Wednesday, February 17, 2010

one take on love

Here is a piece I did for Valentine's Day and here is where it appeared.

We no longer understand. Those of us who were nourished on a carb-rich diet of the Bronte sisters and Yash Chopra, along with vital supplements like Tagore, Gulzar and Bob Dylan that were steadily poured into our blood. We understand the brave new world of new age romance no more than our grandmothers understood email.

Yet, we use the same language: love, longing, loss, despair. Young people meet each other, are attracted, call each other ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ – or the new politically correct thing: ‘partner’. They commit. They have kids. And one supposes that there must be love in the frame. No reason to disbelieve their ‘I love you’s even though we live in a world where Valentine’s Day has become a bit of a joke with half the world protesting the crass commercialism which has reduced it to greeting cards and online offers to ship bouquets of roses; and the other half intent on buying the cards, the balloons, the diamond pendant (which is supposed to make sure that love lasts forever), and the super-soft Rs 299 teddy bear holding a red velvet heart. On several campuses, it has become ‘sad’ for a young person to be seen without a love prop. Those who do not receive roses buy them and pretend they were gifts. Those who have nobody to buy cards for, buy them anyway, and pretend to be on their way to meet a mythic beloved. Very Calvin-n-Hobbes, except it isn’t comic.

But let me not delve into the Hallmarks-isation of love. What of love itself? How do young people romance each other, minus the props? Ask a teenager and he looks at you suspiciously. “What do you mean ‘how’? Like, I mean, like everybody else. I guess.”

Everybody else would include women like me who grew up dreaming of strapping young men with the mind of a Yeats, the body of a farm hand, the temperament of a Heathcliff, and a propensity to stand under windows, singing about the moon paling beside one’s own face. We, who dared not actually do anything more than dedicate a song at the school fete, or created an acrostic in his name, hoping he would have the sense to crack the code. We, who talked long hours into the night on the phone and could not wait until it was time to step out of the house so one could meet the beloved and talk some more over coffee. Endless cups of coffee, long walks, frequent glances. We, who suffered heartbreak alone, without breathing a word even to a best friend. We didn’t die of heartbreak, of course, unlike heroines in nineteenth century novels. But we weren’t afraid of impossible longings. Nor did we feel panic at the prospect of our teens slipping by without having a ‘partner’ .

But we too have adapted and evolved. New age romance is no longer about borrowing books or quoting romantic couplets. One signs up instead on a Google group that focuses on love poems and dips into the treasure once in a while, and emails a poem to the person one is interested in.
We write SMS poems. We sometimes send text messages saying nothing more than ‘Hi’ or ‘Just’. Just to say hello. Just to say I’m thinking of you. Just to say you’re in my heart. And once we hit ‘send’, we wait, phones clutched to our chests, wondering what sort of reply will be sent back.
If we were born a generation ago, we’d have hit the writing desk and dashed off a five-page letter. Or sent off a single pressed flower in an envelope by registered post.

If we used to make dates at art galleries; we now make dates to go to the mall and listen to new records together at a music store. Or to play a round of Counter-strike. Different medium, but the message remains the same.

Or does it?

I asked a friend and fellow-writer, Manisha Lakhe, who promptly dissed present-day romance as ‘a commercial break in a TV show’. “Romance is dysfunctional today,” she says. “Maybe because people don’t read books. They watch TV so the attention span is low.”

Is love is now a much fast-food phenomenon now: a fly-by-night operation rather than a lifetime of work? After all, a generation that is seduced by advertising lines such as ‘Why wait?’ is not likely to be seduced by the idea of longing and patience. Nobody waits for love to be consummated beyond a few dates – maybe a few weeks, maybe months, certainly not years.
Yet, a corner of my own heart refuses to believe that teenagers nowadays are that much different. The generation that was brought up on online gaming and doesn’t know how to use a pager probably uses the same basic tools to romance – words, making eyes, cafes.

Or perhaps, the change runs deeper, linked to the ways in which Indian culture itself has changed. Love in the 2000s, some people say, is more like pornography, less like erotica. And capping everything is the pornography of money. Lakhe confesses she was horrified when she met a young girl who was accepting gifts of diamonds from not just her dad, but from the boys she knew. “She did not understand why I was horrified. Her attitude was: ‘They like me; now let them work for it’. In my time, only 'bad' girls were like this. I’m not exactly the Grease generation, but still, there was some sort of honour.”

Notions of honour in love have also changed. To show someone you love them, you buy them things; take them out to fancy places. And when they have agreed to be your lover, you focus your energies on finding a nook to neck in – coffee shops or clubs or water-fronts. Nobody bats an eye. And if you break up, you go to the same places with a new person, and still, nobody bats an eye. It is now kosher to be in love with A today, B, tomorrow, C yesterday.

Ten years ago, even in the metros, this wouldn’t have passed for romance. You wouldn’t have described a dalliance as ‘being in love’. Now, of course, we don’t talk of love if we can help it. We say we love a movie, a film star, a Parsi dish, an outfit. But we describe all romantic, quasi-romantic, or a barely sexual association as the prosaic fact of being ‘in a relationship’. Love is now a matter of a status update.

Besides, thanks to Facebook, one doesn’t need to confront the person you want to dump. No need for final goodbyes or having to witness tears. A male friend who doesn’t want to be named admits that he has broken up with somebody on the phone – “distance not being a factor, she trying to avoid me” – but it has never gotten to the point of simply changing one’s Facebook status from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘single’.

