. More people should be aware of what’s in a person’s mind - rather than how many candles they have on their birthday cake.’

Lakshmi has been blessed with good health, unlike some of her 60-something contemporaries, but much of her vivacious approach to life is down to her youthful pal, Reena. “We just clicked naturally,’ says Lakshmi. But the friendship isn’t all high-jinks – it has a rounded, caring side too. When Reena split up from her first serious partner it was Lakshmi, with her greater life experience that saw her through. ‘I’m able to guide Reena a little bit more,’ says Lakshmi. ‘Still, she’s more mature than me at times. That’s the advantage of inter generational friends.’ ‘There’s stuff that I can discuss with Reena, as young as she is, that I couldn’t actually discuss with my lifelong friends.’ I don’t feel embarrassed talking about anything with Lakshmi,’ agrees Reena. ‘If I’m being silly she’ll tell me.’ When the pair discovered a mutual love of English films, they began rendezvousing at theatres with giant tubs of popcorn in hand. While no topic is off-limits for the close friends, Reena is unable to relate to some issues Lakshmi faces as a woman approaching her late 60s. But this doesn't bother Lakshmi in the slightest.

She jokes, “Who is interested in constantly discussing about senior citizen homes; or retirement; or menopause?" The pair gets engrossed in discussions of topics ranging from how to make the world a better place to live, how to arrest self- sabotaging to Yoga to Covid -19 pandemic…Their reading tastes are the same and they share inspirational quotes amongst themselves.

Lakshmi shows a "delightful interest" in how ageing affects her, so when she received a medical cancer screening kit, she sent a photo of it to Reena. "I have added the following line: ' Do you see the gifts you are likely to get when you attain my wise age?' Both of them laugh heartily! While Lakshmi sees no downside to their age difference, Reena jokingly admits she has one problem with it: "I'm a little jealous of the seniors' travel discounts she's now entitled to!"

Continues Reena, what she likes most about Lakshmi is that she keeps looking forward. ‘She doesn’t do constant nostalgia, back referencing to how things were so much better 20 years ago. If something new is happening, she does not ignore it. That breaks the generational barriers down. Intergenerational friendships prove that age really is just a number. This vast age difference is a real plus point when it is about friendships; companionship; support; and having fun. It is definitely a priceless exchange of across-the-years views, ideas and wisdom. We all are bent on finding the fountain of youth and there is something exhilarating about being in the midst of the energy that young people have. It’s a wonderful magical feeling. The older friend is in a position to share the benefit of wisdom, while the younger one is capable of bringing a special understanding of a different generation’s challenges and celebrations."

Though they've had a few bumps along the road, Lakshmi believes their age difference is a positive in their friendship. Continues Lakshmi, "I possess the experience and wisdom of my years to offer my young friend whereas she exhibits the youthfulness that energizes me." Cross-generational friendships are more common in women as they prioritize emotional connection and can simply catch up over a cup of coffee!

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