I have a penchant for betting on the wrong horse. Each time I place a bet, it feels so right. ‘Yes, this is the one for me, he will ride with me to the land of dreams. Together we will build a world so enchanted that all woes will melt away. With the magic of our love, we will face all adversities no matter how tough. We will be there for each other and nothing will matter,’ so I thought when I encountered the young & sprightly horse on my way to the college.
The horse ambled on eagerly for a while. There was so much happiness in his gaze and energy in his gait, quite a stallion he was. I was sure that we were moving towards the happy land, where we would love each other forever. But one day the horse stopped. I pulled his main, but he shook his head and refused to budge. ‘Oh come, the land of happiness is not too far,’ I pleaded with all my love. He looked into my eyes, ‘Oh girl I don’t want to go to the magical realm of happiness with you. I was just enjoying the walk.’ ‘But you seemed so happy, and looked so eager,’ I asked puzzled. ‘I do enjoy your company, but did I ever tell you that I would walk with you to the happy land of ever after?’ asked my dear horse, sounding all confused. ‘I am sorry if I hurt your feelings,’ he said calmly and walked away.
With a heavy heart, I sat on the rampart that defined the path leading to the land of happily ever after, or so I thought. My legs felt like lead, I couldn’t walk for a while. I cried like a little girl who craved for the moon and was denied. ‘But I only wanted to make him so happy, the happiest horse that lived on this planet. Why couldn’t he see that, was my love not good enough?’ I wailed. Finally, I wiped my eyes dry, urged my heavy legs to walk along. ‘We will find the right horse,’ I told my wretched heart.
And sure enough, in the corner of the lane stood a horse nice and strong. He looked at me and smiled happily as if he was waiting for me eagerly. My heart jumped in joy; my feet felt light as a feather as I ran to him. The miseries of lost love were soon forgotten. We walked happily for a while; he would walk away now then but come back to me again. ‘Oh, he’s a free spirit, but he’s my horse nonetheless,’ I nodded happily, turning a deaf ear to all apprehensions.
One day as we walked along, my handsome horse after talking about this and that, told me that he didn’t believe in the realm happiness or happily ever after. I looked at him in daze, as if my worst fears were coming true. ‘But I can walk along with you, but no promises of ever after. Let’s enjoy the walk and leave things uncomplicated,’ he said as he fondly grazed my arm. ‘So be it, being happy in the moment is all that mattered,’ or I told myself. Happy we were for a while. My horse would wander away for days and come back whenever it pleased him, my questions irked him, he would just brush them off.
Distraught by his frequent vanishing act, one day I decided to venture into a different terrain and walk away from him. He was upset, ‘we were doing just fine.’ ‘No, you were doing fine, while I was only pretending to be fine. Too scared of losing you, of being alone, I was clinging on to the shreds of love and affection that you would carelessly toss my way whenever it pleased you. I can’t fool myself any longer, I will take a different path from here on.’
My heart bled, my legs were heavy, but this time I wiped away my tears, held my head high and walked away. ‘I will find my own happy land, I don’t need another horse,’ I told myself. I walked for miles and entered the happy land. The chirping birds and the blooming flower healed my heart. My happy feet pranced again like a little girl. ‘Ah, here I am, and I don’t need a stallion,’ sang my heart as I walked to the coffee shop.
There, at the door of the coffee shop stood a horse, a handsome stallion. He looked at me with eager eyes. ‘Care for a coffee,’ he asked. It’s just a cup of coffee I thought and walked with him to the coffee ship. Soon I was enamoured by his charm and decided to walk along with this fine horse to the land unknown. The horse was hesitant initially, but his gait gained confidence with time. There were hurdles on the way, but together we walked on. ‘I love you so much, like I have never loved anyone before,’ said my horse making my heart flutter with joy. Dizzy with love I rode along, ‘Finally, I find my horse,’ I cried out in joy.
But one day, my handsome stallion shook me off his back and rode away. The sudden fall stunned me, broke my heart into million pieces. Numbed, I sat by the road and stared blankly at my many shattered dreams and promises, and pieces of my once so happy heart. As I pulled myself up and started picking up the fragments, the horse walked back and stood next to me wearing a brooding melancholic look. Angrily I looked at him, picked up the biggest piece of my disappointment and flung it at him. He shuddered and then held my hand gently and said in a sad soft voice, “It’s not just you, I broke my heart too. Amongst these pieces scattered are my dreams, my hopes, my despair, my love for you, and the dark pieces of my fears and uncertainties. Let’s pick up the pieces together and string a tale of love and its many woes. We know not where the road leads us, let’s figure as we walk along!”
