August is considered the month of friendships, and today we are in conversation with someone who knows a thing or two (million) about them. 

When we were younger and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was all the rage, I remember making friendship bands for some of my favourite people back then. It was a serious business, a show of alliance and allegiance, and was celebrated with due fervour and zest.

As adults, things are no longer as simple and dynamics of friendships have changed. Relationships have become complicated and demands extend beyond saving your friend a seat at lunch hour. There are preferences and distances, emotional baggage and personal turmoils, all working against wholesome friendships and their continuity. Maintaining adult friendships requires serious commitment and effort, and an understanding of relationships and people.

And have you noticed how some people are better at this friendship business than others? I think it is a special talent, and today, I am chatting with one such wonder woman. Fatma Khalil, who manages to stay in touch and relevant despite years and oceans in between her and her friends. I probe her to spill her secrets, and she happily complies.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Shaheen: So, who are you?

Fatma: ‘Made of faith, spirituality, madness, humor’ has been my bio since internet happened to us. I am a Pilates instructor, a meditation teacher, journo, writer and a fanatic yogi who finds solace in dance, and heartfelt, loud and long laughs! In the same breathe, I’ve created my little thought spot online by the name of Sufi Humour, where I scribble down some anecdotes from my chaotic hot mess of a life.

S: So they say you are really good at maintaining friendships; is it true? If it is indeed true, what’s your secret?

F: Well, everyone has priorities and goals in life. Some people dig for higher education, some work towards stability and security, some focus on acquiring wealth, some are fixated with finding their one true love, so on and so forth. My utmost priorities have always been (a) my health and (b) my people, and come to think of it, they go hand in hand.

Healthy human relationships can only happen when you are at peace with yourself and vice versa. 

So when they say, I’m good at it, I’m just ever so naturally investing my energies in my prioritises. My premise of bonding with people on a long-term basis is humour and pure heartedness. Sly ones and schemers are a huge put off; so are the ungrateful ones who feed on being stuck in an unhappy loop. 

The secret to keeping friendships steady lies in pleasantly involving your friends in your life and being involved in theirs on a minute level. Merely knowing the bigger picture as in who’s working where, in what city and has been there since how long, is not what wholesome friendships survive on. You’ve got to be keen on exchanging the little details.  Hearing from your friends what they faced, say the last hour, or what they’re doing that eve and in the middle of it all, what funny episodes cracked them up while they enjoyed the taste of a new pizza. 

Similarly you’ve to narrate bits and pieces of your week, including that ruthless leg pulling your brother does and that silly fight you may’ve had with an Uber driver. Regardless of them meeting you in person or hearing you out from afar. I am literally a podcast to my friends, feeding them with an array of audios and videos as I can’t keep myself from sharing it all with them! So grateful about how they all living in distinct nicks and corners of the world choose to engage even in my utter crap, ever so generously! 

Special thanks here to Buzzedi who from Dallas hears out the rendezvous of this single lady, being one herself and really cool at that. We’re hell likeminded when it comes to the game of dating for instance. FK too in Toronto is always there to exchange some spiteful jokes and get a kick out of it. We genuinely find our mutual observations about people by & large, all too amusing! He’s our Chandler (from TV show ‘Friends’).…

S: You do have a lot friends overseas. How do you keep these long distance friendships alive?

F: I randomly keep throwing in voice notes of what’s happening around me in a certain moment and how it has amused me, well knowing it’ll entertain those friends too. Hearing them giggle back to you just like when they’re physically present around is what keeps your comical rapport alive. I say ‘comical’ because I’m infamously animated a character but for others it can be sharing how heartwarming it’s been to receive an unexpected act of kindness from someone at the mall, for instance. And at special occasions, my best girl and I even video call friends abroad so they become a part of our celebrations somehow! From Germany to UAE and the States to Canada, I’ve made it a part of my daily schedule to briefly accommodate regular interactions with my friends scattered across the globe and I am someone who’s juggling between two to three part-time jobs alongside teaching pilates and meditation, in the morning and evening, before and after my work day! 

If you’ve made a connection and want it to survive, there’s no such thing as ‘no contact’ and assuming they still love you and blah. I hate those memes that try to sell this lazy ass, zero effort trend of going MIA and glorifying it as “mature, adult friendships”. No sir, you only lose touch when you’re no longer in it. It’s as simple as that.

S: Your oldest friend?

