Yaari Is A Wonderful Spotlight On All Hues Of Friendships In South Asian Women & Queer Folx

We are a very lonely people, I sometimes think. We are desperate not to be, and one of our strategies for ensuring that we're not is - friendship. Yaari.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series comes up multiple times in this collection about friendship; it was funny at first. Yaari – an Anthology on Friendship by Women and Queer Folx, edited by Shilpa Phadke and Nikita Kanagasabai, centres friendship and community among women and enby people like other collections centre romance and partnership.

I should mention up front I am not very pleased with the actual physical book. A beautiful cover, yes, but an uncomfortable size (A5, why?) and very tight margins – and the contents have page numbers for sections but not for individual essays (there are 95 entries, a nice and solid collection). I’m not sure why the editors, or Yoda Press, or Thomson Press (the printers) chose to go this route. It made for a slight physical discomfort when reading, and I would prefer to read this in an e-book format in the future.

But that is a peeve for the externalities. The collection itself is a solid expression of the highest and lows, the joys and despairs, the loyalty and the betrayal we experience in our relationships with friends. The essays, illustrations, stories, poems and photos have come in from across South Asia (though India is overrepresented, maybe a disadvantage of seeking entries through one’s networks). The collection is divided across six themes –

  • Love. Friendship. Intimacy.
  • Girls. Women. M(others).
  • Resistance. Solidarity. Solace.
  • Grief. Longing. Loss.
  • Pandemic. Protest. Resilience.
  • Distance. Disappointment. Rage.
  • Virtual Realities Technologies Connections
  • Pedagogy. Care. Community.*
  • Cities. Spaces. Conversations.

Yaari. Friendships rescue us, always!

The collection starts with straightforward celebration of Love. Friendship. Intimacy. – the explanations of how a friendship is formed, how communities cohere around each other, how relationships are cherished. How friendships are held and rescued, and how they rescue us back. These are pleasant enough reading (especially the illustrated ‘With Love, Your Peripheral Friend’, by Jayathi Doshi, which struggles with maintaining friendships in the middle of every other thing going on – friendship in adulthood has to be a deliberate act of reaching and reaching back).

But Yaari really finds its feet with Girls. Women. M(others)., where we explore friendships which are difficult, which required the work of understanding, and trying to understand. Some of the most powerful pieces are co-written by two or more women, in conversation or collaboration to say something together, the same relationship in different reflections. My personal favourite, ‘Can’t type, sending voice note’ by Menaka Raman, Payoshni Saraf and Yamini Vijayan reminds me of conversations in my own WhatsApp groups, keeping close to women I haven’t seen for months and in some cases years. ‘A dialogue of reflections on a friendship’, by B and P, is humblingly honest, and I’m fascinated by the nakedness and unflinching revelations it shares.

The hardship, loneliness, and pain of friendships

In Resistance. Solidarity. Solace., we see the friendships formed against patriarchal and communal norms – and sometimes defeated by those norms. Ayesha Alizeh’s ‘Cousins Shall Unionise’ imagines a revolution against the structures that pin women (and men) down, holding them to small roles in a smaller world where everything is judged. Shaheen Bagh is memorialised in Sargam  Sharma’s ‘Shamiyana Ashiyana’ but the relationships created there live on.

In Grief. Longing. Loss., we see the desires and the heart aches – sometimes we don’t make the friendship. Sometimes we are the betrayers. I know quite a few of the writers in this section, and cannot pass by without mentioning at least two of them – Vijeta Kumar’s yearning to be  friended, and in friendship, across unspoken barriers of caste, language, class in ‘A Tale of Duplexities’ is a multi-generational isolation; Vijayalakshmi Harish speaks of a familiar guilt in not being a ‘good friend’, who relies on her friends to be the ones who reach out, in ‘Friendship and the Achy, Breaky Heart’.

In Pandemic. Protest. Resilience., authors reflect on loneliness and connection. Vinitha’s ‘Footnotes’ shows an emotional journey against unconscious bias to holding and nurturing our shared humanity in our different, and so similar, oppressions.

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Distance. Disappointment. Rage. is complex and nuanced, dealing with betrayal, with disappointment, with having to see your loved one again knowing something about them that you wish you didn’t have to know. I wrestled with these pieces, sometimes thinking they should not have been included! Every relationship has its boundaries, its privileges and its politics – for good and for ill. Every activist or politically aware human has their blind spots, their condescensions, their difficulty with reality. We must rage against the breaking of a trust, or we must piece that trust back together with our own hands. A very difficult and thought-provoking section.

In Virtual Realities. Technologies. Connections, the standout narrative was Raina Bhattacharya’s ‘The Queen and I’: reeling from a broken friendship, Bhattacharya turns to an AI, Replika, to be a friend for her. I was irresistibly reminded of the movie Her, another narrative of an ‘artificial’ person, encoded female, who supports the narrator through loneliness and healing.

We are a very lonely people, I sometimes think. We are desperate not to be, and our strategies for ensuring that we’re not are not always good ones – but who is to decide when the strategy, the friendship, is healthy or not? Us, judging from the outside? The friends, holding or repelling each other from the inside?

Making and occupying space

By the time I reach Pedagogy. Care. Community. I am flagging (just as this review of Yaari is probably flagging)! But there are beauties here too (as well as some overly dry analyses, slightly out of place in this collection, more theory than heart). The heart of this section is ‘Abstinence’ by Ammel Sharon, reminding me that a good teacher – like a good friend – can be life saving, and I am enervated to carry on to the last section.

Which is Cities. Spaces. Conversations. where young women exercise their right to be outside, to take up space, to want to feel safe in public. In ‘Girls on a Bus to (Georgia O’Keefe)’, Shaista Tayabali takes her mother, an artist, out to an art show – it should be so simple! But it isn’t. Mother and daughter bond across the terrifying and the possible.

Yaari

In another recent piece right here on Women’s Web I write that I was a lonely child. I would say that I’m a solitary adult, but that is one of those true lies – I have so many friends, people I like and love, people with whom the unease sometimes eases (and sometimes doesn’t). Yaari reminds me that these friendships are a choice I have made and someone has made back for me – that these relationships are not accidents or mistakes but actions that enriched my world, and hopefully theirs.

*An interesting combination, why here and not elsewhere?

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Image source a still from the film Angry Indian Goddesses, and book cover Amazon.

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About the Author

Rohini Malur

Rohini Malur is a writer based on Bengaluru. She is a founding member of All Sorts of Queer, and annually organises open mics for Namma Pride in Bengaluru. In a parallel universe, she captains a read more...

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