Every evening since lockdowns first began in March, Mridul George, has been ‘meeting’ 16 friends and colleagues virtually over a cup of tea. The senior software developer with Nielsen Kochi says his chayakootam or tea group has been a lifeline in these days of isolation and social distancing. The pandemic has changed the dynamics of friendship for almost everybody, across age groups. If old friends have reconnected, others have found time to indulge in their buddies.
“Before lockdown, all of us would step out of office together everyday, for tea. With lockdown, this is how we keep in touch. Everybody logs in for the video call, depending on the time each person has. We might be meeting virtually, even so we recreate the mood — each one of us has a cup of tea when we log in,” he says. Present and former colleagues/friends are part of this group. Weekends are for games such as Pictionary or dumb charades.
Paradoxically, self isolation and social distancing have brought people closer. Hanging out as a group and catching up over a coffee or a drink is off the table, as are workplace meetings. With all the gloom around, relationships in general and friendships in particular have become a lifeline for many. Like for jewellery designer and stylist Raji Anand from Chennai, who lives away from family. Her friends are an invaluable support system.
She has reconnected with old friends, while some recent friendships have faded away to make space for more meaningful friendships. “Pre-pandemic, when you socialised over a drink or on an evening out, you were just unwinding. Now, the quality of interaction has changed. More than the people I used to meet regularly, I fall back on those I knew from before to sustain and reassure me during these difficult times. These were people with whom I couldn’t connect frequently due to my hectic schedule,” she says.
For Germany-based Indu Sharma, the lockdown in India means she can catch up with her friends irrespective of clashing time zones. “This time has been one for friends and friendships; thanks to technology and social media it is so much easier,” says Indu whose friends are spread across India, and others parts of the world. She interacts with them constantly through the day either on WhatsApp or Zoom calls.
Pining for campus
For grown-ups, friendships have been made easier with time and technology. But Kochi-based 14-year-old Anu A (name changed) says friendship just got complicated. “With the amount of school work we have thanks to online classes, friends and friendships have dropped to an all-time low on the priority list. All of us don’t have mobile phones or access to social media — how do we talk to each other?” says the Class IX student. Anu and her friends tried video calls, “but our schedules clash — either parents are at work or one of us has assignments or tuition. In school, all of us were in the same place and had time for each other.”
Mitr P from Bengaluru, who turns 12 on August 2, says, “I have been doing video calls with my friends. I miss them a lot because online cannot replace the connection I feel with them in school.” But Mitr has made a new friend: a neighbour’s pet dog named Kishmish. “I was hesitant at first, as I used to be scared of dogs. But she was friendly. She can’t replace my friends, but she is an alternative,” he says.
Raji feels that these friendships — made and rekindled — would not have happened if not for the pandemic. “Some friendships have fallen, but I think the ties formed during this time are the ones that will last.”