Monday, April 6, 2020

Love - Then and Now - An Essay by Shobhs

Now, this is an essay by Shobhs. Both of us had written for a publication of modern desi love stories last year and both got rejected. But the good thing was that we got to write these stories/essays. With her permission, I am sharing her story too.

- Shobha Nargundkar

I loved the idea of being in love. However, I never really gave it much thought until I actually fell in love. I wasn’t really seeking it or missing it until it happened. I used to read M&Bs in high school (they were not as explicit as they are now, but were quite descriptive for those times – they were mostly about being romantic). So I enjoyed the idea of romance, chivalry and happily ever after etc., but I never had any dreams about a prince and a fairy tale end to my romantic life.

I was less than average height then (and now!) and thin and small (not now!) and ordinary looking – colour, features etc. When people really wanted to find something about my appearance that they could appreciate they said – you have a lovely smile. Another even tried – your eyebrows are shapely! I therefore had no illusions about my looks and other physical attributes and had no dreams of being whisked away into the sunset. (Probably because the M&Bs and the movies tell you that you need to look a certain way for that to happen!)

When I was doing my undergraduate course and lived in the college hostel, I would see girls sneaking out to meet ‘boys’ from the Medical College hostel next door or elsewhere. For the longest time I was not even aware of these things happening. When my friends started going out too (without telling me usually) I got a little curious and felt a little left out of things then maybe. I assume it was my prudishness (or total lack of awareness of the goings on between the opposite sexes) that stopped them from sharing their romantic exploits with me.

Life went on as usual for me, unromantic, prudish, no ambition, nothing.  I would have probably died a spinster if I didn’t overhear some family friends casually talking about my marriage prospects to my parents – how about this guy etc. I was suddenly wide awake from my slumber –brought back to reality with a thud! I was so removed from reality until then that the thought of an intimate relationship or marriage had never even crossed my mind. I thought of myself as an asexual being until then. It was probably my psychological defense mechanism in response to my past experiences at school. I remember feeling shame and humiliation around the gossip that went around in school about me and a classmate of mine (totally untrue and unnecessary). I remember another time I was condemned by family without giving me a hearing and making me wrong for being close to a cousin. It was a humiliating and scary experience. I must have subconsciously decided relationships with the opposite sex were best avoided if I needed to survive and be accepted. So I was happy in my asexual and unromantic world (except in the books and movies) far removed from reality.

In that state of mind, I was shocked to say the least when I heard this marriage talk! Me? Marriage? Arranged? Tea party? How embarrassing …even more so if I was rejected! Which most likely I would be! Since I didn’t check any of the boxes in the arranged marriage qualification lists (for girls) of the day – fair, tall, good looking, homely etc., etc.

And so to avoid any ‘marriage’ to an unknown bloke I announced that I wanted to do an MBA. (Education was always considered an asset in my family, and so I used it to get out of this situation!).  Nobody thought (not even me) that I should or could get into an IIM, the premier management institutes at the time. My main goal was to get out of the house and stay in hostel – Osmania MBA was the answer. I applied, prepared from some guide books and made it through the entrance easily – Yay! I got away and moved to Hyderabad again. This time to the Ladies Hostel on the Osmania University campus! Bang in the middle of the University campus and next door to the MBA College.
After high school, MBA was going to be my first co-ed experience and I was afraid of being ragged and a little nervous. My good friend from school days Rithu was in the hostel with me (she was pursuing her engineering). She sensed my nervousness and took it upon herself to ease my journey into this big, bad, male-dominated campus and college! Bless her!

She came with me to my college to drop me on the first day (like a parent dropping a kid off on the first day of school – although I didn’t think that ever happened with me and my parents!) and introduced me to a good friend of hers from engineering who had also joined MBA. And told him to ‘take care’ of me or else!

And that was when I met my future husband (didn’t figure that for a long time after that though). Obviously wasn’t love at first sight – we both had a good 20/20 eyesight back then! I was just glad I knew someone in this big bad world of MBA, I imagined it to be. (Turned out it wasn’t so bad after all, or was it because I was a ‘friend’ of ‘Harry’ that I got all their respect!

