In Spike Jonze’s critically-acclaimed film Her, Theodore Twombly writes letters for strangers who no longer have the time to do it themselves. He expresses love, conveys grief on their behalf, pens down their stories and occasionally sheds a tear for them.
Twombly also walks the street looking wistfully at others, too aware of losing what they had, and conversing with his girlfriend, Samantha, an artificially intelligent virtual assistant. On some nights, she looks over him as he sleeps and in the morning, reads out his emails to him. And when they part, the middle-aged man curls up as if, his heart will shatter into pieces. He tells her that he had never loved anyone the way he loves her. “Me too,” Samantha replies. The voice disappears and so does she.
In the film, two lovers write their story together but never meet. Notwithstanding the overtly dystopic overtones, the script departs from the artifices of love to reveal that although separated by an alphabet, lovers and loners are not really different beings, that perhaps all lovers are loners, and love, with all its grand promise of dispelling isolation, probably thrives in solitude.
Even French theorist Roland Barthes echoes this sentiment in his 1977 book, A Lover’s Discourse. “The lover’s discourse today is of an extreme solitude”, He not only laments that the language spoken by lovers, owing to how private it is, is “completely forsaken by the surrounding languages,” but also dismantles our general understanding of the emotion. He views love as a lonely enterprise, capable of making one extremely joyous, but also cripplingly desolate.
Treating lovers almost as an exclusive community, Barthes describes them not when they are with their partners, for those are fleeting moments, but when they are alone, writing letters in their heads for the other and waiting with such unflinching severity as if the very act describes them and earns them the right to call themselves lovers. “The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits,” he asserts.
Perhaps this explains why a housewife and a soon-to-be-retired accountant in Mumbai — residing in worlds far removed from each other — find comfort in sharing notes in Ritesh Batra’s 2013 film The Lunchbox. A rare mistake by the Mumbai’s famous “dabbawalas” forge a tie between these two unlikely souls and though they refuse to give a name to their bond, it smells of aubergine, paneer and love. Ila, who dresses up for her husband only to find him having an affair, and Saajan Fernandes, an irascible man who does not allow children playing outside his house, are haunting portraits of loners. As the lunch box reaches the wrong address, their vacuous worlds gravitate toward each other.
Their absence in each other’s lives becomes the only presence as their words, fears, anecdotes made sense only to each other. There is much waiting in the film- for the lunch boxes to arrive, for their words to reach each other, for their worlds to collide and for a joint trip to Bhutan, which Ila feels will resolve all their problems. So suspended are they in their perpetual state of waiting and being lonely, while being comforted in each other’s absence that the one time they are supposed to meet, Fernandes does not introduce himself to her. He sits at the cafe and steals glances at her. They meet just how they were supposed to— while waiting for the other.
Waiting is an enchantment. There is much to marvel in waiting. The lovers, with their private language and audacious desires, wait not only for the return of the other but sometimes wait, in the comforting knowledge of the presence of the other. Sometimes waiting prevents the irrevocably lonely lovers from getting their heart broken. For all you know, both Fernandes and Ila weren’t broken, perhaps a little melancholic as they returned home without having met each other that afternoon. Loners but still lovers.