“I have wanted to ask someone this for a long time,” he said. “What happens to the love after you get married?”
I spent the May-June of 2017 reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Its premise is built somewhere around this question. It is a fascinating book for first-timers, and every time somebody tells me they haven’t read this book, I get excited because I know reading it will launch them into a very novel understanding of a handful of interpersonal nuances. This book is an ideal pre-wedding gift. I like to joke that it can help plenty of people stay married for longer.
As a 90s-very-middle-class-very-North-Indian kid, I grew up extracting my ideas of love, commitment, and relationships from Bollywood. (Quick note for my non-Indian readers: Bollywood is slang for the Hindi Film Industry!) The principle of Bollywood movies is very simple – you find one person and make them your eternal muse. Then you become the God of love – Cupid incarnate. You shower your affection on that person, sometimes even without consent, in enormous ways. Then the muse melts like a burning candle in your arms somewhere around the interval. The audience cheers, claps, and occasionally whistles. The peripheries of these movies rely on the director’s hallmark. For Rohit Shetty – some flying cars, and for Sanjay Leela Bhansali – a grander than life set would do. The core of the plot is sacred – it remains unchanged for the most part.
Chapman suggests quite remarkably that something is fundamentally wrong with this plot. The spell of rapt adoration breaks very shortly after marriage. Now that’s a story few have the courage to tell. Aisa thodi hota hai, the Bollywood mind says (That’s not how it happens!). Majority of the Bollywood movies that tell us the post-marriage story are comic accounts of extra-marital affairs. Life in a Metro is one stand-out, which is why such movies are a rarity!
“Do you know what happens when you hurt people?” Ammu said. The God of Small Things is also full of little gold nuggets of accurate depictions of interpersonal relationships. “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you less.” A mother teaching her children how to love and be more loveable.
A classmate decided to start writing novels around 2010. Very unashamedly, on one of our meets, he said the central theme of all these novels is going to be love. How cliché, I had thought. He went on to write almost half-a-dozen such books oftentimes exploring his chosen theme to quite good depths. The latest two of his books were quite impressive and suggested a deep sense of something beyond transient emotion. Is love a transient emotion?
I was still learning about the notion of love and other couple of ideas that fascinate us humans. Some people suggested I must also write books. Here, in India, if you know how to articulate oftentimes shallow ideas in cute English, or briefly roll a camera, or are moderately good looking, you can become a novelist, storyteller, director, or actor very quickly. Or at least you can try! The first not quite unprecedented step is to move to Bombay! Bombay is India’s land of legacy. Go and pitch in. I did not want to write books yet, or worse, go to Bombay. So I started this blog and made a decision to read avidly for the rest of my life. If writing must come, it must come from divine inspiration, neither temporal push nor self-inflicted discipline, I used to think. I carried a deep feeling that wanted to keep my writing sacred, not make it apprenticed or influenced. My time will come, I would tell myself.
It has been almost a decade. My time has not yet come, but I feel it slowly approaching, at snail’s pace. I daresay that I have now, in 24 years, leisure-read some 40 books and watched more than 250 movies, for better or for worse. On top of that, I now have behind me almost 10 years of supremely-conscious first-hand experience of all that love is not. And I don’t just mean erotic love. Did you know the Greeks have had more than half-a-dozen words for love? Philia, Eros, Agape… to name a few.
In his book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis elaborates on four of these major forms. You may love apples very much, so you say I love apples. You love someone very much and you could say I love Mr./Miss. X. But you certainly don’t love your significant other the way you love apples. It’s a different kind of love. This is where English fails us. This is why it is quite shallow – the English Language. There have been and are richer languages. Hindi is one such language, though in its modern form I feel it still is no match for Greek.
Bombay’s Hollywood – the Bollywood is oftentimes equally disappointing. Sometimes as a viewer and other times as a wannabe storyteller, I feel the necessity to evaluate what precisely we are proud of in a great many of our films? Indians have written excellent stories with greater depth about life and emotions – the Indian way. But we have increasingly shunned that heritage and borrowed our ideas from Western stories and movies. We have gone to the extent of copying them bit to bit. Now it has become so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that we don’t know how to distinguish this from that.
This is called syncretism. The process of merging of two or more civilizational elements in a manner that they become indistinguishable. Until I wrote the last few paragraphs, I had thought of myself as someone who finds syncretism interesting. But now I am blatantly amused. That entire discourse was quite puritanical, wasn’t it? Writing can be very revealing.
The point I originally wanted to bring home is how Bollywood has shaped our own ideas and understanding of love and relationships very differently from our elders. Our Lens matters! It is almost like a sixth love language Chapman should have written about exclusively for his Indian audience. At this point of time in life, I have made some married friends, unlike before. For instance, my own parents, and a couple of other couples. They tell me the inside stories of married life and how it is so very different from the ideal Bollywood narrative. Ashmi! Once you shaadi, you cannot unshaadi! A friend chuckles. (Once you get married, you cannot get unmarried!)
To become a realist and a true storyteller, one needs to reprogramme their mind. All such vicarious experiences must be shunned. And it’s not easy. Ask me to walk out of Jane Austen’s drawing room and stop crushing on drool-worthy Mr. Darcy altogether! Not easy at all. But the time is slowly approaching where I will require myself to pick my own themes and tell my own stories. I have to stop living on borrowed minds (which these books are!) and perverted storylines. I feel the need to sit inside my own mind. This post marks a comma to my books-and-movies marathon for at least the coming six months so I enter my 25th year as more me. My time is coming. For it, and everything, thank you, God!