This is a true story. Some people may recognise themselves in it. Many years ago, a young college student lost his heart to a classmate, who was knowingly unaware of his existence. Those who have experienced young love will instantly get how you can know and not acknowledge, and that’s fine because that’s part of the dance of courtship — tentative, tenuous, trying to find a fit.
And then one day, the girl lost some very expensive library books. So our man did the only thing there was to do, naturally: he smuggled himself into the library at closing time, hid in an alcove, and when it was locked and empty, swiped her “lent to” cards.
Did love blossom? How could it not? The hallowed portals of the Delhi School of Economics rang of their romance for a long time, and I’m sure the books that were left behind still exchange notes on that crazy young lover, and how he contorted his long limbs to stay out of sight of the caretaker, and how he won the sweepstakes.
This is also a true story, and the people who may have recognised themselves in it are no longer in this world. Three years ago, a young couple eloped from a Haryana village, about 80 km from Delhi. They shared a “gotra”, so they could not marry, decreed the khap. They fetched up at a relative’s, who ratted. The boy was hung (they wet the rope so that it would hurt more) by his neck till his breath stilled. The girl was forced to witness the execution, and then asked to kneel as her father lifted a cleaver, and brought it down on her head. He loved her, so he killed her. He loved her, so he would not set her free.
The dead lovers’ is not an unusual story, even if the thief-in-the-library is. But the outcomes so, so different. One set went on to celebrate life: if they are reading this, it may make them smile, and remember the mad passions of their youth. The other may be together in an after-life. Love as benediction. Love as corrosion.
And Jibananda Das’s immortal words: “By living, loving, longing for love, we are hurt, we are embittered, we die, do we not?”
Such a many-splendoured thing. Such a thing. We all know it. But if we are asked to define it, we stutter and stumble. How to capture in words — poor, silly, inadequate words — this enormous feeling that refuses to be contained, that which can be puff-pastry, floating-above-the-ether light, or that which can weigh us down with sharp rocks? That which can liberate, or that which can shackle? Tie me up, tie me down? Or let me go, and if I love you, I will come back to you?
How can it be all of these things — essential-as-breathing, simple, complicated, exalting, maddening? Yes, it can.
Poets and philosophers say it best. The rest of us mortals try. Sometimes we succeed, and oh, it is sweet. There are those that make digs at us. And we look them in the eye, holding on to our besotted selves, and say, like Marlowe did, “come live with me and be my love”.
But it is not only about love-lorn teens. You hafta go wider than Cupid and Kaamdev, armed with celestial bow-and-arrow, licensed to pierce first-time hearts. Because love is all kinds, all people. Exhausted mother and inquisitive, scampering child. Boy and girl. Man and woman. And combinations thereof. Siblings beyond rivalry. A brown dog’s wagging tail. Teacher and bright, but exasperating, pupil. Middle-aged spouses, learning to live with each other’s imperfections. An elderly couple, swinging fleet-footedly to “will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I am 64”? A grandma’s soft sari-clad lap, and a story to sleep by. A lover’s tuneless lullaby, perfect because of who sings.
Yes, love is a many-faceted thing. And so many have written so beautifully on it, grappling with its eternal mystery, its pain and pleasure.
Sample this, one of my favourite bits from an ancient Greek, who has said everything there is to say on everything. On love and longing and life, and all the stuff that happens in between.
“…and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment…” Plato, The Symposium.
Those of us who are done and dusted with the love thing, or have walked a few years into the sunset, hand-in-hand, or have had great blazing romances and still smouldering embers, know what it is like. You never forget being upright on your axis one moment, and being pole-axed immediately after: don’t be so sceptical, it does happen. It’s funny how we are convinced no one else can know it like we do and have done, especially those who try and find the right one with a great deal of help from hyper-linked emoticons, those little yellow icons which tell you how to express your emotions. We are now in the age where there’s a smiley for all reasons, and all seasons.
Can those who had to use long sentences because there was no other choice rightfully feel superior to those who crunch their words, and mash up their spellings? Maybe not. Maybe the intensity is the same, but what I do know is this: there is such beauty in being able to tell your beloved, “j’adore”. Or, if you like, “aati kya Khandala”, hanky jauntily hung around your neck, and an unlit match between your teeth. Being able to say it, not just sext it.
You could, if you prefer, dip into Shakespeare’s peerless sonnets, and shamelessly borrow this line. “If I should think of love, I’d think of you.” And if she or he doesn’t melt, I will eat my non-existent AAP-Gandhi cap.
Why do our parents berate us? Because they have our best interests at heart. Because, yes, they love us. If they don’t get after you, know you are not loved. This is the problematic complex, many-layered contrarian approach, and it is as true as anything else. Why does a little boy persistently ignore his sister, hide from her when playing with his friends, and then beat off a bully who’s pulling her plait and making her cry? Why would you smooch someone if you can’t stand the smell of nicotine?
“Whenever I kissed her, the smell of cigarettes, filled my nostrils,” writes Akhtar ul Iman in the Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry, “I’ve always thought of smoking as a vice, but now I’m used to it, it’s part of me.”And then come these lines: “I hate her, she despises me. But when we meet in the loneliness, the darkness, we become one whole, like a lump of kneaded clay.”
Only those whom you love, you have the privilege of hating. The rest is indifference. The day I stop thinking of you, that is the day love will die. But I won’t let it, will I?
“Let us,” as Santhal poet Bishnu De puts it, “go to the riverbank, my love, where you’ll cup your hands, and let me drink my fill.”