Monday, May 25, 2009

Love in the times of Sri Rama Sene

In contemporary India, Love has become that four letter word which finds itself trapped in a two pronged pincer of three lettered acronyms.

On the one side there is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Shri Rama Sena (SRS) and other such political outfits that represent the ultra-conservative face of our society while on the other there is this technology aided instant pop and pub culture that the youth of today freaks out on - SMS, MMS etc. forcing even neo liberals like us to raise their eyebrows.

But before we look into the future of love lets delve a bit into the past.

As a kid, when I could just manage to start mumbling a few words, visitors and relatives to our house would often ask me, “Whom do you love more, mummy or papa?” At any time, at any age, for anybody it is a difficult choice to make. At the age of three it almost becomes impossible to respond!!

But then that was the first lesson in love I learnt. And that is: Love is never meant to be easy.

In the sixties and seventies love was a word that was never pronounced loudly. It was always whispered and it was always something that happened in Hindi films and not in real life. Remember, when Rajesh Khanna used to disappear with his heroine behind a bed of flowers and the flowers used to flutter wildly and dash against each other? Well that was love for us. I still re-collect summoning up enough courage to ask my elder brother as to why did the crowd whistle and go berserk when the flowers bumped into each other? He whispered in a clandestine tone, “There was love in the air”. There was something in his voice which told me that no further questions were allowed on this topic.

It required a sensitive film like Mera Naam Joker to assure me that I had not committed a crime by falling in ‘love’ with my teacher. Years later I was really relieved to know that my never expressed bottled up feelings which I had for my teacher did not even qualify to be called love. It was only a crush. Thank God what a relief.

Boys and girls in that era were not supposed to fall in love. They were supposed to read, play, find a job and marry the partner the family chose. This was what people of “achha khandaan” were supposed to do. But there were still some who dared to beat the stereotype.

In that era, love had an unhurried, slow, almost a lackadaisical pace that made romance such a long and beautiful journey. In an era, when one just could not walk up to a girl and talk, you basically had only the written option available to you. Here you had a choice of either expressing your love in a lengthy prose or in a short poem. Invariably the lover boy would be bad in both the forms of communication. Drafting the letter or writing that poem would therefore be a collective responsibility of his “friends”. The friends of course did it for a ‘fee’ which was never exorbitant. At the simple cost of a “cutting chai” in the college canteen, where invariably the canteen owner would extend the benefit of staggered payments long before EMI came into vogue, lengthy love letters and poems were drafted, re-drafted and re-phrased with some trying to make it spicier while others tried to tone down the rhetoric.

Next would come the even more difficult job of delivering the letter. For this we had to find out the subject she was good at. Then one of us (mind you not the lover boy) would have to summon up the courage to ask for her class notes and finally manage to slip in the letter while returning it back to her. After that would begin the long wait for a response which rarely came. The fastest that a project of this nature could be accomplished in the seventies was probably a year or so.

In the rare cases when Cupid’s arrow struck and love blossomed it worked wonders. The cigarette would be thrown out of the window. The hair cut would be more decent and baths would be more frequent. The occasional beer would be shunned. Academics would be pursued vigorously and a job would be searched for desperately (after all her parents were threatening to marry her off). Love made many a Romeos mature and sensible in double quick time.

I used to wonder then and wonder even now: Why is our society so schizophrenic? Why do we have such blatant double standards? On the one hand we talk in glowing terms about Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet, Radha-krishna…. while on the other we vehemently and vociferously condemn every time a heart flutters. We talk of our “culture’ and the need to “protect” it passionately but fail to understand that it is we who have deified the love of Radha and Krishna. Yes, it is Radha who finds a place in our temples and not Rukmini his wife. Is it not so because we have seen divinity in Radha’s love?

The youth in its turn should realize that it is not love that is being opposed but the way it is publicly displayed and the way it is used so flippantly and so casually that is abhorrent. A distinction needs to be drawn between love and passion, between sex and sincerity and between causal affairs and committed relationship. And I trust that wisdom will prevail and the youth of today shall ultimately make the right choice.

We would do well to remember a love story from the Mahabharatha. When ultimately King Dushyant recovers his memory and recognizes his lady love Shakuntala, he accepts her as his wife. The King and the Queen name their son Bharat. Many believe that our country itself was named Bharat after their son for it symbolized true love and affection and that’s what this great country is all about.

This Valenitne day, when love will once again be in the air, let us the people of Bharat, pledge to spread the message of true love and friendship. Believe me, we owe it to our ancient culture.
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