Reckoning with the heart

Parvati Sharma | Updated on July 26, 2019 Published on July 26, 2019

A dangerous vulnerability: Love is power; and all power may be abused   -  ISTOCK.COM

Love places a great responsibility — the ability to be kind, unconditionally — in the hands of the beloved

Love is in the air. Or, at least, director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s recent film Kabir Singh is flying high, sparking a thousand debates, in its wake, on love and its abuse. I haven’t seen the film, I have a head cold already; but in this weak and listless state, I did watch Vanga’s almost infamous interview with journalist Anupama Chopra. It’s here that Vanga proclaims, “If you can’t slap, if you can’t touch your woman wherever you want... [if] you can’t kiss, [if] you can’t use cuss words, I don’t see emotion there.” He doesn’t see groping, swearing and violence either; instead, he seems to be watching some faux-edgy music video in his head, or an ad for sneakers. Just do it.

What struck me in the interview, though, is how Vanga describes his Kabir Singh heroine, Preeti. “I feel Preeti is a very intelligent girl but, you know, she speaks less and... I hope there will be more Preetis in this world.” Really? said Chopra, in italics, why? From his answer, it appears that Vanga has established some esoteric connection between silence and monogamy in this corrupt age.

I remember falling in love in college. It was dizzying and painful and would — for years afterwards — melt my insides. “June nights! Seventeen! — Drink it in,” writes Arthur Rimbaud in Novel, a poem that will make a stone smile. I was heady with it. But also, I remember, I couldn’t stop talking. On the phone, in the bus, about everything.

Why would Preeti speak less? Lovers’ conversations are wonderful things. Both intense and idiotic, they can be as revealing, as denuding, as exhilarating as any first kiss. I was thrilled, long ago, to read that Samuel Beckett thought of writing Waiting for Godot as an intimate, absurd conversation while he was on a long car journey full of intimate, absurd conversations with his wife.

My cold having turned to fever, I took a Crocin and picked up a book — Normal People by Sally Rooney. I’ve been meaning to read this for months now, and I was halfway through before I knew it. The only reason I stopped reading was this interval-worthy scene: Marianne and Connell, the protagonists, have just shared an inexpressibly tender moment and Connell has just realised he can make Marianne happy; he touches her cheek, gently — and “has a terrible sense all of a sudden that he could hit her face, very hard even, and she would sit there and let him”. Connell does not, however, take this as proof of his true love; he does not see emotion there. In fact, the idea frightens him. “His hands are shaking. He doesn’t know why he thought about it. Maybe he wants to do it. But it makes him sick.”

Vanga is right, in a way: Love is power. Not just the surge of power from a feeling so deep it demands expression — a sudden crescendo, secret scribbles, these two lines by Sylvia Plath’s abusive husband, Ted Hughes, “Love you I do not say I do or might either / I come to you enforcedly —” but the power, also, of knowing that you are loved. That a whole other person has given themselves up to you. That Marianne will let you slap her. Or, like the titular, tragic character in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, she will cry, “Look, look what you have done to me. Do you think you could have done this if I did not love you? Is this what you should do to love?”

Love is power; and all power may be abused. Tum mere pass hote ho goya /Jab koi doosra naheen hota, writes the most romantic of Urdu poets Momin Khan Momin — ‘you are with me when I am utterly alone’. Two people can inflict terrible wounds on each other in such intense isolation, and it is no wonder that the promises lovers offer each other are not just avowals — ‘I love you, I love you’ — but also assurances — ‘I will never hurt you’. It’s the second promise that’s often harder to keep.

Remember, for example, the sheer horror of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — Edward Albee’s play about a husband and wife who exist only to taunt and humiliate each other? In the end, their secrets shattered, alone, the husband George sings the titular ‘song’ — a play on the children’s tune Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? — to his wife. “I am, George,” Martha replies, “I am.”

Kali and Ponna, the couple in Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman, are the very antithesis of George and Martha. Here, it’s the world that taunts the lovers — for being childless, for being so deeply, extravagantly satisfied in each other’s company — but their love doesn’t falter. And yet, as the novel ends, its lovers have arrived at a profound and terrible misunderstanding, and we are left not knowing how Kali will react. How angry, and how lasting, will be his revenge? Will he turn his anger upon himself, or upon his beloved?

In a strange way, Murugan’s wonderfully ambiguous ending is similar to Albee’s; both seem to cry out, in the face of plunging darkness, for a quality that is as essential to love as milk is to butter — not silence, not monogamy, but only a little kindness.

Parvati Sharma   -  BLink



Parvati Sharma is a Delhi-based writer and the author, most recently, of Jahangir: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Mughal

Published on July 26, 2019
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