(As we look for inspiration in the lead up to 2020, a politician just educated us on the power of vulnerability. Yes, you read that right. Politicians have feelings. And when they don’t have to be “politically correct”, they do a pretty perfect job expressing them. Sanjay Jha gives us a Rant that’s undiluted (by him or us). And love’s got everything to do with it. Drop that veil before you read this…or you will anyway after…)
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
By Sanjay Jha
I had just entered my teens when Rajnigandha (the classic Hindi, before being christened Bollywood, film happened); a charming story of the India of those times in 1974 when the baby boomers were serenading sunshine even as the world was in the midst of the disruptive OPEC oil price crisis, a political agitation threatened the Indira Gandhi government, Cold War was periodically disrupting world peace and there was no Tinder. So why Rajnigandha? Because it manifested love worn on the sleeve, shoulders and the forehead juxtaposed against an irrational adamantine symbol of inexpressiveness. And the reluctance of admitting vulnerability. Let me elaborate.
In the times we grew up in there was no concept of “dating” as we understand it today, because the ultimate thrill was just that one stolen lingering glance that created a galactic revolution in the palpitating heart. There was a waiting list of 10 years for a black instrument that was the ultimate glitterati status symbol; the landline phone. But very few had it, or just one had it, so communication was restricted to a mere blush or a fumbling hello. And then there was of course the intimidating hulk of the big daddy, a much pilloried character because mostly he was in a desperate hurry to get his precious daughter married to an IAS officer, a doctor or an engineer. There was no other middling profession that had respectability or monetary equivalence attached to it by comparison. Working in the private sector was considered to be a meek submission to human bondage to the vampire capitalist class for a few pennies more for permanent slavery. It is important to understand this societal context to understand Rajnigandha. We were an extraordinarily socially awkward lot, profusely embarrassed about telling the world what we felt.
In Rajnigandha, the principal protagonist Deepa finds herself getting attracted to her reticent, reclusive former lover Navin all over again, desperately longing for his romantic affirmation, his indulgence, his courting. As Kai Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai plays in the background as they sit by side in the Premier Padmini taxi, her sari involuntarily, almost teasingly flirting with his hands, Navin chooses fictitious nonchalance, quashing his feelings for fear of appearing too eager. He feigns indifference letting the cigarette smoke cloud his dark glares, concealing his countenance. She looks at him repeatedly with expectation, hoping to be assuaged, assured. But the pensive lover chooses to be a loner. The moment, transient as it were, passes, and Deepa returns home only to find her current beau Sanjay, as exuberant as a puppy with two tails, unabashedly infatuated with her, and copiously voluble in telling her about it. The strains of uncertainty dissipate and she recognizes that love needs to have unrestrained extravagance about it, and not be frozen in a piggybank. Sanjay’s luminous vulnerability triumphs over Navin’s contrived disinclination to let go of his feelings.
We now live in a world of digital matchmaking and relationship rubrics such as “Friends with Benefits”, and several other equally complicated acronyms such as PXR ‘s (pre-exclusive relationships). “I love you” has been reduced to an arithmetical abbreviation, 143. Pretty ingenious I had say, almost akin to a police helpline number. In this rapidly experimenting quagmire of sexual politics, love has become like a conspiratorial stratagem or a cunning chess game played out with methodical entrapment as its cornerstone, with every emoji or text message a manifestation of the evolving relationship status. What is at loss is spontaneity or the unbridled free- flowing conversation that cannot be digitally stored. Love is a memory rekindled with a thought, not an upward scroll over a timeline, archived in a computer cloud.
I read recently that more than 50% of modern-day relationships are being initially forged online with many even reaching the nuptials stage. Maybe it works in the millennial generation where everything must now be necessarily verifiable with an internet footprint, but this also signifies the death of the most delirious, hypnotic and rhapsodic period of romance, the susceptible and swoon phase, often called as Cloud 9. When two people evince interest on Tinder, I assume they have established preferences already, and are ready to “negotiate” terms for a further advancement of the virtual introductions. It is like running a 100meter race straight at the Olympics without the sweat, grind, trials and tribulations, anguish and pain, and loss even during the four years in preparation. Would we remember Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay if they were dropped atop Mount Everest by a helicopter? The absence of vulnerability, the fear of rejection, that missing gnawing feeling of incertitude, frankly makes digital romance like cookie- cutter airline meals; insipid, uninspiring and often saturnine. Love once meant unconditional sublime surrender; it now appears to be like a gladiatorial contest for material acquisition. What we are seeing is what a more sardonic puritan of the Rajnigandha Age would call the commercialization of love, a transactional exchange that makes Mark Zuckerberg a richer man.
Tina Turner famously sang What’s love got to do with it, where she called love “a second hand emotion”. But it was still not an algorithm measured in bytes, plastered with a personal menu card –like profile with dazzling credentials and a six-abs pack body ready for a dalliance, sans the courting, saying: “Love Me, Tinder”. Once they used to say, love me tender.
(Art by Saurabh Turakhia)
(The author is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party and Executive Director of Dale Carnegie. The views on love and everything else are his own.)