There is nothing quite like the solace and support of a true friend in a world where life can be unpredictable and challenging. For Chaya and Zeenat, their friendship was a lifeline that carried them through some of life’s most challenging moments. Despite their different backgrounds and experiences, they found a deep connection that strengthened over time. Together, they laughed, cried, and celebrated, forming a bond that would last a lifetime.
This is the story of their enduring friendship, laughter, tears, and the bond between two women. BFF stands for ‘Best Friends Forever’ and is commonly used as an abbreviation to refer to a person’s closest and most trusted friend.
Chaya was a dreamer at heart. She longed for a lifestyle full of excitement, to travel, and to experience the world beyond.
Zeenat, on the other hand, was conservative and family-bound. She fiercely protected her family and friends, always putting their needs before hers. As a woman in a traditional society, she faced discrimination and limited opportunities, which often left her feeling discouraged and frustrated.
The Juhu beach buzzed with vibrant energy as the sun began its descent. Families built sandcastles, children frolicked in the waves, and couples strolled hand in hand along the shoreline. The aroma of sizzling barbecues mingled with music and laughter, creating a lively symphony that embraced every corner of the bustling beach.
They first spoke about religion on Juhu Beach, a suburb in Mumbai famous for film shoots and Mumbai-style street foods. Chaya was munching on the spicy ‘Chaat Masala’ (an Indian spicy street snack ) and sipping sweet coconut water with a straw. Zeenat was slurping a mango milkshake and showed how her dad used to pray.
“My Abu,” Zeenat explained with a smile, throwing up her arms, would not even let me and my brother and sister watch TV shows or movies as children, as he was worried these shows would corrupt my mind and make me convert to other religions. He calls me from his village and asks if I am performing the ‘Salah’, an obligatory act of the five daily prayers.
“My life was no different. My Appa, too, was equally strict: Chaya intoned, “I used to tell him I was attending special classes but watched TV with my friends.” They both laughed loudly, recalling those naughty days of harmless bluffing.
As the day drew close, a magnificent spectacle unfurled across the heavens. The sun descended in a blaze of vibrant hues, painting the sky with strokes of fiery gold that stretched to the horizon—a mesmerizing tapestry reminiscent of crackling hearth fires and succulent tangerines.
As the sun set, Chaya and Zeenat hugged each other tightly, knowing they wouldn’t see each other for a while. And so, as they pulled away, their hearts were filled with the warmth and love of a friendship that had stood the test of time.
A few weeks passed, and Chaya called Zeenat, “Hey, do you want to come to my room? I’d love to show you the new TV I bought. Plus, we can sit on my bed and catch up on all the latest gossip!”
Zeenat couldn’t resist the invitation, and as she entered Chaya’s room, Zeenat’s eyes were immediately drawn to the sea of chaos before her. The overall impression was disarray and disorder, as if a whirlwind had swept through the space and left a path of broken objects in its wake.
She immediately started tidying up the place. “No, Zeenat,” Chaya shook her head firmly. “Not now. Let’s gossip now.”
The TV remote was lying on a pile of books. Zeenat picked it up and winked at Chaya.
“Would you like to stay for the night?” Chaya asked, noticing Zeenat’s eager look. “We can watch all those movies your dad and my dad prohibited. They are streaming on Netflix and other OTT platforms. She anxiously looked at Zeenat, trying to think of something to say not to make her pick up her hijab and leave.
“Well…” Zeenat began, “Maybe… OK then. You win,”
Chaya smiled and looked up confidently, “I would like that very much. Let’s relive the bad old days.”
The second time they spoke about religion was on a sunny afternoon in March. The air outside was hot, dry, and softened when it trickled through the window. Chaya was sipping a Pepsi Cola with lots of ice, her eyes half closed. Zeenat, now living alone with her aged aunt, kneeled on the living room carpet.
“What does God look like?” Smilingly, Chaya asked when Zeenat stood back up.
“How would I know?” Zeenat laughed and picked up her cup of iced tea from the kitchen table. Before sitting down next to her, she glanced back at the carpet. “It’s not a Zoom meeting”.
Chaya smiled. They sat silently for a moment, slowly savouring their drinks.
“What about your God?” Zeenat said softly.
Chaya chuckled and lifted my empty cup in a slight wave. “Which one? Does this count?”
Zeenat shook your head, pretending to be disappointed.
“Seriously?” Chaya smiled and continued. ” We believe in many gods. It elevates everyone to their ultimate reality, the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Divinity that demands no allegiance and punishes no one for lack of belief. People have their conception of the Divine and pray to them however they choose. But in Hinduism, idols are worshipped as reminders of God.”
