Friend­ships are al­ways val­ued more in the world of fic­tion

The Sunday Guardian - - Bookbeat - VIKAS DATTA

It is ar­guably our most valu­able and worth­while so­cial at­tribute, but in hu­man na­ture’s para­dox­i­cal way, quite un­der­val­ued. Friend­ships can last life­times but more fre­quently are sub­ject to chang­ing sta­tus, other in­ter­ests (or self-in­ter­est), other com­pan­ion­ship and so on. But the one place we can find it eter­nal and un­al­loyed—apart from Plato’s World of Forms up in the sky—is within a book.

Fer­vent and com­pul­sive read­ers, across a wide spec­trum of gen­res, know very well that true, long-last­ing and even un­likely friend­ships can be found in the sto­ries they have longcher­ished (and re-read com­pul­sively). And it is also worth real­is­ing that many of global lit­er­a­ture’s most fa­mous pro­tag­o­nists would not sur­vive long, pros­per much, be as pop­u­lar or even come to our knowl­edge with­out their friends.

Imag­ine if d’Artag­nan from Alexan­dre Du­mas’ The Three Mus­ke­teers had not met Athos, Porthos, or Aramis; or Sher­lock Holmes with­out his long-time friend and bi­og­ra­pher Dr John Wat­son, Harry Pot­ter with­out Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger or Tintin with­out Cap­tain Had­dock.

This is not to say there are no be­tray­als, break-ups or mis­un­der­stand­ings in the world of fic­tion—if so, then a lot of crime, re­venge, ro­mance (es­pe­cially those in­volv­ing tri­an­gles) and more would not ex­ist.

But, friend­ships, where they oc­cur in this realm, are more key to the plot, char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and the pro­tag­o­nists’ pur­poses, though they may not al­ways be un­event­ful and solidly con­tin­u­ous. There can be rup­tures—as be­tween Harry and Ron in

and or the Tintin-Had­dock ar­gu­ments in or There is of­ten (a lot of) ex­as­per­a­tion. As Dr Wat­son re­counts in

but I’ll ad­mit that I was an­noyed at the sar­donic in­ter­rup­tion. “Re­ally, Holmes,” said I se­verely, “you are a lit­tle try­ing at times’.” Friends may even drift apart—as hap­pens in

se­quel (but read­ily come to­gether again as it sub­se­quently shows), or may even find them­selves work­ing at cross-pur­poses—d’Artag­nan-Porthos and Athos-Aramis are on op­po­site sides in this book but do rec­on­cile and re­sume their friend­ship.

But be­yond these fa­mous ex­am­ples, there are sev­eral oth­ers—per­haps lesser known—with some no­table friend­ships. Let’s look at, say, half a dozen of them across var­i­ous spheres, times and du­ra­tion.

Ian Flem­ing’s James Bond is a skilled, lone op­er­a­tor but even he has need for al­lies-cum-friends like Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis (in the books), but one of his out­stand­ing as­so­ciates was “Darko” Kerim Bey of (1957), who be­comes more of a friend than col­league in their brief time to­gether.

Head of Sta­tion T (Turkey), and thus drawn in as Bond comes to Is­tan­bul to meet a de­fect­ing Rus­sian, Kerim Bey is ruth­lessly ef­fi­cient—killing an en­emy be­hind an at­tempt on his life him­self and foil­ing most of Bond’s pursuers— but also gre­gar­i­ous and fond of high liv­ing. As he says, his epi­taph could be “This Man Died of Liv­ing Too Much”. Un­for­tu­nately, his ex­is­tence was lim­ited to this one book.

If you think friend­ship here can­not be be­tween op­po­site sexes (save Har­ryHermione or so), then do read Peter O’ Donell’s Mod­esty Blaise se­ries, com­pris­ing 11 nov­els and two short story col­lec­tions span­ning 1965-96. While rough-hewn Wil­lie Garvin is gang leader-turned-free­lance ad­ven­turer Mod­esty’s trusted right-hand man in all her en­ter­prises, he is also a close, pla­tonic friend who reg­u­larly seeks her advice in var­i­ous mat­ters, both op­er­a­tional and per­sonal. Even their en­e­mies know that tar­get­ing only one of them will be lethal, be­cause the other will make it his or her mis­sion to en­sure they re­gret it—per­ma­nently.

An­other en­dur­ing friend­ship is be­tween Omar Yussef Sirhan, the Beth­le­hem school­teacher-turned-de­tec­tive in Matt Beynon Rees’s Pales­tine Quar­tet, and his PLO op­er­a­tive-turned-po­lice chief Khamis Zey­dan, who de­spite his pros­thetic arm, saves his rather reck­less friend in all their four out­ings—in Beth­le­hem it­self, in Gaza, in Nablus and then in New York, while keep­ing up a level of bad­i­nage with him.

Then there are some un­likely friend­ships—be­tween Yashim, a eu­nuch, and Am­bas­sador of (then non-ex­is­tent) Poland to the Ot­toman Em­pire Stanis­law Palewski in Jason Good­win’s his­tor­i­cal mys­tery quin­tet set in Is­tan­bul of the 1820-30s; be­tween Pekkala, the Tsarist in­ves­ti­ga­tor, and Ma­jor Kirov, his com­mis­sar min­der-turned-ad­mirer, in Stal­in­ist Rus­sia in Sam East­land’s seven-vol­ume se­ries; and sev­eral oth­ers that show that some de­sir­able things only reach their ideal form in a fan­tasy world.

But those who dep­re­cate this state should taken a les­son from an old-world Ger­man diplo­mat who tells a Soviet agent in the se­cond of Alan Furst’s at­mo­spheric World War II spy nov­els, when a sort of friend­ship or at least con­flu­ence of in­ter­ests arises, “We are equals in this af­fair. If you don’t want us, we don’t want you”.

Sim­ple words, but hard to do in real life. IANS

This is not to say there are no be­tray­als, break-ups or mis­un­der­stand­ings in the world of fic­tion—if so, then a lot of crime, re­venge, ro­mance and more would not ex­ist.

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