In continuation of the preceding two posts, I have great pleasure in sharing with you today the third installment of my reflections on friends and friendships:
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THE HINDU Sunday Magazine
Articulations - 2 Aug. 1992
Of friends and admirers
In the preceding section of this survey (July 19), we had identified three basic categories of collective friendship, and also taken a close look at the first one -- viz. the friendship between different groups of people. Among other things, we had examined the nature of the relationship of different kinds of institutions with the users of their products or services.
An interesting illustration of this aspect is provided by the nebulous friendship which normally exists between the artistic community and the State-funded institutions which seek to preserve and promote the arts. Its features would be similar in kind (though far different in magnitude) whether we are considering a local scene or the country-wide scenario; the implications are naturally more striking at the national level.
It is obvious that a public institution which is responsible for enhancing the artistic heritage of a nation through its patronage cannot function effectively unless it develops a healthy and abiding friendship with the whole community of artists in the country. However, the scope for cultivating such a collective friendship usually tends to be undermined by the absence of an esprit de corps among the artists themselves, and by the intense rivalries which exist between different groups of artists.
The expression 'art' in this context refers to the performing arts as well as the visual ones; and it includes those figuring in folk traditions to the extent that they attract the patronage of the institution. Moreover, whatever is true of the arts and artists in this regard is also generally true of literature and writers, with appropriate modifications. (In a wider sense, of course, literature is also an art and writers are also artists; but it is convenient to think of them as parallel cases rather than as identical ones).
Visible and invisible rapport
It will be recalled that a few years ago a Committee headed by Mr. P.N. Haksar had reviewed the performance of the three national Akademis of music, dance, drama, visual arts and literature, with special reference to their relations with other cultural institutions all over India. In a fundamental sense, what this panel undertook was (among other things) a quest for generating more friendly relations between these apex institutions and the artistic and literary communities in the whole country -- and, as an essential criterion, among the artists and writers themselves. Unfortunately, the inherent nature of the cultural environment is such that the Committee's report, which pleads earnestly for friendship and harmony, has itself become a subject of fierce controversy.
In sharp contrast with this, the second category of collective friendship -- viz. that between a group of people and an individual -- manifests itself forcefully in the cultural world. This is particularly so in the area of performing arts, where it acquires a visible form in the close rapport which exists between a popular musician, dancer, actor or actress, and an adoring audience in the concert hall or the theatre. In a wider but invisible manner, such a friendship encompasses all the admirers who encounter the artist on different occasions in different places. In the case of cinema, the friendship of the admirers is actually with the image of the actor or actress and not with the person, and it survives beyond the lifetime of the artist to the extent that his or her movies do. This is also true in the case of music, dance or drama which spreads out and lasts in recorded form.
There is a striking similarity between all this and the abstract friendship which exists between a writer and his/her devoted readers. Where a successful author's works are contained in books, this bond can last for decades and even centuries, particularly in the case of poetry. The friendship between a newspaper columnist and the loyal readers has a much shorter span of life, unless the articles are collected in the form of a popular book; but it can be quite an intense one, depending on the style and frequency of the communication.
Perhaps the most volatile among this type of collective friendships is that which arises between a glamorous sportsperson and the sports-loving public. This can occasionally acquire a global dimension and/or reach dizzy heights; but it can also shrink or even collapse suddenly. Such a friendship has a visible form around the playground when the sportsperson performs in front of an adoring crowd of spectators, but it is diffused and invisible in relation to the total strength of friendly sports-lovers; in this regard it is like the friendship between a performing artist and the public. Where a sportsperson's accomplishment becomes a legend which lasts longer than his or her sports career, the friendship is transformed into a purely abstract one, like that of a writer with posthumous readers.
Classes, clients and colleagues
The relationship of successive groups of students with a popular teacher constitutes a special kind of collective friendship: each class feels a possessive affection for the teacher, whose response rests on a far wider base. The goodwill which develops between an efficient doctor and his or her satisfied clientele is another interesting example of the friendly ties which bind a group of people to an individual.
In the interaction between a benevolent boss and loyal subordinates, we observe a set of collective friendships rather than a single manifestation. Depending on the distance which separates the boss from any given set of subordinates in the organizational hierarchy, such friendship ranges from the intimate to the abstract. But no matter how close a boss and a subordinate are in the place of work, they can never pick up a true personal friendship as long as that relationship lasts. It is only when one of them leaves the organization on superannuation or otherwise that such a transformation is possible. By the same token, when a person is promoted in the office and begins to supervise the work of a close friend who had been his or her peer earlier, their personal friendship automatically tends to become strained.
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Actress & cookess
The above article was written more than 20 years ago, when feminine actors were known as actresses, and not as actors. This reminds me of my dear father, a civil engineer in the British regime in India, for the following reason.
In the last ten years of his service (up to 1949), when he was an Executive Engineer, Father used to employ a male cook who could accompany him when he went on extensive tours (for 20 days every month) in his beautiful blue Ford-V8 car. After he retired from civil service and became a home-bound pensioner, my mother preferred to engage a female cook, and he always referred to her as the 'cookess'.