Chaya softly held Zeenat’s hand and marvelled at the thought of their separate worlds never colliding. She observed how Zeenat’s life revolved around God, the book, the carpet, and the act of kneeling – all spinning neatly and almost politely right next to her world. She watched as Zeenat prayed, read, and contemplated, but Chaya never asked her not to. Similarly, Zeenat never asked Chaya to join in her spiritual practices. It was as though they had both silently agreed to respect and honour each other’s beliefs.
As they sat there, hand in hand, Chaya realized that despite their differences, they had an unbreakable bond. They may have come from different backgrounds, but they had found a way to coexist and respect each other’s beliefs without compromising their own. And at that moment, Chaya felt grateful for Zeenat’s friendship and the beautiful lessons it had taught her.
“The divine is beyond looks, I believe”, Zeenat said as she put her arm around her dear friend Chaya, “As far as looks go, it is his creation we should stare at and admire”.
Chaya sighed and leaned back as if she planned to fall asleep on the sofa.
“I agree”, she said, looking at Zeenat.
There are many reasons why good friends may drift apart and lose touch over time. Sometimes, it may be due to lifestyle changes, such as one friend moving to a different city or country or pursuing a new career path that takes them in another direction. Chaya shifted to her birthplace, Bengaluru ( formerly Bangalore), the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India, to work in the IT industry. The demands of daily life and responsibilities made it difficult for her to stay in touch with Zeenat, who refused to move out of Mumbai.
“Whatever the reason may be, friendships can evolve and change over time,” Chaya consoled herself and felt that it was never too late to reconnect with Zeenat and pick up where she had left off.
It was a blow that left Chaya reeling for days. When she received the news that her best friend had been diagnosed with deadly cancer, she felt the world turn upside down. They had been inseparable since childhood, and now, the thought of losing her was too much to bear.
She quit her job and returned to Mumbai. She spent days by Zeenat’s side, holding her hand and offering whatever comfort she could as they navigated the difficult road ahead.
The chemotherapy, the radiation, the endless appointments and treatments, they faced it all together, a united front against an enemy they couldn’t see. Even as the cancer ravaged her friend’s body, she refused to let it destroy their bond. They laughed, cried, shared memories, and held onto hope with all their might. And even as her friend’s body began to fail, she knew their friendship would endure long after she was gone.
They last spoke about religion in a hospital room at the cancer hospital. The walls were off-white, and the curtains were green. Zeenat was sitting on the bed with her sleeves rolled up, looking around with tired but curious eyes. The sick, feverish feeling of waiting hung in the air. She did not notice it half as much as Chaya did.
“Green is my favourite colour”, Zeenat said suddenly, nodding towards the window.
“Really?” I answered. “I never knew”.
Chaya put her handbag on the bedside table and sat in the plastic chair. Some loud music blared out of the loudspeakers somewhere in the distance. A car roared in the parking lot. It annoyed the girls. Chaya got up and out in the corridor to complain and get some water. Zeenat was lying down when she returned, looking at the ceiling in deep thought.
“Our holy book, the Quran, said that in the eternal heaven, ‘gardens beneath which rivers flow’ and lush, green, and life are also common elements that arise where believers experience eternal happiness and contentment.”.
Zeenat said, her voice sounding distant as if speaking from a windy, faraway place, “Did you know that?”
“I’ve heard about it”, Chaya shrugged, “Sounds uncomfortable to accept them after committing so many sins on Earth.”
Zeenat laughed, “I assume so.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Are you going to be there someday?” Zeenat asked, turning her head to look at Chaya.
“In Heaven, of course? To be with me?”
Chaya could not help but smile.
Zeenat smiled back.
Chaya held her hand gently and said softly, “For a few seconds, you looked just like you were years ago, on the sands of Juhu Beach and looking at the setting sun., explaining to me how your Abu would make sure the entire street was fed and happy before sitting down for grace.”.
“I suppose they do let some people in for good with their hearts full of love for their fellow beings.”
Chaya said, grinning.
Zeenat’s eyes wandered back to the ceiling. Her voice choked.
“They must. God came to visit me last night. I went to bed early without having dinner, keeping all my
clothes on as I lay down, and suddenly he was just there. At first, I was thrilled because he looked a lot like you standing at my open bedroom door with the light from the table lamp barely upon his face.”
It was a heartbreaking moment as Zeenat lay on her deathbed. Chaya held Zeenat’s hand tightly, tears streaming down her face.
They had been through so much together and were now facing the final goodbye. Memories of their adventures and laughter flooded their minds, and Chaya struggled to accept that her dear friend was leaving.
Despite the sadness and pain, there was also a sense of peace and gratitude for their shared years as Zeenat took her last breath,
Chaya knew she would always carry a piece of her in her heart, and their love and friendship would endure even beyond death.
Their friendship was a beacon of hope, a reminder that love and respect can overcome cultural or religious barriers.
They knew their bond was rare and unique and cherished it, knowing it would last a lifetime.