A Writing God

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. — Mother Teresa

Pix by SM

If You Forget Me

But if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me

with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower

climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,

my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Pablo Neruda

It’s funny that I was thinking of this poem and the time I read it at a friend’s wedding, because I just found out it’s their 3 year anniversary today. (Hugs to you both). The rest of the poem is here.

The Venus Flytrap: No Love In This Democracy

At their most basic, our survival needs have at least three components: food, shelter and love. The first and second are physical necessities. The third appears almost as a technical error – in no medical book will you find a prescription for causing or curing love. Yet, we know it is possible to die of heartbreak, even literally. It is the alchemy that makes the distinction between a life lived and one that is merely survived.

If Love is God, as some like to say, then it is equally contentious. Whose business is love? If recent reports are anything to go by, it is strictly under the jurisdiction of state and society. Consider two incidents in Tamil Nadu that made headlines in late May. An eloping couple in their 20s were forcibly separated with no less than the intervention of political parties. Two women, both around 40, committed suicide out of shame over their “unnatural” relationship; in an ironic twist, their families chose to cremate them together, giving them in death what was so mercilessly denied them in life.

This preoccupation with telling people how to conduct their most intimate relationships is deeply unhealthy. To enforce discipline on teenagers is one thing. To persecute adults for following their hearts is another, a malaise that reveals deep prejudices against fundamental freedoms. We live in a version of democracy which allows adults to vote for their leaders, but not for their lovers.

Race, age, gender, religion, caste, location, affluence and incompatible horoscopes have served to keep people apart not for their own good, but for the good of a system that refuses to evolve. What disturbs me is how many people continue to adhere to these codes willingly. I see shades of this mental servility even among the most intelligent people I know.

That onlookers fear love is disheartening and challenging; that those in love fear their own love is downright disillusioning.

Those who raise, erroneously, the flags of tradition and culture should consider this 2000 year old poem by Cempulappeyanirar, brought from the Sangam age to our Anglicized ears by the genius of A.K. Ramanujan. Way back in the glory days of Tamil culture, this is what was seen, sung about, surrendered to:

What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain.

There, in a nutshell, is all I think I will ever need to know about life, and love. You love who you love. The end.

The most enduring romance I know of is between a beautiful artist in her 30s and someone twice her age, whose son she had gone to school with. When he dies, she does not know whether she will be permitted to go to his funeral. Theirs is a portmanteau love, patched together between countries and children from other marriages and the steadying force that has kept them together through years. It is a relationship that inspires me, one that shows courage. It is a relationship that sees the daggers, feels the fear, and takes the leap anyway.

Not all of us are so lucky as to find the ones who are made for us, cut from the same cloth of the soul. But those who do, do. It’s as simple as that. You love who you love. And the rest be damned, then? But here’s the thing: there is no rest, not really. No social construct, legal diktat or political enemy that cannot be dismantled. As cheesy as it sounds, love is all there is, and the rest is just window dressing.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Solo In The City

I am not Carrie Bradshaw, and Lady help anyone who thinks so (for the record, the glorious Samantha, the most soulful maneater in the recent history of female iconography, is my favourite). But among the many moments of Sex and the City that struck a chord in me in spite of its protagonist was the occasion when she realized that perhaps, if we’re all destined for only one great love in this life, New York City was hers.

What does it mean, to have an affair with a city? To be lonely in a way so profound that one speaks to it, feels it under her skin?

I’ve known different types of loneliness in different cities, just as I’ve been different selves in them. But never, nowhere, have I had the kind of erratic, love-hate, impossible relationship to a place the way I do with Madras.

This is not the city in which the pivotal moments of my adolescence played out. Its highways, its bars, its boutiques have not been background sets to my life the way other surroundings have. This is the city that once put me on emergency antidepressants, devastated me in other ways at other times. But it is the city in which I am today, and will be tomorrow. It is the city I cannot run from, and I’ve long acknowledged my surrender.

Among other places I’ve called homes, there are two about which I still dream. One of them is lost to me in practical, bald ways: the tyranny of immigration. In those dreams, I am wistful for a life that I possessed fully, irreplaceably. The other still lies open, like a day I can simply walk into, if I so choose. For months I thought I wanted this second city. I knew myself in it so well.

But I am still here. Still here loving every single auto ride. Thinking of her, my naked city, bereft of hoardings now, as a girl stripped of her jewellery, suddenly bare of everything but her dimples. I’ve written elsewhere about this affair – how even my birth here was accidental, how my last long residence was equally fortuitous, how I wound up back here again against what felt like the wishes of every cell in my body. I have called her mistress and muse in different breaths.

