Common knowledge is always taken for granted. It is so common that we don’t bother asking, or finding out what otherwise should be frequently asked questions in this too general a world.
What is a ‘friend’? The dictionary says that a “friend is a person that you know and like, and that you enjoy spending your time with.” I wonder if that statement suffices to define this person, friend. When you were little and at school, a friend was someone who used to accompany you during lunch. In college it was the group you used to hang out with. Looking around now, you don’t see any of these friends. Neither the plaited hair, freckled teeny bopper, nor the bunch of twittering girls with whom you used to share your notes. Then there were those whom you used to party late with and did everything that you were not supposed to do. There were others too, who provided a hanky so you could blow your nose or those who were eager to help when you wanted it the most. Looking around again, you don’t see any of them anymore surrounding you the way they used to.
So I ask again. What is a friend? Is it someone who happens to be just there at the moment we need them because of the cosmos’ grand design, or someone who’ll stay even after their time is up to offer whatever we needed at that time. Not everyone is lucky to have friends like Ron and Hermione, but then again, not everyone faces a troll and ‘live to tell the tale’ about how they took one on with their friends. Hence, with regret, I have to declare that we don’t know what a friend is.
Then there is this other thing everyone just loves to talk about. Love. What, may I ask, is love? Is love what a mother feels for a child? Or is it described when a man pines for woman? Is it love for the Lord that the mystics dance in joy for? Or is it a soldier who is willing to die for his country? The dictionary describes love in three different ways: “you love your family and people who are close to you, or people you admire, if you are fond of them and are concerned about their welfare and happiness”; “you love someone when, as well as being attracted to them sexually and romantically, you have a deep affection for them”; “you love something such as your country if you want to be loyal to it and protect it”.
Although my source is as good as any, in my opinion, these short definitions don’t even come close to the actual thing. Jane Austen has said it best in a way that not only explains the complexity of the idea of love, but also hints that however we might try, we may never be able to get the whole picture. She says, “There are as many forms of love, as there are moments in time.” To wrap up, I would have to say, man can not begin to comprehend the meaning of love.
Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” One wonders, what is ‘beauty’? Is beauty what Pygmalion fashioned in his sculptor of a woman and fell in love with it? Is beauty defined by Helen of Troy? Or is it what it has become now, a warring pageant for the kinky? The dictionary says: “Beauty is the quality of being beautiful”. While, “you describe something as beautiful if you find it very attractive, pleasant or delightful”. Is the beauty of an English country girl’s “fine eyes” which so smite Mr. Darcy, a criteria for beauty? Or was Pygmalion’s Galatea (meaning, she who is white like milk) the real deal? I am afraid, man might never know what beauty is? But of course, this has never stopped him from imagining what it might be.
Finally, we come to the most controversial of notions in the history of mankind. What is God? Man has had a long history with this idea. Perhaps, longer than those discussed above. In his four thousand years quest for God, man has evolved many beliefs, none of which are explicit. The dictionary offers a rather short definition: “God is the name given to the being who, many people believe, created the universe and guides or controls the lives of all people”. To say that the three monotheistic religions might have an answer, would be untrue.
When Moses had cried out on Mount Sinai, “Who are You?”, the only answer he got from his Lord was, “I am, who I am.” Young Christians are made to learn a catechism answer to the question, “What is God?”: “God is the Supreme Spirit, Who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections.” I would like to quote Bulleh Shah on this account. He said about God: “God and man are one, Like cloth comes from cotton. Cotton is hidden in cloth, Like God is in man.”
Whatever we might have to say on the truth of ‘friend’, ‘love’, ‘beauty’, or God’, we need first to understand that each of these notions are quite subjective. They are not what they are, rather what we want them to be. Hence, it is as they say, ‘to each man his own’.