By Binu Sivan
This last weekend, I met a young friend – someone who had gotten engaged a month or so back. She and her fiancé are of a sensible generation, or maybe they are just scared. They are looking at a longish engagement. I asked her, “Why?”
She said, “We need to be sure.” I almost laughed out loud. You are never sure. Nearly 14 years after getting married, I am still not sure. It doesn’t matter how long you are engaged. Your husband or wife will turn out to be a different person to the one you were engaged to.
As I mulled over her answer, she asked – “Do you believe in true love?”
Now, why the hell would she ask me that!
The first unthinking words almost out of my mouth were – No! I don’t. I think it is all a lie. There is no such thing as true love. Just look at the disillusionment that you find in almost all the relationships around you! We are surrounded by a landfill of relationship debris.
Even as I thought these words I knew I was missing the point; because despite the disillusionment and the neglect there was something else.
Despite my desire to be untouchable in matters of the heart (a direct result of believing that I am as cool as Clint Eastwood in his cowboy avatar), the fact of the matter is that I do believe in love. Not the Valentine’s Day shit with its cards, candlelight dinners, and roses. I don’t even believe in the we-will-grow-old-together kind of romance. Tomorrow and old age are not guaranteed.
I thought about how in today’s world a growing cobweb of disillusionment and neglect anchor and hold up the photo frames of our relationships. Relationships and marriages, in particular, seem to be made up of what is missing – small acts and gestures that we forget to, or are too lazy or angry to do for each other.
Every expert on relationships has been crying himself or herself hoarse trying to tell us that we’ve got to work at love. ‘Falling in love’ does not guarantee ‘staying in love’. You got to work at it to keep it alive. There is no happily ever after. At best you have a “we like each other enough to want to grow old together” ever after.
So is that all there is to love?
I am not an ace at this. I never was. Time, drudgery, disillusionment, neglect, taking and being taken for granted have taken their toll. Yet I am not just a victim. I am a killer too. Love doesn’t die at the hands of infidelity and violence alone. Its butchers are many.
Like pretty much most young women who get married, I believed in true love or rather the mirage of true love as spoon fed to us by our film industry. My ever after. My one and only. A few heartbreaks and disappointments later (both parties at fault) I revisited my notions of love.
Was love the intense feeling that swept over me as they placed my new-born daughter on my chest and I knew in my bones that I’d kill for this little one’s safety? I have never felt anything close to that for anyone else.
I am married to a guy who is in finance. He loves math. I love words. He watches Bloomberg and cricket for entertainment. I watch travel shows on NG and Discovery. More than a decade of marriage hasn’t blurred these differences in our case. In fact, we can still only manage a polite curiosity in the other’s interest.
In the initial years of our marriage, he got me watches (expensive, branded ones) for three of my birthdays. The third time I got a watch, I sat him down, showed him my watch-less wrist and told him in clear terms, “I don’t like to wear watches!”
To his credit, he has been learning and has stopped getting me watches.
We live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. A combination of health issues and sheer frustration at juggling a highly demanding job and a growing child made me walk away from regular employment. Now I am a stay-at-home-mom and a freelance writer working on my first novel. A move I could not have made unless my watch-buying, math, and cricket-loving husband had not agreed to finance our lives.
So is this love?
Love. It is and can mean so many damn things – passion, lust, consideration, kindness, generosity, support, hope, pain, angst, frustration, joy and nurturing. But one thing that is certain is that love is a social beast. Without a reciprocal gesture, over a period of time, it will wither and die, morphing into something brittle and broken, or something free and soaring.
When young, due to my movie and Mills and Boon-fuelled notions of love and romance, I believed true love could be achieved only with one person. Now I know better. You can fall in love deeply many times over. You can be in love with more than one person at the same time. Love can evolve into like, hate and indifference. You can fall out of love with a person and yet love that person.