Anyway MBA was a lot of fun and games mostly as I remember it - a few classes attended, tea breaks in the corridors – which was the main hangout when you were not in class or in the TT room. Everyone generally hung out there chatting, having chai, making plans for later and going back to our respective homes or hostels.

A bunch of us usually hung out together and went out most of the time. No one had any money and usual lunchtime was at Arts College canteen or hostel (I don’t remember eating lunch there much…what was I doing?)

Harimohan, as he was mostly referred to by my friend Rithu, was in a different section and quite busy with playing high level cricket and other commitments those days (including girlfriends). He was tall, dark and handsome and quite charming and made everyone feel important and special (realized that part too late!)

So as we got to know each other more in those corridors, canteens and TT rooms etc, we became good friends and hung out with a bunch of friends, mostly his friends, who were now mine too (what happened to my friends?). Our college trips to picturesque NAARM for pre-placement training and another to Pune for an Inter-College festival helped in getting to know each other outside the college space.

Somewhere along he was single and unattached again and I was there being his friend. He was busy again with his cricket and then with a job he had to join while still in college, and needed help (!) with studies (could he have done it on his own? Probably! Point is, I was there! I was always there and wanting to be there for him (was it my need? Or love? Or  Destiny?).

Something had changed. For me.

There was no dating or any sort of commitment yet, nothing spoken, nothing exclusive and nothing had changed for him. He still had his girl friends who he liked to date and it used to kill me every time he dressed up, splashed on his after shave (probably gifted by his girlfriend) and looked so excited about going out with a pretty girl. Why was I jealous? In so much pain? Was that love? Does jealousy, insecurity, not enough, mean you are in love?

I was trying hard to be this sensible, practical person (that was my image then and to some extent even now – that gave me a lot of grief) that people thought I was and so wasn’t someone who could get emotional about such stuff. So I tried, but I was hopelessly in love in the sense that I wanted to spend all my time with him alone or in a group and missed him when I wasn’t.  I don’t know how he put up with it, with me! Was he blind? Or just a nice guy who didn’t want to hurt anyone? Or could it be that he was a little bit in love himself? Was it possible he could see something in me that even I couldn’t? How was it possible after the beautiful and attractive people of the opposite sex he was used to going out with?

And on and on my inner war of thoughts went. I was happy to be with him and that was obvious to anyone who cared to see. And so life went on.  College was over and he was away from Hyderabad working and I got a job too. We kept in touch -it took a lot of commitment those days to keep in touch- phones were landlines and STD booths then- and met whenever we could, once every 3 months or so.

The turning point for me came when he was dropping me one day to the station and I was sitting behind on the scooter and feeling sad about going away and he gently reached out and took my hand in his -as if to reassure me that he was there for me- and in that moment I knew.

I don’t know how I knew. I just in that moment knew that there is a future together somewhere, that it was what was meant to be, that it may not always be easy, and that there would be a lot of love and a lot of ease.

And soon enough, we were a couple (in case we or anyone else had doubts before).

And we went about figuring out life and livelihood and ‘settling down’ ideas in different cities, doing jobs for money, living away from each other and family for secure jobs until it was clear that being together and with family (for him) was what the heart wanted and not some silly jobs at the other end of the country. Was that romantic? Or stupid? Depends on the perspective, I guess. Turned out we were both romantics at heart and didn’t prioritize material success over relationships.

And so we moved back to Hyderabad and soon after decided to marry. (Again, it was only to make life easier for everyone else and society…we would probably have been happy not to).  And here we are 24 years later, with some definitions of love changing along the way.

Now it is more settled, with more space for self and the other, less manipulation and control, less of co-dependency, more free and expansive. We have had our ups and downs and I am grateful for that as it pushed me to spiritual pursuits which ultimately led me to an area of work that finally felt right for me. I never fit in the real world and had no clue what to do about it.

Perhaps it also taught me what love really is and how it has helped us grow, how it makes life more beautiful. 

Without this gentle person in my life to nudge me along, and always find something good to say to me even in my worst phases I wouldn’t be here writing this now! I found my love and I hope he did too!

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