Love, the ever elusive, the ever unfathomable love. While Robert Burn’s love’s ‘like red, red rose/ that’s newly sprung in June,” Lord Byron’s lady love “walks in beauty like the night/ of cloudless climes and starry skies/ and all that’s best of dark and bright/ meet in her aspect and her eyes.”
We are crazy in love, utterly happy in love. Love inspires us, love makes us do silly stupid things. Love wins us wars; we give up kingdom for love. And when love hurts, it’s as if our world’s falling apart. We are lovelorn, love stuck, lovesick, love makes the butterflies flutter and the little birds’ twitter. So much has been written about love, unforgettable poems, plays and brilliant epics. Love has been translated into beautiful and timeless art, giving us many master pieces. While poets’ and writers’ string enamouring, melancholic tales of love, trying to unravel the mystery that’s love, scientists have come up with a perfectly rational explanation for this very irrational emotion. And believe it or not heart has got nothing to do with it!
According to an article that appeared some time back in The Harvard Gazette – When love and science double date – Love turns on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is known to stimulate the brain’s pleasure centres. The serotonin levels in our brain drops when we set sight on the ones we love, adding a dash of obsession and leading to crazy, pleasing, stupefied, urgent love or infatuation.
Even different phases of love can be scientifically explained though it’s fairly complex, admits even the scientifically minded. Richard Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS), who has built a career around studying love, hate, indifference, and other emotions, says that during the first love-year, serotonin levels gradually return to normal, and the “stupid” and “obsessive” aspects of the condition moderate. The first flush of love is followed by increase in the hormone oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with a calmer and more mature love. Despite what poets or philosophers may say, it is this chemical oxytocin that helps cement bonds, raises immune function, and begin to confer the health benefits found in married couples, who tend to live longer, have fewer strokes and heart attacks, be less depressed, and have higher survival rates from major surgery and cancer.
So much for scientifically explaining love. The complex emotion may be triggered by various chemicals in our brain, it still makes our heart skip a beat and the butterflies flutter in our stomach when our eyes meet the ones we love. The bitter-sweet ache of love is something that brain can never really figure out. I have often wished I could be wiser in love, but surprisingly the very brain that triggers the emotion refuses to pay any heed. Such is our rationally irrational love, an enigma that none can unravel!
Love is probably one of the most complex and endearing emotions! Love has been driving us since time immemorial. What haven’t we done for love? We have been silly, we have been brave, we have embarrassed ourselves, we have been petty, we have been generous, we have given it our all. No matter how badly we break our hearts, no matter how badly it hurts we manage to pick ourselves up. For, it is great to be in love, even if the subject of our love may not love us back with as much ardour.
Falling in love! The first sight, the touch, the melody or that sound that stirs our emotion. When Romeo set eyes on Juliet or Ranjha on Heer, great love stories were made. Radha was drawn by the melody of Krishna’s flute. One image that made quite an impression on me is that of a young horse rider on a tempestuous night who seeks refuge in an old temple, encounters a beautiful maiden Tilottama there and loses his heart to her. This has been beautifully portrayed in the opening chapter of Durgeshnandini, an acclaimed Bengali historical romance by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. While reading the novel as a teenager I wanted to be Tillomatta, to be loved and won over by the protagonist Jagat Singh.
The trepidation of falling in love has been so lyrically depicted by Rabindranath Tagore:
With the slightest touch and a few words / I sense the spring in my heart.
The addiction of Palash and Champa/ Leaves me reeling with the colors and tune of the spring.
Whatever comes close to my mind intermittently/ Paints the corners of it with dreams.
Swells the tune of anxiety whenever they drift far away/ I am left reeling all day with their sweet sounds like anklet rings.
From old temples and gardens, love moved to college campuses. In fifties and sixties, co-ed colleges helped cupid in scripting many a tales of love. The love stories then often started in a formal note as boys and girls rarely interacted with each other in those days. “During our college days girls would enter the class with the professor and would leave as soon as the professor walked out. We would address them as Miss,” recounts my dad. Yet so many of his friends married their college sweethearts.
