Sakhi – The Nature of Female Bonding

[Guest Author : Saakshi O. Juneja]

A full review of Ruth Vanita’s Gandhi’s Tiger and Sita’s Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture is in the works. For now a tantalizing glimpse of a very intriguing and thought provoking context from the book, Chapter 7, titled “God as Sakhi”.

Ms. Vanita explores the subject of female-female bonding. No! It’s not about lesbianism – it’s about close-friendship between women.

She writes,

Most types of divine-human friendship in religious traditions are male-male. Goddesses are usually addressed as mothers, and female mystics generally address a male God as bridegroom rather than friend. This may be because male-male friendship (friendship between Arjun and Lord Krishna) and male-female romantic love (Heer Ranjha) have higher normative status in most societies than does female-female friendship.

She adds further that the term “sakhi” or women’s intimate women friend, in spite of having long history in Indian literature (she is found in Sanskrit epic, drama, love lyric, etc.) has barely been considered of great importance or of relevance with respect to human relationships.

sakhi Now I am no expert on Indian history but I too can’t think of a single episode (fiction/non-fiction) based on female bonding that has been passed on through generations.

Looking at recent times, there have been umpteen Bollywood movies on male friendships, where the two leading male actors are best friends and are ever ready to give up their money, lover, lives for each other for example Qurbani, Yaarana, etc. Then you have movies exploring intense male-female relationships, be it as lovers or a mother-son angle, but there are no movies based on female friendships as its core concept.

If you talk about the present society, we constantly hear of the close association between the Bachchan family and Amar Singh or for that matter Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan. On the other hand we rarely hear stories about close relationships between female celebrities.

Realizing this fact is somewhat surprising and a little shocking to my system, since I share an extremely close bond with my best friend who happens to be of the same sex. A logical viewpoint to this topic leads to a path full of ironies. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that women involve their female friends practically in everything they do – be it going for shopping, restaurants, parties, gossip, and emotional outburst.

At times they even converse about their sexual episodes involving their husbands or boyfriends. So in spite of so much information sharing on intimate levels, why is female-female bonding not taken seriously? Is it believed to exist only at a superficial level?

I doubt if males interact on such intimate levels with their male buddies. Do they discuss their sexual fantasies and experiences with each other without being intoxicated with couple of beers or pegs of scotch? Do they relate to each other on everyday life routines? But still male bonding stories have managed to make their way from generation to generation, newspaper headlines, seen on the big screen – why?

Maybe it’s the whole Patriarchy nature of our Indian society which is responsible for lack of importance given to relationship shared between women. After all it took ages for them to use words such as ‘freedom’, ‘rights’, ‘liberty’…in the same sentence with ‘woman’.

What are your views?

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