"You're so crazy!” she said as she fell to the ground laughing hysterically. “How can a truck have eyes?" This joke wasn't very funny, but my special brand of slapstick humour always got her into fits of giggles. She was rolling on the paving stones that line Oxford Road in Manchester as bystanders stared and I tried my level best to get her back on her feet.
This moment defines my now decade-long friendship with Parineeti Chopra.
The day I met Parineeti at university, we immediately clicked. Despite our vastly different origins — I'm from Quetta, Pakistan and she's from Ambala, India — we found we shared similar small-town values that drew us close.
It was even better to discover Parineeti's silly side; we shared a taste for crass humour and sidelined anyone who was a bit of a prude. Our absolute passion for Bollywood and shared love for Madhuri Dixit allowed us to indulge in intellectually stimulating (or that's what I would like to believe) conversations for hours.
Parineeti calls me her best friend.
In a recent interview she said: “Shahzaib is from Karachi and I am now in Bombay. We met in Manchester as students, and we’ve been friends for 10 years now. He is the male version of me. We hardly get to meet – maybe once a year – but I speak to him very often. At university we were the duo that was always laughing or making others laugh. There was a time when I lay in the middle of the road, laughing away while cars drove by, only because he said something funny.”
Knowing my craze for Bollywood, this year Parineeti was sweet enough to wish me happy birthday along with Alia Bhatt. I loved receiving the birthday message and I shared it with my friends. Very soon though, her perfectly friendly, joke-y comment that I should “eat less and become thin” had made headlines and she was accused of ‘body shaming’ me.
Let me make this clear: I did not, and do not, feel that Parineeti body shamed me.
Parineeti is a great friend. Along with her warmth and empathy, she is always ready for a laugh. Even with her busy schedule, she is approachable and has always been there as a pillar of support to share my happiness or offer a shoulder to cry on. Between us, she has adjusted more to make our annual globetrotting happen regularly.
Parineeti and I also share something else that makes us great friends: our love for food. We’re big foodies. Over the course of our friendship, when we felt hungry, time didn’t matter. We have cooked lavishly at three in the morning, eaten pizza for breakfast and parathas with evening tea.
Trying to stay fit while indulging our cravings hasn’t been easy for either of us, and we’ve helped keep each other motivated. She has wonderfully transformed, and I admire her for that.
As for me — yes, I am still slightly overweight. As Joey from Friends says, “I’m curvy and I like it!” But all jokes aside, Parineeti inspired me to make a change and I lost 8kg in friendly competitiveness over the past few months. I was pleased, and my mother and family doctor were in tears of joy.
I’d tried to stay silent after this so-called body shaming made its way into the news, but I feel I have to speak out now.
And what I’d like to say is, I’m irked on a lot of fronts.
First, the fact that someone used a personal video to attack an individual disgusts me.
Second, I feel it abhorrent that people would choose to accuse Parineeti of body shaming when she herself has been so vocal about the issue (which is real and important).
She has worked incredibly hard to achieve a certain level of fitness, and she of all people knows what it’s like to be teased about her weight. She would never do that to me.
Third, I find it hard to believe that people think friendship should be policed.
I mean, if people hold such rigid views about what friendship should and shouldn’t look like… well, you should hear some of the jokes Parineeti and I share! You’d probably want to jail us both!
Such a strong negative response inhibits the openness of people on social media and deters sensibility and normalcy from existing.
I'm big on self-deprecation which allows my close friends to banter while maintaining appropriate respect and understanding. Therefore, the baseless hatred I've seen, directed at something that was just a joke, is quite hurtful.
It also makes me feel guilty — not for my body, but for drawing Parineeti into a hurtful conversation.
So to all those who are still not happy: since this video generated a lot of hype and some people definitely want more, I will now reveal all the dirty, rude things my best friend has done or said to me in the past, and I am adding appropriate hashtags for your convenience:
1) She once called me dinosaur #DinosaurShaming
2) She snatched my last piece of chocolate #FoodShaming
3) Once she said I looked constipated #PottyShaming
4) She once said I’m toxic #BritneyBlaming
5) We went for 9-pin balling #UnnecessaryGaming
6) She visited a zoo with me #LionTaming
7) She told me lame jokes #ConstantLaming
8) She repeated what I just said #Saming
9) We both sucked at archery #UselessAiming
10) We sent each other video messages #FriendlyMemeing
And while you go ahead and share the above, maybe you’ll also find it in your heart to remember the positive side of her now-controversial video message to me — that, at a time when technology and instant fame can cut us off from our friends, Parineeti made a special effort to wish me on my birthday.
She got Alia Bhatt to wish me too, and totally made my day. She showed me what good friendship is all about, and didn’t let her stardom colour the way we conduct our friendship, lame jokes and all.
I hope by now, the point is clear. Life should not always be taken so seriously, and sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to see things as they are, not what we would like them to be.
The writer can be reached at @shahzaibis