Soon the magic of love melted away the formality and the stiffness. Love blossomed in college campuses and canteens. Office romance flourished. In college I would love to hang out in the canteen over coffee and samosas to be with the boy I fancied or just witness other love stories around me. Hanging out in the library together, walking hand in hand under starlit sky are some memories I will cherish forever. Though it’s those moments that matter now, the person seems to have faded in the background.
The bittersweet pangs of love! The wait for a letter or one brief phone call. Long distance calls were expensive then and telephone was kept in the drawing room ensuring that there was no privacy. Though the digital age away did away with letters and brought people closer in one sense, the pangs of love remain, or seem to have become more complicated.
Love sauntered from colleges to high schools, wandered around theatres, clubs and pubs, sometimes surprised us in lifts or corridors. One fine day, love decided to take the digital route. From college canteen and office parties dating moved online. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and the rest brought the world to love’s feet. You could fall in love with anyone now, sitting in any corner of the world. Love letters gave way to chatting apps. At one time there were occasional tales of pen pals falling in love. Now there are so many tales of online love, many ending in heart breaks. Paradoxically enough, the digital world that brough us closer has also driven us apart. The endless chats and smart emojis come at the cost of real conversation. The digital persona often masks the real person creating a split.
Sometimes I say too much
Sometimes I say too less
Sometimes I am too verbose
Sometimes I am at a loss of words
I never know what’s the right way to tell you ‘I love you so much’
I love you so much, sometimes it scares me
Sometimes it gives me strength
Sometimes it fills me with unbridled passion and happiness
Sometimes it makes me miserable
Loving you, wanting you, the fear of losing you…
Sometimes I am convinced things will work out for the best
And we will walk hand in hand into the ‘happily ever after’, wherever that elusive land is…
Urmi was looking out of her bedroom window, sipping coffee. This was her favourite part of the day when the fading daylight brushes past night, soft darkness envelopes the world. Today being a Saturday, she had the luxury of enjoying the enigmatic twilight hours. Urmi hadn’t switched on the lights yet, she was enjoying the soft kiss of semi-darkness. In the quiet of the evening, her mind kept wandering back to her breakfast with Manju masi and her alarm on learning that Urmi has turned 42 this year. “And you are still single? Who will marry you now, some sad divorcee? What about children?”, Urmi was amused by her exclamation. Manju masi kept shaking her head as if Urmi has been hit by some grave misfortune. “You are pretty enough, why couldn’t you find a husband,” she said again pouring Urmi her second cup of tea. “I am happy on my own Manju masi,” said Urmi smiling trying to put an end to the discussion. Next Manju masi would try to pair her with all the single men in 40s she could think of, and Urmi dreaded that. She knew it was futile trying to tell her that she wasn’t looking for a husband, it’s smarter to change the topic.
She took out the saree that her mom had sent for Manju Masi as her birthday gift, Dhakai jamdani purchased from the weavers. Urmi’s mom and Manu masi grew up together, they were best of friends. While her mom got married soon after college, Manju Masi having suddenly lost her dad was burdened with the responsibility of her family. She took up a job in a school for the sake of her younger siblings. Once they grew up and got married, Manju Masi was left all alone. She was almost 40 by then, too late for her to get married in those days. A few decades back 40s was almost the end of all good things in life, definitely the end of love and romance. Urmi’s mom had always stayed in touch with Manju Masi, she often lamented the fact that her selfish siblings didn’t bother to help her find a husband.
As Urmi looked at Manju Masi she felt sorry for the lonely life that she has been leading for the last 30 years. She felt fortunate to be living in a time when she could script a bold new story in her 40s. While Manju Masi and her likes were termed as spinsters in their 40s (middle-aged single women with no prospect of marriage), Urmi, on the other hand, has never felt more desirable. Some years back, she did struggle with the fact that she was nearing 40 and her love life was going nowhere. The constant reminders from her mom and aunts that her biological clock was ticking didn’t really help. Finally, she told her mom firmly that she couldn’t get married just for the sake of getting married and having children was not be all and end all of a girl’s life. Liberated from the constant pressure of marriage and motherhood, she walked confidently into her 40s – happy, successful and brimming with confidence. The world has started embracing the change and lauding the new-found self-assurance of the 40s. Urmi learned to ignore those who didn’t, they didn’t really bother her.
