I tried hard ever since this assignment came up. I thought about it. I asked people what they thought about it. But even those who openly admitted being addicted to it wouldn’t talk about it. I wrote a few openings but never got any further. I leafed through tattered magazines reading those old sweet romances and enjoying them immensely. But, nothing inspired. I sat under a tree with pen and paper determined to not to get up until I had this thing done. A couple of hours later, I had one single word on paper. And that wasn’t even the title.
Obviously, love is not for me. Or in me. Around me? At least that I could find maybe.
I looked at the middle aged couples who form my world mostly. The number who exchange cards on b’days and anniversaries could be counted on about half the fingers on one hand. To talk about Valentine’s day would make them and me blush. And if I asked them about the ways in which they loved each other, I was sure I wasn’t going to get any coherent answers. The normal Indian style is to count loudly the ways in which your spouse irritates you. Maybe we ward of the evil eye this way.
Talking about intimacy is just not done.
I had to go backwards in time to my teens, when I lived in sweet secondhand romance. Among a whole neighbourhood of girls reading Mills and Boon secretly. And passing them from hand to hand. Till our mothers discovered them too and read them wholeheartedly. Maybe the longing for the tall dark handsome hero to sweep her off her feet never dies out of a girl until she is in her grave.
We loved Georgette Heyer and the caustic and witty exchanges that the hero had with his pert saucy heroine or the quiet one with grey eyes. Barbara Cartland was around of course but lisping heroines found little echo in us. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning we read aloud and sighed. Scarlett’s sixteen inch waist had us all measuring waists and coming sadly to the conclusions that it couldn’t be real. But Rhett, oh dashing Rhett Butler was much more captivating than dull Ashley.
We all cried and mooned over it for days when Jennifer died in Love story. ‘ Love never means saying you are sorry ‘ was our byline for years and years. Of course never to be used with real people.
Oliver Barrett who fell in love passionately and mourned bitterly and never looked at a girl again was our ideal hero. Oliver’s Story came along years later to change things. But you can forgive your favorite people anything – and he didn’t marry his girlfriend for the sake of principle.
Come September, Summer of 42, we watched all the romantic movies we could without understanding the nuances too much. We narrowed our eyes like Lee van Cleef and adored the quiet assurance of Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
It was the age of innocence packaged in pink ribbons. Neighborhood boys and their loud bikes (now they would hardly seem a murmur) were discussed and dropped. No one fell in love with anyone or had a crush which was amazing given the mixed neighbourhood we lived in. We had neighbourhood picnics, fetes, plays and bday parties galore. Of course Moms were always around but no one was making eyes at anyone else.
We listened to the Beatles, sang with Abba and Nancy Sinatra, jived secretly to Boney M, watched breathlessly the gyrations of Travolta and stayed safe in cocoons. We read of rape and sex, discussed it discreetly and never came to any firm conclusions. Incest, porno, pedophiles – didn’t cross our minds.
We wore bellbottoms with our long plaits, paraded proudly in any garment someone brought back from abroad, loaded ourselves with eau-de cologne, and never thought of attracting the opposite sex with any of these. Difficult for them to be, so we thought.
None of it was real we knew. Romance existed only in books and we never linked it to real life. We got married when it became our turn. When we go back home now, it’s as sedate matrons on the outside but when we get together, oh boy, its sweet seventeen again.
On zine5, Feb14th