Art and Friendships: A Shared Cultural Experience
By Aditya Padinjat, UG'24
Cast your mind back to the first few days of college. The massive video calls and the thousands of messages every five minutes are slightly overwhelming, but you ever so slightly think you might be starting to find some people to hang out with. Then one night, just as you are about to go to sleep, a message arrives on the 17th large WhatsApp group you are on, asking the question, “Does anyone want to watch a movie?”. Immediately you question whether you should go or not.
What if no one else is there and you’re stuck in an awkward conversation for two and a half hours, or you don’t like the movie? But then you reason, you’ve chased down plenty of rabbit holes to make friends, so what’s one more? So despite your misgivings, you open the Zoom link and it begins…
Among the throng of both formal and informal events that the incoming batch have been subjected to in the last few months, chances to share art in its various forms have been abundant. Netflix parties (or Amazon Prime, I don’t take sides), music listening sessions, poetry nights, book clubs and many more have taken place to help new Ashokans get to know each other. To try and understand why these are so helpful, I spoke to a handful of them to speak about art, friendship and navigating the maze of socializing in a new setting.
The place to start is in the WhatsApp groups and Zoom calls of the UG '24 batch which held all types of movie nights, listening sessions, dance nights- in multiple languages and of variable qualities. All of the people I spoke to made particular note of how having something in common to bond over together provided an opportunity to break past the initial awkwardness of meeting new people. Gone are the bland Instagram introductions, replaced by a new space to bond (even if it is at the expense of a bad 2000s rom-com).
As Idhant Chowdury put it to me, “You need to be comfortable with people to roast something, so when everyone starts roasting it, the awkwardness starts to go and you can really share your thoughts”.
Whether good or bad, consuming art gives people the space to express opinions, make jokes and learn more about the tastes, backgrounds and opinions of their fellow batchmates. Particular mention was made of the importance of the Zoom chat too. For those who were slightly apprehensive about turning on their microphones to speak, Zoom private chat was a useful way to help interact.
As Nandini Bohra told me, “I definitely think that art and friendships go together. For me, talking to people was initially quite difficult, but being able to talk about art and share it was super helpful.” Nandini also shared that she was able to share videos of her own work on Instagram for the first time a few months ago too.
But the bonding over art is not limited only to the works of other people. Ashoka is a hotbed of talents of all types, and to provide a stage for the incoming UG’24s to showcase theirs, two events called the #BashOf2024 were arranged. All of the performers I spoke to went into the event having met a few people from their batch, but had the intention of meeting more people and making new friends with the performers. Each one of them also mentioned that they made conscious choices about their performances with this in mind as well. Some made conscious choices over which pieces of work they would perform, while others amended and added new parts to their previous work in preparation for the event. All of the performers also noted that after their performances, multiple people reached out to them. They all expressed an interest in collaborating with other Ashokans in the future too, with some having started to do so already. The #BashOf2024 was an opportunity for them to introduce themselves to the batch, and to share a part of their artistic personality too.
Navigating your entry into college is always difficult, and sharing a vulnerable part of yourself is too. Collectively sharing art as a group has proved to be an excellent way for the incoming batch to do both. To come back to the protagonist of my first paragraph, there’s no way of predicting exactly what will happen on that call. You can’t be certain that the people you meet will be the best you’ve ever met, or that the movie you watch will be the best you’ve ever seen. All indications are that it’s a rabbit hole worth chasing down though.
(A big thank you to Diya Anand, Idhant Chowdury, Nandini Bohra, Navya Asopa and Rohan Gupta for speaking to me in preparation for this article)