By Manik Sharma Feb. 21, 2019
Like everyone else, I grew up watching films, reading books, and listening to stories that eulogised the “spark”, the firsts of love. “First meeting”, “first eye-contact”, “first kiss” and so on. How often to we give up on relationships because the elusive spark seems to be missing?
We sit, our legs crossed, under a Shami tree. Back then dates were chaste because privacy, like priesthood, had to be earned. In between staring at thin air, we are talking like robots, the flatness is so unmistakable. It is a feeling both quietly agree on, but do not express. We have known each other for years, and every time we think there must be more to us, it turns out there isn’t. After we part, we don’t talk for months.
Like everyone else, I grew up watching films, reading books, and listening to stories that eulogised the firsts of love. “First meeting”, “first eye-contact”, “first kiss” and so on. Each of these was in the aftermath, regarded as quantifiers for a vague indefinable feeling called the “spark”.
In The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje wrote, “New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything.” This has occupied the modern imagination as if it were a holy scripture. Smashing here probably refers to intense first encounters – quarrels, embarrassments, arguments, lust, and even the odd violent turn. Think of the many times Karan Johar’s heroes have fallen for women at first sight. Bollywood has mined this mania for generations with various iterations of “pehli nazar mein pyaar ho gaya”.
This near-sociopathic interpretation of attraction is still relevant today, albeit better dissected on shows like Netflix’s You where a man stalks and permeates the life of a woman he is obsessed with. Tinder is a technical manifestation of the first impression. Then there is the literary jargon that teaches you, “first impression is the last impression”.
This is not to say that first impressions aren’t educative, or cannot be decisive. But the language of our relationships has somehow come to be defined by goals, checkpoints, and anniversaries – conquests that are as numerically significant as they are emotionally hollow. Through my college years, I was daunted by the prospect of approaching women. Consigned to bear the burden of immediacy, my heart evaded friendships while my mind evaded love, all because I was bent on identifying at least one, unprepared to submit to the possibilities in between. On the off chance when I did not want to choose either, and take my time, I was forced to choose, anyway.
This is not to say that first impressions aren’t educative, or cannot be decisive.
Love is often a tedious thing to discuss, define, or dissect. It is, to me, a tragedy that, like a dead body, lies copiously unexamined in the cellars of our life, waiting to reveal itself as alive for as long as we have ourselves convinced that it is. And popular culture, with its focus on the firsts or seconds of a relationship, tries to tell us they count for more than the ones that follow.
There is always asymmetry to a relationship, a little jaggedness that people, over time, make space to accommodate – a process that begins after the elation of favourable first impressions. But pop culture says precious little about what follows. With the exception, most recently of Sairat, rarely have films admitted this dissonance with real life, the fact that most relationships last, not necessarily because they begin explosively, but because they, over time, learn to crackle every now and then.
Our minds, therefore, cultured to seek the sensational, naturally abandon the indistinguishable. We refuse to wait, are disinclined to invest, and eventually, like a moist summer draught, kiss the surface before moving on. But think about why our friendships last: Because they are not pressed in the search for a state of a presumably combustible existence.
Whatever love is, it surely isn’t something that can be regulated, measured or prescribed. It appears like a line skewering incomprehensibly across a page that yearns to derive from it some metric sense. Almost all our lives we spend trying to be that page, making sense of what that streak of light means or what that flash implies.
However, for love to last, or even be true, it need not be overwhelming. It need not be a spectacle. The curtains need not be on fire every night. Relationships that begin with a “spark” – physical, intellectual or emotional – have to dive through the same ocean of patience and wait, on the other side of which love is only as true as the length of the journey.
However, for love to last, or even be true, it need not be overwhelming.
I have grown older, regretting the ways I abandoned relationships that did not tick my boxes of preference, or those that I quit because they didn’t immediately respond to my demand for a feeling that had to be both urgent and exhausting. Over the years, I learned the beauty of simplicity, of doing precious little to coax, push, or help relationships qualify as one or the other. Because love, with time, overgrows the size of its many capsules, the heightened experiences we are taught to expect of it. It became, to me, the smooth passage of time, the gradual, seamless interlocking of paths without having to put a milestone where the two meet.
Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet is known for its tragic couple. But in the bard’s play there is also the unseen Rosaline, whose love Romeo demanded before falling for Juliet at first sight. I found Rosaline under the Shami tree – because we demanded nothing of each other.