Namaskar Y'all - 2017

What is Love?

By Shyama Parui

Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.
- Robert Graves (from the poem “Symptoms of Love")

Yes, it's true that love can be a headache at times but writers of popular Hindi songs would beg to differ. My quick and unscientific review of song lyrics show that love or “pyaar" is poetically and most commonly expressed as “deewana," “zindagi" or “jaadu." Translated in English, these words mean crazy, life and magic respectively. Do you agree? How would you define love? If you are like me, it depends on the day. When my children were infants, loving them meant taking care of their fragile bodies, spending sleepless nights and feeling rewarded at the sight of their first smile or step. Today, as they get closer to adolescence, love is empowering them to become independent even if that means allowing them to make mistakes and ignoring their mismatched clothes.

Love is one thing you cannot hide from, especially in February. Valentine's Day will make its presence felt but instead of browsing through store aisles overflowing with red, pink and heart shaped merchandise, my thoughts go to a true story.

In a small rural town of West Bengal, a tomboyish girl was balancing herself on a tree branch, picking fruit with her brother and friends. Laughing and swinging, she was oblivious to the fact that a couple of elderly gentlemen, accompanied by a young boy, were a little lost and wandered close to them. She was startled when she heard one of them call out to her and ask for directions. Turns out they were looking for her father and helping them was much easier than getting to the juiciest mango on the tree. She couldn't help noticing that the boy was staring at her. “How rude!" she thought. A few minutes later her aunt rushed to her and much to her annoyance pestered the girl to get off the tree and into the attire of a young woman of marriageable age - a saree.

She willfully ignored the absurd request until her mother changed her mind using some cajoling and some threatening. That evening marked a major milestone in her life. It was determined by the elders in her family that she would be married to the young boy she had caught a fleeting glimpse of and become the daughter-in-law of the gentleman who had asked for directions. And that is how my parents met and their wedding was arranged. Strange, unromantic, impractical or simply typical of the way things were in the late 1950s. Love followed and it was not the stuff of movies but of lifelong caring. Once, in an act of uncharacteristic impulsiveness, my dad halted their long- distance bus, so my mom could get a cup of tea. Definitely a romantic gesture, my husband agrees but doesn't see himself doing. The selfless way in which my mom helped her husband through his health troubles speaks volumes of her love.

Let me share another tale of love. As a teenager, I thought the story of Rekha and Rohit (not their real names) was dreamily romantic. Rekha, then a close friend of mine would share how she was falling in love with a “tall, dark and handsome guy" who sent her love notes and apparently stared at her for hours with smitten lovelorn looks. Her clandestine dates with Rohit made us giggle and long for love lives of our own. The story took a more interesting turn when Rekha's parents expressed disapproval but it fueled their love and made them stubbornly stand by each other. After desperate measures, they succeeded in getting parental approval and their whirlwind romance was followed by a beautiful wedding. The marriage however ended quickly in an ugly divorce. Love in this case was like fireworks against the night sky - momentary sparks of beauty that leave a smoky mess.

And then there is “filmi" love glorified on the silver screen. I have to confess that most movies I watch are churned out by Bollywood's prolific industry and the way love is depicted in cinema baffles, annoys and sometimes makes me roll on the floor laughing. Ironically, the most successful “love stories" end in tragedies. Take the film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak as an example. This was a hugely popular movie from my school days about a pair of young star crossed lovers who elope to avoid confrontation with their warring families. Sound familiar? Yes, in many ways it was the classic Shakespearean drama of Romeo and Juliet remixed for contemporary audiences and set in Rajasthan.

My sisters and I loved the songs and watched the movie many times but even as a teenager, I couldn't fathom how the protagonists could fall so deeply in love after a few stolen glances and moonlight meetings. Why they would be willing to sacrifice their luxurious lifestyle and live in the woods for puppy love was beyond my understanding. Living in a makeshift house with no running water is more likely to cause friction than ignite passion. The unreasonable behavior of the parents was just as confusing. Why couldn't they simply have a conversation with their grown children and handle things like adults are supposed to? Nevertheless, loud dialogue delivery, melodramatic vows of revenge and hot headed relatives add to the dramatic turns of the movie and even if you haven't watched the movie you can guess that it doesn't end well. If this is love, we might as well stay away from it.

My suspicion, however, is that we have found love and love has found us in ways that look very different from works of art or fiction. We miss it, cherish it and even take it for granted so there is nothing wrong with dedicating a day to expressing our love although I doubt it requires spending money. Valentine's Day sales end up benefiting retailers but you and I my friend, can choose to love and show love every day.