Friendship in South India

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2022

Written by Meighan Mantei

I glanced at the poster hung on the South Indian yoga ashram’s wall, and read to myself the phrase displayed, “what you really need to know is what you want out of this life.”

I laid down on my mat and thought about these words. I found myself in a South Indian ashram in 2016 as part of my ongoing training and education as a certified yoga instructor and registered therapist in Canada, and a result of my own personal journey of healing and growth in my life.

I had determined much before travelling to India that I wanted a life of connection with self and others, but I also contemplated how I had chosen to stay in an ashram by myself, prepared for a two week stay of seclusion, and perhaps loneliness.

Meighan Mantei

Despite being prepared for solitude, one of the unexpected results of staying in the ashram was how connected it made me feel to others, including my roommate Mounica, from Hyderabad. Mounica was bright, sociable, and kind. She was one of five women in a university program of a thousand men. Our friendship bolstered because of our shared path to reflect on spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being at the ashram.

Yoga Ashram, South India, August 2016. Photo by Meighan Mantei.

One evening, Mounica opened up to me about her fears of not finding a life partner. She shared her struggles in finding a partner who values her independence and commitment to family. Not many would appreciate, she believed, her educational and career success that made her a self-sufficient woman.

Mounica’s candidness gave me the courage to talk about my own fears of being an independent woman, seeking to feel love and connection. Although we are from two different places with different social and cultural pressures, Mounica’s quest for independence, love, and connection instantly felt as my own. This created a special bond which transcended our differences. Our friendship unfolded a connection between two women navigating life in unconventional and often solitary ways.

Mainstream, western depictions mostly offer one-sided impressions about Indian women. They are often portrayed as shackled by caste, tradition, and poverty. Mounica’s story illustrated a different picture, one highlighted by complex, modern day intersectional realities of women’s lives in India. As an educated woman living in a city, Mounica cherished a life of relative independence that was supported by her family.

For Mounica, self-sufficiency also meant the freedom to be in a fulfilling relationship. But finding an understanding partner was not easy.

My own experiences in Canada were not so different.

To write about what it means to be a woman requires an appreciation for the varied lived experiences of women. It requires a recognition and an understanding of the diverse challenges, desires, relationships, and creative ways of encountering life that women face and engage with.

As we parted ways at the end of our stay, Mounica and I pledged to keep in touch. To remain friends. To my delight, we have kept this promise five years later, by sharing with each other the ongoing triumphs and struggles in our paths of growth and self-discovery.

Yoga Ashram, South India, August 2016. Photo by Meighan Mantei.

— Meighan Mantei, PhD candidate, Carleton University

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