“Look at me Urmi. Living alone for all these years has not been easy,” lamented Manju masi. Urmi wasn’t sure how to tell her she didn’t feel alone; she was quite happy and content with her life. Male attention has never been a problem for Urmi. When she was young, she has loved in earnest and broken her heart more than once. Love was more platonic then, holding hands, a few kisses at the most. Looking back, she sometimes wishes she was bolder then but those few stealthy kisses had their own charm. She remembers her first love that was meant to last forever. For when we are young, we believe in one true love and when that ends it hurts like hell. She has been hurt, lonely and sad. There were times when she would be gripped with fear and anxiety that she would probably be all alone for the rest of her life. In her quest for the perfect man, she made so many mistakes.
But the 40s were strangely liberating. They liberated her from the quest of marriage and motherhood. She was confident enough to pursue bold relationships, she could enjoy sex and intimacy without moral compunctions. She realized it was possible to have a beautiful relationship where marriage was not the prerequisite. With years, Urmi has gained the maturity and the poise to be in a relationship in her own terms without bothering about the societal norms. She has learned to love herself and value her space and privacy. She did feel lucky to have come across a man who complements her, be there for her while respecting each other’s space.
Relationships at each stage have their own set of challenges. In her 40s it was more about accepting each other and respecting each other for the way they are. Romance is more mature now, it’s more about enjoying the companionship, without unnecessarily fretting about the future. Surer of herself, Urmi knows she can deal with the future as it comes along.
Tanya got off the car and rushed towards the coffee shop. It was drizzling, winter rains, she was walking as fast as she could to avoid getting drenched. When she reached the covered porch she stopped, took a breath and tried to calm herself. “Maybe I should have cancelled this”, she thought. “It’ll take me ages to drive back in the rains, and all this for a Tinder date.” She ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed her jacket and started walking slowly towards the coffee shop.
Confident, happy and single Tanya logged on to Tinder sometime back, maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of loneliness, maybe it was a bit of both. She has been in love before, has broken her heart, she still believes in love and could be hopelessly romantic at times. Though her romantic quests didn’t go the way she had hoped, Tanya was a positive and a happy woman, doing well in her job, popular with her friends. She had pushed back all thoughts of love for a while and seemed to be doing a good job of it. Then, one Sunday afternoon, while flipping through TV channels to kill time, she was suddenly gripped by loneliness and boredom. Her friends, most of whom are married, were caught up with their family or in some other errand. “Maybe I should try Tinder,” she thought, “who knows maybe there are interesting men out there.”
She downloaded Tinder on a whim and started swiping right and left. To her surprise, she matched with every man she fancied, and all of whom seemed eager to meet her and take things forward. The initial response was overwhelming and exhilarating, ‘maybe I will meet someone nice here,’ she thought. She was not unattractive she knew, but the men out there made her feel like a beauty queen. Her optimism, however, was short lived, when most of her tinder matches seemed to be only interested in sex or one-night stands. Some of them were married as well, looking for ‘a true friend.’ “I was really naïve,” she thought “to think dating still meant coffee, good conversations and sweet romance. Holding hands and walking in the moonlit nights, like college times.”
As she was about to delete the Tinder app, the message notification blinked, “How about coffee on Monday?” asked an almost forgotten Tinder match, Abir. “Well one coffee shouldn’t hurt,” thought Tanya. “Fine, let’s meet at 7,” she wrote.
When Tanya stepped out of office that Monday evening it was drizzling, and she had a good mind to call off her Tinder date. “It’s too late for that now, it would be rude,” she thought, as she drove to meet Abir on a rainy December night.
As Tanya, walked towards the coffee shop, she found Abir waiting for her outside, he came forward and shook her hands warmly. By the time they sat down they were already talking, like they have known each other for a while. They talked endlessly for hours, till Tanya realized it was late and she had to get back home. Traffic was crazy on the way back, but she didn’t mind. There was something about Abir that was so different from the all the men who cross her path, on Tinder or otherwise. He was sweet, charming, polite, a little shy and seemed genuinely interested in knowing her.
So, they kept meeting and talking and before they knew they were dating. “Watch out,” her friends warned, “not so fast. You met him on Tinder, at best he’s looking for a casual fling.” Tanya took a step back only to realize that they were both drawn to each other hopelessly and there was no looking back. Neither Tanya nor Abir had thought that they would find something so beautiful on Tinder, so they plunged right into it – into a journey of love, friendship and companionship!