F: Myself! I enjoy my own company to no end and dig for quality lone time. At the risk of sounding pompous, may I dare share that since I’ve always been looked at as this entertainer who laughs out loud and is physically animated, always joking mostly at her own expense,  I genuinely have to then recharge my battery and do fun things all by myself to get back to being that hyper-happy, super chirpy bugger. I have in the past ditched folks and took myself to the movies, brunches, shopping, walks in the park, spa dates, book readings, you name it. Oh, and I love working out solo too! Since age 2, I’ve had this habit of dancing fifteen or so minutes like mad every damn day until work life happened. But then I’m back to dancing to myself again as I’ve converted my room into a mini yoga/dance studio or so I’d like to think. As a one year old, my first cousin Adil was my first friend though – pretty standard, isn’t it?

S: Your closest friend?

F: Saamo. No one can claim they know my story like he can.

Though I’m an extrovert with least trust issues but I also have an inflated self-pride. So I don’t pour my heart out or go anywhere close to that even with the dearest of friends. I have this ‘big brother syndrome’, being the eldest sibling, to not burden my loved ones with my downers or agonies. I’m not wired that way. Since I’m very godly and emotionally independent,  I’d rather open up like that during my prayers but never to my people, which is precisely why I’m seen as this strong level-headed girl. But then came Saamo, and he just tapped in to a part of me, which to my surprise, gave it all out to him without him having to probe. Eight months down the line since we hit off, I can’t in my head think of a single deep dark secret, vulnerability or a grudge within me that he’s unaware of. He knows just where I am broken, mended, and unbroken. It’s a friendship that comes your way once in a lifetime and I cherish it more than anything else today.  

What drew me to this bugger is that he’s easily the finest film critic of our region and one of the primary ingredients in his mad cow system is Bollywood! Is there a world beyond that? Nahi toh. He talks films like real-life, first-hand incidents that moved him and I can’t wait to see him soon transform into a celebrated film screen-writer! 

Like yours truly, he too is a light-hearted, jovial, no-nonsense, no mushy talk kind of a guy but is equally emotional, loving and giving – yep, we’re a rare weave of God! I mean, other than myself, I don’t know another human alive who can shamelessly/proudly guess any cheap shit bolly song you play in just seconds AND the film its coming from! I hate to admit but he’s eleven times better than me at that. Yes, we’re crazy competitive about it! Now, judge our level of intellect & taste however you like.

If I can take the liberty of going melodramatic I’d like to believe he’s the Shams Tabrez to my Rumi Jalaluddin. He’s only going to laugh his lungs off when he reads this (pray he doesn’t) but I know him inside out too and he’ll god damn love it!

S: Do you have a best friend?

F: What are we, 5? Lol

I really think that God handpicked my friends for me. So I actually have the best of the best. They’re such rare incredible finds and perfect fit for my wackiness. They’re my support system and I prioritise those who I consider my dear friends above all. I really take it upon me to really listen, understand and practically go to any lengths to resolve their issues. Any man that ever will be a part of my life has to come to terms with that.

Jo doston ka nahi, voh kisi ka nahi.

Come what may, my loyalties lie with Abby and hers with mine. I still vividly remember how firm her grip on my wrist was as we tried finding our way out of a deadly mob at a full moon new-year night gone haywire. The stern sincerity with which she protected me and safely led me out of that island – priceless!

Then there’s Munnu who literally organised my father’s chaalisvaan (fortieth day when loved ones gather to pray for a departed soul). I owe her my kidneys for it. And that wasn’t the first time she had me covered.  She’s a doer and not a sweet-talker. That’s what genuinely kind hearts are made of! 

Shaano pulled me out of my lowest point in life – the heart ache of losing my father to the other world and a childhood love to lunacy (good riddance though) and she didn’t do it like she was on a mission; she just happened to me and converted my tears into full throttles laughter. I’m indebted to her for it.

Saaru felt my pain ever so closely once and fought to undo it like it was hers! I’d travel any lengths, just to see her face.

Taaru never lets me be around the city at nights on my own. Once he was dropping me off to a launch event of a new fitness studio in town. He didn’t let me step out of the car until he had gone upstairs and checked if all’s well for me to be there. Such a doll my Chittu is (He’s Chitraali so I call him that at times). 

Munni would check up on me thirteen times a day if he learns I am disturbed about something or unwell. One person in front of whom I’m pretty uncensored. Precisely why we fight a lot as well, like little cousins do, over lame stuff. He’s my go-to Aunt Agony.

