Today when so many people we barely know are “friends” on our social networking sites, I am reminded of an episode long time ago. I think I was in class 4 or 5. I knew a girl in my class who I rarely interacted with. She had her own set of friends, belonged to a different state, spoke a different language, and had nothing in common with me. We sat in opposite corners of the classroom. She was short and I was tall, and thus never even stood close to each other in those queues we made during the assembly. The only time I heard her name and her voice was when the teacher took the class attendance every morning and I heard her “present ma’am”.
It so happened that my father happened to know her father, which we discovered accidentally. My father had to go meet her father for some work and asked me if I would like to tag along and visit my friend. I was not very excited at the thought of it and hence decided to stay home.
The rest of the story, we heard from my father. He was at their place when my friend entered to say hi. My father smiled and asked her if she knew he was her school friend’s father. To which she smiled and said yes, and corrected my father saying “Although she is not a friend, she is a classmate”.
My father was very intrigued with the wisdom of a 11 year old. When I heard this, I was angry at first, but later realized that what she said was not to demean or insult me, she just spoke the truth. We must have barely spoken 3 times in school, sat at different corners, never shared or food, never hung out with the same set of friends, and had nothing in common.
Years later, I still appreciate the wisdom of what she said. We use the word “friend” in very general terms, referring to anyone we meet in the train, work with, go to school with, are neighbors with, or even study in the same class with. You go to a class with classmates, go to work with colleagues, and so on. Friend cannot be a generalized word used to describe classmates, colleagues, or contacts. Someone who is not a friend doesn’t necessarily have to be an enemy. But not everyone you are civil to and in good terms with is a friend.
On the same note, it would be interesting to have categories like classmates, colleagues, contacts, neighbors, relatives, etc. on these social networking sites. True, not everyone is a friend.