Of friendships that colonise time

Published: Jun 28, 2019, 06:17 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

Friends are people who sometimes colonise your time. It's not unwelcome, but sometimes it is the consequence of insistence

Of friendships that colonise time
The best friendships are inevitably the ones in which we take the other person somewhat for granted, in which we feel entitled to their love, attention, and devotion, in which we don't think twice about imposing, about inviting ourselves over, even if we sense reluctance. Pic/Getty Images

Rosalyn D'MelloThe day has become unexpectedly peopled. It is as if I am making up for all the lost time with my friends in Delhi. I tricked myself into believing that it was Mona I missed the most, whom I absolutely couldn't do without, yet, here I am, back in Delhi, unable to repress the eagerness with which I am re-encountering my friends. Their energy replenishes me. I wasn't starving, but I didn't truly acknowledge enough how, in my 45-day absence, I had begun to hunger for the intimacies I had evolved over almost a decade, preoccupied as I was with laying claim to my fiancé's home town of Tramin, planting my flag there in order to stake belonging.

The Paris Review has a section called 'One Word', for which, as the title suggests, they invite select writers to meditate upon precisely one word. Were I ever to be asked, I feel sure I would choose the word, 'to colonise'. It's an infinitive that got assimilated into my vocabulary subconsciously and now articulates itself in a manner that is astonishingly casual, despite its hierarchical undertones.

This proclivity of mine was brought to my attention by my fiancé in the early stages of our digital courtship, when language was all we had to communicate to each other the still unknown extent of our longing. Him being white and I being coloured was a reality I couldn't gloss over. I often even referred to myself as a "postcolonial subject" who suffered from her own peculiar angst, the kind he couldn't quite fathom, because his experience is so vastly different.

It is and it isn't, perhaps, given that he comes from a region that also has a history of being colonised. It was forcefully annexed from Austria by Italy and became part of its kingdom after the First World War, and, during the Second World War, was occupied by Nazi forces after whose defeat, it was returned to Italy but was allowed to exist as an autonomous province.

As we began our digital dialogue, this verb kept inserting itself into our conversations. Most recently, during our brief separation while I was in Berlin and he in Tramin, I told him I wanted to colonise every bed he's in; my way of saying I was done with the long-distance nature of our relationship and that I was looking forward to claiming his territory as mine.

We keep inventing new contexts to play around with the word, so we can navigate, at ease, its many possibilities, so that, somehow, we can inure ourselves from its historical sting, its implied dynamic of coloniser and colonised. Sometimes we use it as a stand-in for 'to inhabit'; sometimes in place of 'to dominate'; occasionally we coax it into meaning 'to occupy', but never non-consensually. It's a linguistic strategy, I suppose, for addressing possibly internalised structural inequities, a way of mitigating the nuances of the obvious.

For instance, we laughed retrospectively at a selfie we'd taken back in October, in which we're both standing against a wall on a street in Bolzano, licking gelato off our cones. Except, he, white-faced, had picked a dark chocolate, while I'd chosen salted caramel. We called ourselves United Colors of Benetton. We looked like a poster couple for the brand.

When I told my scholarly Cameroonian friend, Bonaventure about how odd it felt to often be the darkest person in Tramin, he told me that in instances like these, presence assumes political dimension.

By being there, by disrupting the town's whiteness I was compelling its inhabitants to confront my presence, to think about the complexity of my history, to make guesses about where I came from, to belie their expectations. I wasn't the only South Asian there, I had spotted others, presumably of Bangladeshi origin, but they were suspicious of me, especially the women, because I could be seen cohorting with the white residents. They would smile at me, but I couldn't extend the warmth and let it spill over into conversation since we had no language in common. I spoke neither Bengali nor German; they spoke no English.

Somehow when I think of friendships, the word resonates. Friends are people who sometimes colonise your time. It's not unwelcome, but sometimes it is the consequence of insistence.

The best friendships are inevitably the ones in which we take the other person somewhat for granted, in which we feel entitled to their love, attention, and devotion, in which we don't think twice about imposing, about inviting ourselves over, even if we sense reluctance. It's what I'm revelling in upon this return to Delhi.

I'm enjoying the audacity of my friends to make demands on my time, to ask of me to be there for them the way I always have been, even if I now have a resident companion. It says something about how one can be 'single'-minded while being coupled, how one can be autonomous while being emotionally dependent.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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