The magic of love can touch you at any time, across the labyrinth of space, age, societal mores, and even reality. You can be in love in your mind and the world would have no inkling. You can even be in love with an imaginary personification of all that you desire. This love of the imaginary person (that you are yet to meet or may never meet) is like an underground spring that waters your soul and keeps you alive.
You could be in love with a woman’s never-say-die spirit, a man’s kindness, that woman’s smile, that stranger’s eyes… you know that nothing will ever come out of it. For a few weeks or maybe just for a few days, they will add an extra spring to your step, a smile to your lips and a song to your heart. You are not going to disrupt the status quo of your life for this smile or these eyes. But just for that magical little while, love and romance brush by you again and you are alive. Just an intense crush, but for those few hours, days and weeks, this imaginary love-story in your mind is stronger than any relationship that actually exists in your ‘real’ life.
And then one day you wake up, freed from the bondages of this crush… you are out of love.
So what the hell is love? To be honest I still don’t know. I am constantly redefining it.
Do I believe in true love? I don’t even know what the hell true love is! But I can tell you this – I am a romantic.
The word romance conjures up different images for most of us – usually dictated by our age and experiences. In our teen years, it is a red heart-shaped balloon and a misspelt love note. In our 20s a public declaration of everlasting love on Facebook and Instagram. In our 30s, a partner who is willing to wake up to take care of that baby who is hell bent on driving you to an early grave.
But now I am in my 40s, and for me romance has broken the limiting walls of relationships. Let me explain…
I had always liked to think of myself as a realist – someone who sees the world for what it is and accepts it. But the truth of the matter is that I am not a realist. I don’t see the world for what it is. For me the world we see is an opaque veil, that conceals the truths that I instinctively believe in, and even know to exist. Even my personal religion and concept of God is based on this.
I believe without proof. Yet I also believe in the theory of evolution and have a deep respect for science and the fantastic mind-bending journey it, and we, are on. Maybe because of this respect (and not despite it) I also believe in things I cannot see.
So how can I not be a romantic!?
Not just a believer in romance in its most commonly understood sense… but also the romance of life itself. When I smile instinctively at another person during my walks and they smile back at me, when my daughter walks into my room early in the morning and cuddles up with me, when I watch two young lovers trying to maintain decorum and distance as they walk together, jostling against each other with every step… I am more in love than I have ever been. Not with another person. But just in love.
When I read the wistful, elegiac words of poets like Rumi, Parveen Shakir, Keats, and Ghalib, I cannot help but wonder… How can this feeling, this aching yearning for another even arise in our hearts, if there was no romance!? How can it exist if there was no quest for that one love? How can someone write words that reach out across centuries and lands and grab my heart with such intensity and force? Am I not falling in love all over again when I read them?
Then there are things in this world that make me believe in something deeper and truer. When I am walking along a deserted beach, when I am watching a full moon shine brightly on snow-capped mountains at 2am, I sense something rare and fragile to my touch, just out of my reach… brushing delicately against my fingertips. It teases me into being more aware. An almost ephemeral awareness, it is by its very nature of being elusive that much more valuable and worthy of being pursued.
Right now, as I learn to live consciously and intentionally, taking steps towards certain dreams, instead of just waiting for them, my notions of love and romance are abstract.
I believe in the romance of the moment. It is a fleeting moment – sometimes submerged in the minutiae of life, buried amidst the debris of our busyness and distractedness. But that one fleeting moment can keep that flame of magic and life burning. And it is not necessarily a moment with your partner or spouse. It is the kind of romance where you are in a moment, either with your spouse or a friend (whatever be their gender) or your pet or a stranger, and you are with that person fully.
Right now, love is this very moment.
My newly engaged friend stared dazed at me as I went through my disjointed spiel. “So does this mean you believe in true love?”
“Yeah, yeah I believe in true love.” She will have to figure out her own way anyway.
Binu Sivan is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in the print and visual media industry. A writer of poems, essays, blog posts and to-do lists, she is currently working on her first novel.