It is now possible to track one’s friends’ love lives on social networking sites. I have seen friends go from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ to ‘married’ and from ‘in a relationship with X’ to ‘in a relationship’ and finally, back to ‘single’, along with that awfully jagged tear in that tiny pink heart.

Perhaps, that is all it is – a public signboard on which you can now announce your happiness, and your heartbreaks. Love comes, and goes. And perhaps, we have finally learnt to deal with it without making too much of a fuss about it.


Sumedha said...

I don't think that everything you said is really true. I'm sure there are lots of people who live and love the way you've described, but I haven't met them. I've lived in three different cities now, and the majority of the couples I've seen take love quite seriously. As in, "love" comes significantly after dating. Sex hasn't come yet (after more than 5 years, in one case). The amount of commitment I've seen in my friends to their relationships actually scares me!

Yes, the idea of romance isn't the same as it was in Pride and Prejudice and Gone With The Wind. Yes, we don't quote poems. Yes, we sms a lot and reply is generally awaited in the way you've described. But I think when you say "different mediums, same message", you're right, at least in most of the cases I've seen. None of my friends buy or are bought expensive gifts. They don't go out to fancy places, but to parks and $5 boat cruises and long walks.

I don't think love is now a matter of a status update. There's a lot more to it, and most of the couples I know recognise and believe that.

Anonymous said...

"...a nook to neck in – coffee shops or clubs or water-fronts. Nobody bats an eye. And if you break up, you go to the same places with a new person, and still, nobody bats an eye..."

and the problem is...?

Do eyes need to be batted? Shd the lovebirds be shooed out or something.

A bit surprised at this part.

Pareshaan said...

Hahahaha!Love it.

Amit said...


Can't be universal.

Annie said...

sumedha: was talking about romance and manifestations of love rather than love itself. of course, there is love now, then and eternally. i was talking about facebook statuses etc as manifestations and progressions of love. and i also think india exists on multiple time lines and in different ages simultaneously. so of course, there must be places where things really have not changed from the time i grew up.
jai: again, was talking about the way love and romance has changed. i have no problems with the change. was only pointing to how love plays out in public spaces now
pareshaan: thanks
amit: no, it isn't. it is a personal view, or at least, a limited view of romance as it seems to me, nowadays.

Aarthi Gunnupuri said...

Dear Annie,

Thanks for putting so wonderfully what a whole generation of us
is trying to do - reconcile our expectations (bred on a steady diet of yash chopra's bollywood where love is expected to last forever!) with the brutal realities of love today - status updates that change every other day..sigh.



stuck between the oldness of romance and the newness of status updates

Sameer said...

Hey Annie, (this is my first time on your blog)
And this is a nice post.

However, being a teenager myself, I would like to assure you that things are not as bad (or fast-food like) as you think it is.

First, let me clear the fact that there are still a lot of people who, even though have an account on facebook, are not active on it. Tuitions, School, etc. etc. where is the time? (Academically impaired blokes like me, though make time for it.) So, there is no question of constant bombardment of relationship seekers.

The ones who do update such things with continuing ferocity, are rare and rarities cannot be taken into account to represent the whole picture of teenage living today. These people do not need criticism, and blame of the societal issues, but instead, moral conditioning.

Secondly, trust me, being single is not such a social bane. (If you come from a good school that is.) The only bane relating to it is the lack of emotional and physical intimacy.

It is not like, you see a girl and say, "hey, i like you, shall we go out for a date?"
Any girl with half an intelligence can understand that this boy is a stalker.

And, you cannot even break up just as easily. If you have a certain something called the super-ego. Momentary whims can maybe make you call some girl, but not propose and run the risk of being refused. Some people lay their nets though, and instead of just letting it happen, they try and create such situations that make it happen. (I did it once, and found out all the information that i could through orkut scraps and stuff, and played my cards accordingly. But things went bad, after I used my brain a bit too much.)

Regarding the dates happening at malls and all, well it is a truth, but as you said the message remains the same.

And, besides where else?

Art Galleries?

Why would anyone else but artists be interested in that. Least of all, students. If it happened in your times, then it is nice.

And, movie theaters are a favorite, but any girl with half an intelligence would not appreciate the bollywood/hollywood movies that come up.


Anonymous said...

in today's modern world, there are open live in relationships. Live together as long as you have tolerance to sacrifice for money. Neither the writer inspects not the others about the change in society. It was past. now men also have their phones to keep making 10 other romantic relationships, and in such cases the best way is just to ignore all the pre or post relationships only because the man is giving them money for shopping, kitty party, cars, clothes etc. Who is bothered whether they actually work hard or cheat others? the writer has mentioned references of one such person here.

Charu said...

yes, yes and it is official now - seen the latest docomo ad? boy and girl split up in coffee shop and go their separate ways, with a new partner each. and the line says 'when you cannot be sure of anything' or some such. saw that ad, remembered this post and came back to comment...

sumana said...

you got it!!...bang on!!
You're lucky you got to be born a few years earlier..before one was an outcast if one didn't have an arm to hold on to.....before one was a misfit if one didn't have broom-like hair......before one was a "weirdo" if one read "jane eyre" instead of "devil wears prada"....
I was or rather still am all of these....being too much in the company of "oldies"....I didn't mind but peer pressure catches up with you some time or the other
thanks for penning down these observations....nice to able to relate

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