I was five years old when Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) was released, and thus, I'm unable to remember a world where Friendship Day wasn't 'cool'. In his attempt to teach us that “pyaar dosti hai”, the film’s director Karan Johar also glamourised one more festival for us, with his film ensuring that we celebrated it with as much aplomb as his characters would also go on to celebrate Karva Chauths and Sangeets.
And celebrate we did. The first Sunday of August was reserved for time and money spent on your "friends" — you know, the group of people who apparently judge you by your ability to spend money on friendship bands and gifts.
In 2011, the United Nations had declared 30 July as the International Day of Friendship (to foster friendship between people and cultures). But the first Sunday of August was so ingrained in our heads that we continue to celebrate it as Friendship Day. In fact, it would be difficult to find people who know the significance of July 30, but everyone knows what the first Sunday of August stands for. Such has been the success of the Friendship Day campaign.
In my school, each girl competed not just on the number of bands she had been given and could be fitted on her wrists but also on who could distribute the most stylish band of the lot. People bought them from the neighbouring Hallmark store; it wasn't cool enough if yours were hand-made (mine always were). The bands were made of all kinds of material; some even included the relevant pop-culture fandom of the age.
Of course, we celebrated Friendship Day a day late, because we didn’t have school on Sunday. Some girls who wouldn’t receive enough friendship bands would derisively said the day after Friendship Day was ‘enemies day’, and so getting many bands on Monday wasn't something to be proud of. (Whatever helped them sleep at night, I guess.)
At one point, all of this got so intense that my school had to ban friendship bands.
As with most festivals, Friendship Day means booming businesses. Earlier, this was with cards and bands. Now, I get notifications from restaurants for their Friendship Brunch deals. It's practically impossible to open social media without people posting photos with everyone they've ever met. It seems to remain a competition, like it was during my school days.
"I got 20 and you got only 12," I remember hearing in the school corridors. "Everyone likes me more."
We don't lose an opportunity to make others feel bad.
It used to bother me; I can't pretend otherwise. I always had fewer bands than the other girls in my class, and I never seem to announce what my friends mean to me, by posting photos on social media. But I think the problem with how we celebrate Friendship Day is that if you don't participate in the fanfare, you end up being told and believing that you don't have friends rather than that you don't have photos (or bands).
I like all kinds of celebrations, and I'm usually the first one in for a brunch plan. But I dislike and disagree with the assumption that if you haven't publicly declared your affection for your friend on the first Sunday of August, you're not a good friend. Instead, I’d say, just be a good friend all year long. If you really need another list on the internet telling you how to do this, too, here are some ideas.
Be there. I've realized most adult friendships fizzle out because of distance, space, and no scheduled meeting structure, unlike what it was like in school and college. This year, be there for your friend. Plan to meet more frequently if you're in the same city. Stick to the plan.
Answer calls/texts: As an extension of the first point, keep in touch. You don't have to text daily, and you don't need all their life updates, but answer when they text. Call back if you missed it. It goes a long way to show that you care, you value the relationship, and you will try to make it work. Take the initiative and call often. It shows that you think of them, you're there if they need to talk to you, and you're on their side on the loneliest days.
Listen. You don't need to have a solution for all their problems, and you don't need to give advice constantly. Just listen when they want to vent about parents, partners, and the horrible boss. It's 2022; everyone is going through their own struggles. Let them share their thoughts without fear of judgment.
Let them make mistakes. Your friends will make mistakes, they will date horrible people, and they won't break up even when you (and the whole world, really) tell them they must. It's ok. We're humans, and it's a part of life. Please don't make a big deal out of it. When they come to their senses, give them a space to call up and cry. Or a couch to come and languish on.
Be honest. Have space in your relationship to be able to call each other out. Disagreements shouldn't be friendship-shattering. They should only help you grow. For example, if they want to celebrate friendship day with a gift of wine and chocolates, let them. You can never have enough chocolates and wine.
Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education, and relationships. She is based in Mumbai, and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter