Some years ago, a list of 36 questions from a study on intimacy became popular because of an essay on how these questions could make two people fall in love (its writer’s bio at the time said she was “working on a book about the dangers of love stories”). I would’ve liked to try that experiment, just as I would’ve liked to report my findings after serving Come F*** Me Penne à la Vodka, an urban legend aphrodisiac.
But to do either, one needs a willing participant. And those are few and far between.
Interestingly, of those 36 questions, four pertain to death – three of them, to imaginings of one’s own death. Let’s refer to an out-of-syllabus philosophical question: “If you could find out exactly how and when you will die, would you want to know?” Paraphrase it: “If you could find out exactly how and if you will find lasting love, would you want to know?”
Be careful before you say yes, because remember: death is an inevitability, but love is not. Do you know the boarding school horror story about a girl who saw a grotesque image in the mirror after performing an occult ritual meant to reveal her destined beloved? What if you peered into the future and found there was nothing to see? Or something that spins all you believe into disorder?
I’ve had my share of tarot cards turned over. I’ve watched pencils track planetary orbits on paper-charts. I’ve circumambulated shrines wearing garlands that turned to flower dust, as they waited without explanation for the one who did not come. Prosaically: I’ve held my heart open. I’ve wanted, I’ve wanted, I’ve wanted. I’ve waited. Were they lies or miscalculations, the things that did not transpire? What if someone had told me, at one cusp of questions or another, that they never would?
What if it happens now, at the next onslaught of yearning – that someone will fold my fingers over my fate lines and finally tell me the brutal truth? Would I want to know? Would you?
Or what if the truth was that the route ahead is sinuous; that one day, after long meandering, I’d come upon it, add it to my silvered strands, someone else’s children, the sweet tattoo of the scarlet letter, a bricolage of experience – a life so unlike what anyone expected? How would I choose to fill the years ahead if something was to reveal that the apportionment of time I will have with what I long for will be but a fraction of my life? How would I fill my “nothing”? Or is it better to not know, to hold hope that beyond each turn in the brambled growth is the fulcrum?
So be careful as you consider that question. And move delicately when another person shows you their own longing. Don’t tell them they will certainly find the love that they’re seeking. Don’t tell them it’s their fault that they haven’t. Don’t tell them that you know, because that’s a lie. Some lives fork into unmapped places, and are whole even so – even if, in some slants of starlight, something still tenderly aches.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 18th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.