Bharti Gelani and Honey Lulla first met during the first year of junior college.
Remembering her first memory of Bharti, Honey says,
“I remember her as a skinny tomboy with really short hair, who was wearing baggy clothes to look fuller. She was very shy and soft-spoken, but when she stepped out and rode a Hero Honda bike, five times her size, I was amazed. She looked so cool; I knew we would be friends.”
From the heartbreaks of teen life to attaining professional goals, the two girls grew up in each other’s pocket—close-knit, almost inseparable.
It was Bharti’s accident 11 years ago, that proved how deep the bond of friendship could run.
They were 26 then. Bharti had gotten engaged to the love of her life and was ecstatic.
“We were all celebrating her engagement at a club that night. She stepped out to the basement to attend to a call. As she was walking, someone brushed passed her. The next thing she knew, she had lost her balance and slipped down the stairs. I got a call from her number saying, ‘Your friend has fallen off the stairs. Could you rush here please?'”
When Honey rushed the spot, Bharti was on the floor. She was bleeding as Honey moved her head into her lap. All she heard her say was, “‘Honey I can’t feel my legs.”‘
It took the ambulance more than an hour to reach the spot, and they reached the hospital around 4 am. There weren’t many doctors. Honey kept yelling at the staff to rush and attend to Bharti, who was strangely calm.
It wasn’t until the eight or nine months after the accident that the gravity of the incident hit them.
“I am petrified of hospitals. But that day, watching her bleed in my lap, I knew I couldn’t chicken out, We had to be strong for each other. And I realised that we don’t realise how strong we are until life throws curveballs at us. Also, a lot of my strength came from Bharti herself and her attitude towards life. We knew she was going to get married in a few months, so we had to face it. The accident had damaged her spine. So even when I was in the hospital the first-night getting help, she told me, ‘Chill, I don’t feel anything below. And I remember thinking to myself—How in the world is this woman like this?’ She was my rock.”
Did the breakdown happen? Yes, it did. The two of them cried in each other’s arms, and eventually, Bharti decided to postpone the wedding.
“My fiancé and his parents were really supportive, and he even flew down. But after two years of continuous treatment, physiotherapy and consulting top specialists India and abroad, we realised there was no cure. It took me time to get on to the wheelchair too. It had been a long wait. It wasn’t fair to the man I loved or his family. I told him that I loved him too much and that he should move on,” says Bharti.
Her accident was also a wake-up call for Honey.
“My perspective on life changed. I became sensitive to everything around me. It made me realise how we took the most simple things we could do for granted, like getting up from your bed and feeling the floor underneath your feet. Simple routines for us changed. From shopping to restaurants, before we entered any place to hang out, we first ensured if it was accessible first.”
Honey became one of Bharti’s strongest pillars of support apart from her family.
“I don’t know what my life would be like without Honey. She was always there and continues to be. In the beginning, when I found it difficult to sit or wash my hair, she would drop everything to come home and help the caretaker do it.”
The unbreakable duo went on to establish the Honey Lulla Salon, one of the first wheelchair-friendly salons in Mumbai that they continue to run together.
Apart from being partners at work, they also set out to explore the world together.
Taking two trips a year, they have travelled across Thailand, the US, Spain, Russia, New Zealand, Prague, Budapest and very recently Turkey.
As Friendship Day approaches, I ask the ladies what their definition of true friendship is.
Honey quips, “Friendship is really about having the greatest experience together. It is about accepting the opposite person, just the way they are and appreciating it. It is love in its purest form that allows you the freedom of expression. You don’t have to think twice before acting or behaving a certain way in front of a friend. You can confess anything to them with childlike honesty. No fears attached. Everyone should have that one friend that they can be their true selves with.”
And on that note, we hope that every Bharti finds her Honey, and every Honey her Bharti.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)