I am alone in this city though there are people I live with and people I speak to. I am alone in this city in an absence of love – an absence into which the city decants herself perfectly. I am alone with this city, perhaps, like that Red Hot Chilli Peppers song.

A friend told me last year how in every hotel room he occupies, he leaves his footwear facing opposite directions. It’s a sign to the spirits, he said, that one is there only temporarily, and will not cause trouble. In the seven months that I’ve been in Chennai again, I’ve been following this advice, as though to invoke the energies of dislocation once more. I won’t be here long. I won’t cause trouble.

Today, for the first time, I placed left and right shoe facing the same direction. For whatever it is worth, for whatever this affair will amount to, I will ride it out. At the end of this, when we come to it, she will have beaten me to a pulp again. Surely. That is her nature. And it is mine to succumb to her.

For if there is one thing I have learnt, it is that the way forward is truly, truly only possible with all the epic, luminous ache of a broken heart.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Infidelity Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Infidelity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The lines we draw and how we negotiate them are all that varies between who we think we are and what we could be capable of. We are all that person.

What wounds me most may be nothing to you; what devastates you may be a mere trifle to me. The trick lies somewhere between hopscotching around the bare nerves in the battlefield of relationships and pretending they don’t exist, or subverting them altogether.

The old rules didn’t work. Women wept, men slept (around). No one asked, no one told. But no one needs that anymore. We are each more independent as individuals today than we have been throughout civilization. Nothing high-maintenance makes it, only that which is straightforward and obvious in its function survives. The single exception to this rule is love.

But what constitutes cheating? It varies from couple to couple, from context to context. The man in the sexless marriage who stays with his wife for the sake of his child but keeps a bachelor pad is no worse than the woman who claims eternal devotion to her boyfriend but has intense emotional affairs with other people. The loving gay couple with the everything-but-the-kiss rule may be truer and more loyal to one another than the anything-but-the-physical rule so many relationships abide by.

Our moral spectrums are like rubber bands. We believe they hold things together, but it shocks us how much they can accommodate. Circumstance and opportunity bend us, reshape us, twist up all we know of ourselves and deliver us – changed but wholly the same.

And yes, we have all seen it – the way the heart shatters, the jealousy, the rumours, the tragedy. We’ve had it done to us, we’ve watched it unfold its heartbreak within our families and the lives of our friends. We believe it is the worst thing anyone could do, a crime against love, the deadliest sin. And then we do.

And then know, in a way we never knew before, a way in which we never dared to know ourselves before: loyalty is not about what one does with one’s body. It’s about what one does with one’s mind.

Once, I knew a man who thought he could believe in an open relationship only in theory, never in practice. Once, I knew a woman who thought she would never be with anyone but him. Today they live in separate countries, and she is Leonard Cohen’s Gypsy Wife. And who he is, whether he too climbs the table in that dark, dangerous café, or remains on the threshing floor with an arm raised for the bride’s bouquet, she does not dare to ask now.

And so what? If that to them is the only way they know how to love (themselves, one another, others), then leave them to it. I’m with the writer Lisa Carver on this one: “We need the guilt, the mystery, the corrosion of our heart and its rebirth.” I can’t speak for the man I once knew, but I know his gypsy wife does.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

Eternal Love

Read this. If so brief an extract makes me weep, I wonder what the whole book will do.

I hope it’s published in English soon. (via Zigzackly)

Measuring Desire

I came across this fascinating found art project, Lovelines. The idea is to gather random information from blogs and other personal Internet sources, and place them on a scale between love and hate. The information in question relates to statements having to do with varying degrees of love and hate, pared down to the crucial. Updated every few minutes, the visitor gets to take the pulse of what people out there in the cybersphere are sharing at the time about their wants, needs, repulsions, hopes.

Like the addictive, often profound, Postsecret, these decontextualized statements have an interesting effect. For instance, I dragged the heart to “hate” and found: “I hate dates to a degree but in a sense am made up entirely of dates”, posted by a female. Immediately, I wondered, was that the confession of somebody whose social calendar is filled with what others’ expected her to do, or the musings of someone addicted to serial monogamy in a really masochistic way?

Neither, as it turned out. The person really was talking about dates. As in time.

There’s something very voyeuristic about the whole project. I think the trick is to not click through and find out what the rest of any statement means, just as I would personally not want to meet the person behind a postcard at PS. The pathos is in the blanks, in what the imagination comes up with. Seems like a great tool for those who use writing prompts.

Before publishing this post, I went back to drag the heart (you’ll see, when you get there) one more time.

“I love this whip,” wrote a male, three minutes ago.

Hmm.