Love in the time of friendship

Ten Years On by Alice Peterson is a love story involving three friends — Joe, who is forced to pursue medicine by his folks, Olly, an average musician and a wannabe writer and Rebecca, an artist who dreams of making it big one day. Olly and Rebecca are a couple, and everything is hunky dory until Joe enters their lives with his handsome looks and striking personality. The three bond well, until Cupid looses focus and strikes arrows on wrong targets, and Joe quits college and leaves town without any notice.

Why does Joe leave? — the author tries building mystery with this, but really, it is no rocket science. A love triangle is not hard to decode. What keeps the pages turning is the back and forth narration that Alice adopts throughout. After Olly dies (no spoiler; the book begins with Olly’s funeral) Rebecca, unable to cope with the tragedy and the anxiety of bearing Olly’s kid without him to support her, heads to her hometown in Winchester.

Here, Alice gives a generous peek into Rebecca’s childhood, her baggage of disappointment about always being the second priority after her sister, an ace Tennis player, for her parents. But soon, we read about a very pregnant Rebecca assisting Joe in his work. Then, it’s back to her halcyon days with Olly in Bristol, before the pages turn to a tensed Rebecca talking to the spirit of Olly, asking him to come back to her (yes, Olly’s spirit keeps talking to her inside her head).

The parts about the carefree hostel life the three share, works the best for me. There are references to songs like Bob Dylan’s Make you feel my love, George Michael’s Wake me up before you go and Supergrass. A whole chapter is dedicated to an eighties night party where Rebecca dresses as Madonna in blond wig, tight black jeans and lace corset and Joe as George Michael, in a leather jacket and ripped jeans. Among their friends are those sporting looks of Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Blondie and Boy George.

It’s a breezy read. While what Rebecca goes through is quite tragic, it doesn’t pull down your spirit, or have you all tensed about her future without Olly. The narration struggles to keep pace with the reader, who can more or less predict the next scene.

Jab we met on the net


March 25, 2012. That’s when he finally met her. Like a scene sliced out from Bollywood, they stood on either side of the railway platform in Pune, looking at each other. A friendship moulded by a million online chats over a span of five years, finally seemed real.

“I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at her face. I just kept smiling like a fool,” says Arun Sakthinarayanan (23), an IT employee from Chennai who deems his friendship with Fatma Tanveer(27), IT employee from Pune, to be a miracle. “I just became too busy associating each of our conversations with the expressions on her face,” he says, beaming.

It was during his second year in college, in 2008, that Arun first got a scrap from Fatma in Orkut. It was a comment enquiring about a Robotic project that he had posted online. From academic discussions, they say, the conversations became more personal with every session of chat.

“I never had to think twice before saying anything to him. He was a stranger then, and his judgement wouldn’t affect me, anyway!” says Fatma, who believes that it’s the distance which has worked the magic. For both of them, who were going through a rough patch in their life then, the conversations were a respite from their immediate surrounding world. But, how much can one trust a stranger?

Yes, online friendship is seen with a lot of speculation, Fatma agrees. However, she says that it’s the gradual growth which cemented the trust. “He respected my messages and never nagged me for my number,” she says. For the first one and a half years, neither the telephone numbers were exchanged, nor the photographs. There was only a slight hop from Orkut to Gchat, from Gchat to Facebook. “Today, both mine and his family know about our friendship. Sometimes, I find my brother chatting with him,” she adds.

Unlike with friends from within the city, misunderstandings cannot be solved with a treat or hug. So when there was a sudden retreat in 2011 from her side, Arun recalls suffering the pangs of loneliness. “No messages or calls. I was horrified if I had done anything wrong,” he says.

It took a long conversation to analyse the issue and sort it out. The incident taught them to break the filters and speak, as that was the only medium for them to share their emotions.

“Since then I have never kept any of my feelings bottled up. It’s better talking to him about it,” she confesses. Be it a new crush, ego clashes with parents or a bad day at work, Arun talks about it to Fatma, whom he considers his personal diary.

While Arun plans to leave to the US this month for higher studies, the ‘bestest buddies’ have come to accept online as their abode for friendship. “We started off like this. Though the distance does seem enormous, we are at our best online,” says Fatma. No farewell hug?

“Whenever you feel lonely, just look behind

For a friend whom distances don’t bind,” quotes Fatma, from one of her poems she wrote for him.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out -