Book: Eleven Ways to Love: Essays
Writer: Various Authors
Publisher: India Viking
Price: Rs 499
Eleven Ways to Love explicitly sets out to “widen the frame of reference” around stories of love with “remarkable essays” — mediating love through race, caste, sexual orientation, disability, lifestyle choices, and class, among others.
With so much diversity of theme, experience and writing, it is only the universality of the idea of love that could pull
The stories jump from ordinary and sometimes awkward prose to silken storytelling and deliberate articulation — in a way that sadly jars, requiring a mental reset between each piece, which can be an alienating experience. There is similar, significant, deviation also in the nuance of each essay — nuance that is unconnected with language. The straightforward narrator of “The One but not the Only” achieves it to the same degree as the narrator of “The Aristoprats” does, with her complex prose. One wonders how much better the collection could have been, if more than half the pieces had been able to achieve that nuance, especially around the themes of weight and loneliness.
Three essays that stand out are Shrayana Bhattacharya’s “The Aristoprats”, Sreshtha’s “Where Are my Lesbians” and Nidhi Goyal’s “I am Blind, so Is Love!”. The first tells an otherwise banal story of a strong feminist woman in a year long semi-relationship with a patriarchal man who puts her down. But Bhattacharya’s sharp and intelligent voice, always watching, always thinking, elevates it to brilliance. Her wry and self-aware storytelling poignantly reveals the paradoxes of feminism when you’re in love — how do you break from a man you love when he negates your selfhood as a woman? Bhattacharya achieves a beautiful balance of theory and story, with the analysis of the import of her actions and the story of those actions in their context, supporting and illuminating each other. The vision of the anthology shines bright in this essay.
“Where Are my Lesbians” is a story that is both moving and universal: how can I bring myself to lose a lover and a best friend; how can I keep the friend and lose the pain? The partly stream of consciousness style was a little distracting at first, along with the focus on her queerness, but then you come to realise that queer love is as defined by queerness as it is by love. You cannot love without your whole self and if you do not understand the queerness of that self, how can you love? This is something many of the essays attempt to do (“A Letter to my Lover(s)” is one example), but somehow Shreshtha is the only one who manages to evoke the centrality of love to her story of otherness.
It is tempting to call Nidhi Goyal brave after reading “I am Blind, so Is Love!”. But that would miss the point of her story: everyone should embrace their selves and the world they live in to be the best person they can. Goyal’s blindness complicated her life in many ways, yet, there is a universality to her quest for love and the way she struggles to find companionship. What makes this essay stand out is how Goyal questions the blind and limiting association of intimacy with romance, asking why you cannot have intimate love from people you are not involved with?
For those seeking stories of people “transformed by love”, Eleven Ways to Love will probably fall short. Because, in the attempt to achieve intersectionality, it often loses sight of love itself. Instead, it tells transformative tales of people who built their lives and identities through intense struggles, but, somehow, the love is incidental.