Hot, bitter, masala love

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There is a degree of jealousy and irrationality in all romantic relationships. The trend among modern middle class youngsters, though, is to love conveniently

He must have used a pair of dividers from his compass box to scratch the message in uneven block letters on the weathered green back of the bus seat: “Dnt luv treuly. It will hurt you lots.” Although the two names scrawled below it were barely legible — what looked like Aishi and Muni may as well have been Adam and Steve or Annie and Eve — I could picture a schoolboy, as wide-eyed and vulnerable as the first schoolboy on the planet who was burdened by the eternal truth that yes, true love will hurt you lots. Somehow I couldn’t imagine a girl carving out her feelings on a public space. Call it a cliché but I could only see a jilted girl curl up into a ball of misery or bare her soul in her diary, where a boy would talk-write-sing about his broken heart.

Underneath the names was a long (mobile?) number — seven digits followed by a question mark. A story forms in my mind. Timid boy loves her from afar, manages to overhear her giving her number to someone but misses the final digit, and since they take the same route to school every day he hopes she will fill it in so he can call her... First love, true love, unrequited love... getting soppy in my old age I am. Valentine’s Day is coming up, Indianised, chutney-fied, masala-fied like burgers, pizzas and fried chicken in multinational fast food chains. On 14 February, it’s not the college-goer alone but the aam admi too who buys a heart-shaped greeting card and woos the woman of his dreams. The newspaper boy asks the 16-year-old next door if she will go to Ulsoor Lake with him that evening. The security guard slips a Valentine into the salesgirl’s hand and she giggles over it with her friends on the lunch break.

Autodrivers are of course philosophers in disguise. They don’t need a special day to display what mohabbat means to them; their expressions are visible on the rear windows of their vehicles. A commonly observed warning: You can trust a snake but not a woman. “Love is FROAD don’t beliv” goes another impassioned assertion. But let me present a poem, nay, a short story in the making that I saw painted on the hindquarters of a three-wheeled beast. It deserves a paragraph to itself.

Love is slow poison. Wife is sweet poison. Friend is medicine to all poison.

Before you say “Wah, wah” let me remind you that these grim proclamations about womankind carry a sinister undertone. A man who believes that the essential nature of woman is to defraud and deceive is a man whose sense of betrayal might escalate to vengefulness. The paagal or deewana lover may be a romantic figure in old Hindi movies but today’s flesh-and-blood version, instead of destroying himself, is bent upon destroying the object of his love. Love in India is tainted by violence — violence that is done to and by lovers, for the lover can be either the victim or the perpetrator. The very act of falling in love brings dishonour to the family, and you might hear a widowed woman (as I did in a recent documentary) calmly declare that it would be only right and proper for her son to kill her daughter if she dared marry the man of her choice. On the other hand you have the suspicious lover who torments his girlfriend and the rejected lover who turns into an acid-throwing monster.

This, you might say, is not love but pathological obsession. I put it to you that there is a degree of jealousy and irrationality in all romantic relationships. The trend among modern middle class youngsters, though, is to love conveniently. They’re managers of the love business. They take no risks and want returns on their investment. Friends or families arrange meetings and both parties decide that they are made for each other, or else they choose to love someone of their own caste and creed. Very mature of them, I’m sure. But I’m talking here of masala love.

A twosome waits for the metro. They call each other ‘dude’. He’s telling her how many crores a house in Lutyens costs when she gets a call which she immediately cuts off. I overhear mild remonstrations about messages and calls. They get into the coach and have barely sat down when he points to another girl at the far end of the coach and says, I’ve met her before, come, let’s go sit there. “You’re impossible dude,” she says, laughing. He drags her over to the double-seaters near the door, says hello to the other girl and sits opposite her. The two of them spend the entire journey talking animatedly while the girlfriend studiedly looks away, bored, staring out of the window. At journey’s end the boy exchanges mobile numbers with the girl.

The couple get out and I crane my neck to watch what I know will happen. They stop at the top of the steps, I see her profile, she’s speaking to him angrily, I wait for it, I wait for it, and as the metro pulls away I see her make a fist and start punching him on the forearms and chest!

They’ve handed it to me on a platter: hot, bitter, masala love.

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