Five-Minute Friends

You pass thousands of strangers every day—on the bus, on the train, in buildings, and on the roads—without giving them a single glance. But there are times when you bond with these same strangers over events big and small. You may never see these people again, but for those five or ten minutes, you stick together and find certainty in murky locations, and security among each other just because the other person is there, and as keen on reaching their goals as you are.

These are the five-minute friends, found through short moments together, but with bonds lasting much longer.

The friends you make in these circumstances may be around you for all of five minutes, an hour, or maybe even a day or two, but they are temporary. Chances are that you may never see them again, let alone interact with them again. You may even forget about the person you met and the conversation you had. But in many cases, the conversations stay with you.

When the metro was formally inaugurated in my home city Bengaluru, none of us had any idea how to use it. The coaches were packed to the brim, and people on one side of the coach had to reach the other before the doors opened so that they wouldn’t miss their stop. We were fluent in the language of rickshaws and buses, but were still learning the one of metros.

In this confusion, we begin to seek help with more ease than in other circumstances; we would always ask each other how to exit at the interchange. People like me, who had a little more experience with metros (especially this one) would reassure the others that most of the train would empty at the interchange, and that we’d get carried out by the crowd, so there was no reason to worry. We told each other the sides the door would open on, which exit leads to which side of the road, and what those funny installations near the Cubbon Park station entrance meant.

It’s not as though this doesn’t happen in Delhi; there are still occasions where you meet newcomers and are reminded of your first days in the metro. But in Bengaluru, it was like a mass movement. Everyone was seeking the same answers and had similar end goals, at the same time. We worked together to learn something new about the city we called home, five or ten minutes at a time.

These friendships emerge in marches, protests, and parades too. Despite our social, cultural, regional, or economical differences, we bond with strangers over a common cause. Though the march may last only a couple of hours, the effects linger for years. We return home stronger, knowing that we are not alone in our beliefs; there are others who support us, who care about the same things we do.

Of course, we find these five-minute friends closer home as well. In Ashoka, there’s a sense of bonding that emerges at the mess hall while waiting for coupons and rotis, in 100-seater classes where we bond with our classmates over laptops, messages, and trying to see who can speak in class twice, and in the dorms, where we wait for the washing machine to free up, or wonder aloud who left their clothes in it and disappeared. This campus is where the short periods of friendship are more likely to expand into something more permanent; a friendship that lasts much longer than the five minutes it takes for the coupon machines to work again.

As mentioned before, you may never speak to that person again, although you might see them often if they’re on campus. You may forget the exact words you said. But chances are you might remember laughing and complaining about dysfunctional machines and a lack of jalebis. You might remember your own first week in the metro, where you didn’t know what to do and asked a stranger for help. And sometimes, you’ll remember the sense of unity that emerged from a group that stood together and sought the same goal - a train station, human rights, or even a second round of dessert.


Edited by: Priyanka Shankar

Photographic content curated by: Viraj Dhirenmalani