Faru’s name is usually taken when I am mentioned and vice versa, as for years we’ve been seen as two peas from the same pod. Sadly enough, he’s the only friend whose marital status defined/altered our bond. Never mind. We’re ‘all heart’, both of us. I am protective towards him like I’m for my siblings. 

Speaking of siblings, my sister and brother are my absolute pillars. ‘Humour’ is our middle name! No exaggeration there. It’s not always that siblings get along so well or are as close as us. In my seven lives I can’t have a better set than this! Since we’re not into PDA one bit, our idea of showing affection is by ridiculing each other and getting fits of laughter around that. The more my leg is pulled on a certain day, the more I’m loved. And physical comedy is everything in this house; took after abu.

S: How important is it to have categorical friends (one for shopping, one for food, one for a heart to heart)? Is expecting one to have it all realistic?

F: I have a blasphemy meter in my head before I select the friends whom I would want to narrate an event or a situation to and they’d enjoy it with least to no bias.

Not everything and anything can be shared with every friend. You have to be emotionally intelligent to know what sits well with whom and what doesn’t. You also have to not bore them with things they’re not interested in.

For example, my best girl’s a makeup junkie but since she knows I’m not, she doesn’t talk to me about it or I don’t start off with my yoga bhaashan with her as she’s not into it but we talk endlessly about other stuff, however lame or meaningful they may be. Then there are inside jokes and back stories that help thrive every individual bond for years to come! We literally live off it.

So, if we think of it, not all of our facets are known to all of our dearies. We subconsciously choose what side of us we show more of and to who, based on which long-term equations come about.

S: How do you manage disappointments and conflicts with close friends? Where do you think most of them stem from?

F: Two things – miscommunication and taking each other for granted. 

While miscommunication can be sorted out, taking one for granted, conveniently assuming they come with the ‘best friend’ tag and are at your disposal to be demeaned and gotten kicks out of in a crowd to feed your own alter ego, doesn’t get you too far as friends. At least not with me. Out you go. 

S: Is it possible to maintain multiple close friendships when you have a significant other, who also happens to be a very good friend? Do other relationships become obsolete then?

F: I am not the right person to answer this one. I am a happy single (by choice) since long now. Maybe that’s the very reason why I have the luxury to nurture and grow my friendships the way I strive to and exactly why this interview is taking place.

On a serious note, I feel friendships are actually the most unconditional relationships. You’re not tied in by a contract (marriage), lured in by lust or bound by blood. You’ve organically chosen your clan and none of the parties have any ulterior motives but sheer sincerity with which they look out for each other, fall & grow together. Friendships outlast jobs, parents, spouses, lovers and sometimes even children. While people see it as a supplementary relationship in contrast to what they see as primary ties like immediate family and spouses, I see my friendships as the most profound and deepest of my love stories! 

S: “Larka larki kabhi dost nahi hosakte” – true or false?

F: …and the sky is pink and the grass is blue and I am Sultan Raahi! 

The biggest myth of all times! I have harboured the purest of relationships with my gentlemen over the years. More so because friends, like siblings, to me are genderless creatures you love and protect equally. Just like the gender of your sibling doesn’t change your bond with them, why should it among friends? Pure love is just that – pure! Go, act fresh and sleazy someplace else. Friends’ zone is sacred!

S: Have you ever had to let go of a friend? What’s a deal breaker for you?

F: I did mention something about taking one for granted a while back. So, that.

S: If you could teach us two things about friendship, what would it be?

F: Firstly, only keep going if your heart is in it. Don’t ever force an equation. If it’s expired, accept it and don’t push too hard if you’re not in it anymore. Be adult enough to understand how there’s no such thing as forever and lives evolve fast and bring a fresh set of people for you to value just as much as you valued the former lot. In my view, if you’re not losing some friends on the way, then you’re not growing up. Yes, you can outgrow people and so can they. And it’s actually a part of healthy personal growth!

Secondly, come what may, never, and I mean NEVER violate the privacy of a friend or share ahead what they shared with you; no matter what. That’s the least you can do if you even have an ounce of integrity and empathy in your heart. Just because you’ve had a fallout with a former friend doesn’t change the unsaid pact of trust you developed and that must always remain.

S: Aur kuch?

F: When are you coming to me my beloved Ferangi? So, yea you’re that ‘profound love story’ I spoke of 😉