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On love

  • Published at 10:18 pm July 7th, 2017
  • Last updated at 10:16 am July 8th, 2017
On love
By the time I had reached a certain age, I realised that I had never fallen in love with a person. What I invariably seemed to fall in love with were, in fact, not people, but the stories that led me to them. The first story was of me, misunderstood and frail, alone in the world, waiting to be saved. There came on a hot August evening the cool breath of an angel. Someone who would come to me, be a witness to my imperfections, flip them around and say, "Yes, I understand." This understanding would negate the misery with which my existence had thus far suffered from. From the never-spoken words of unrequited love to that pseudo-best friend, to the misspoken verbs of affection which always went unnoticed, this was the person who would capture them in her brilliance and tell me: "I hear you." That's what I craved, an echo chamber. What else does a person without an audience want? If there is no witness to your life, is it a life that has been lived at all? The next story was of a long dance with half-glancing eyes and subtle words, played out over the course of more than a year, making itself known in the half-attempts at flirting and the accidental hand-brushes when sitting down next to each other. This was a story that was old as time. This story I borrowed from the slightly acclaimed romantic dramas that the film industry churns out as its version of truth, which you see and claim is not to be mistaken for real life, but inevitably makes its way into the way you think.
Once "love" is done though, there is no going back. It is a road that must be taken, so that you may come out on the other side of the path and claim no regret. Much of the push comes from the heart, despite the constant protests of the mind.
I did not, as I was wont to believe at the time, fall in love with the girl with blonde hair and the see-through green eyes because of the various aspects which made her her: the sense of humour, the shy kissing, the irritable personality, the lack of worldly experience. But with the very idea that love could take place between two unloved creatures in a world where it was so rare. This time, it was I who was the saviour. Trapped in a situation in which she felt hopeless, I could arrive as her “knight in shining armour”, the “man of her dreams”. Because she had conveniently fulfilled the prerequisite for physical attraction, I could now pretend to have feelings of a nature that were pure and absolute. What else could possibly give a life, any life, meaning, if not love? Love was meaning in a way that, up until then, nothing else could be. In the quiet streets of London I invented a story for us that would traverse geography and time, snake through the ubiquitous differences of Greenwich Meantime and coincide like two clock hands on the same hour. Across the continents of our bodies we would mark our territory for eternity. Differences in time and space, differences in opinion and personality, what did these matter when the universe had conspired to bring such unlikely characters together? Then, there was a story of everything. The ideas of meaning and hope had trickled down into the future and made themselves known as the ultimate traits of being in love, slightly modified to fit the mould of the situation I found myself in. I listened to stories of the "love of her life" and said that there's no such thing. I saw, again, a situation which could benefit from one last hurrah into the world of non-platonic love, and be the final answer to the ultimate question of life: why live? Why live if you're settling? Why live if the one thing that could potentially give your life meaning (besides children) doesn't exist? Why live as a shackled prisoner in the prison cell of compromise?
One time, you find a girl with a half-broken heart and fuck her and tell her it’s not her, you’re just not in the right head space. And on and on, these stories concocted by others, where you could only play a two-dimensional character.
Occasionally, I told myself, the stars are kind to us. It is as if the universe has aligned itself in a way that makes it possible, for the briefest moment, for two sundered souls to find each other. It did not matter that I did not believe in souls or fate, in meaning or destiny. What mattered mostly was that's what the story demanded. This was the story of a lonely boy and a lonely girl, unhappy and untethered, who, by the minutest of chances, accidentally and surreptitiously, glance across a room to feel an instantaneous and life-shaking connection. The connection is not borne out of compatibility, it is not borne out of logic and reasoning. It is not a decision taken, but an emotion felt. It is, in the very nature of its existence, an inexplicable and unreasonable assault on the senses. In this world of physics, why had I fallen for chemistry? In this world of chaos, why had I allowed the notions of expectations and order to take over? Once "love" is done though, there is no going back. It is a road that must be taken, so that you may come out on the other side of the path and claim no regret. Much of the push comes from the heart, despite the constant protests of the mind. It is an enviable state of being, when the mind and the heart collide. That is a true example, one supposes, of the universe coming into perfect alignment, for the benefit of a single individual. It is a narcissism that clings on to the remotest possibility of individualistic meaning and splatters it across a single life. This story was told through sitting across a table spouting unsaid things in the guise of things you have in common; these are things you may have in common with anyone else, such as a taste in music, such as strong belief, still, in love, such as a human-like trait of shyness or cowardice, an understanding of a particular situation. But, in such a story, these are the things which come as the signs which give you direction. For once, your push has been turned to shove, you have a sense of conviction. These are the ways I, at least, fell in love. Each story ended in heartbreak. In between, there were other stories, in which the heart broken was not mine. There were young girls who didn't know any better, there were older women whose neediness trumped their understanding of a terrible situation. In one instance, an overly zealous, give-it-all kind of girl finds herself stuck in a story where her demise is inevitable, but she is in a trance, her hands don't listen to her as she types, and she continues to go down the least recommended road. One time, you find a girl with a half-broken heart and fuck her and tell her it’s not her, you’re just not in the right head space. And on and on, these stories concocted by others, where you could only play a two-dimensional character. Sometimes, they’ll say: “We can still be friends.” But no, we can’t be friends. What, did you think love was selfless enough for the relationship to be enough? Love could be anything else, but this. The story I had set out for “us” was a different story, of a different timeline. Friendship had no role in it. It is indeed such a difficult thing, to realise what to love and not to love. If someone had a formula for figuring this out, by which you could plan the entirety of your future based on a single meet-and-greet, that would solve the problem. And if we are to believe in the cause-and-effect nature of existence, then this surely must be the ultimate mathematical puzzle. What do we do? How do we decide? How do we decide when all it requires to set forth the entire history of your collective lives in your head is a single backward glance across a pub? Or a blue-haired swirl that accidentally almost brushes against your face? Or a half-smirk from the inside of a rickshaw as you see her swish away into nothingness? The draw of a "something" is impossible to ignore. It exists in the eyes and expressions of each face that has the potential for a love story. So, for me, the conclusion was simple: not only had I fallen in love with stories, but before anything had, in fact, happened. These were loves that could only be defined by prematurity. I speak here, of course, of non-platonic love. Sex takes precedence, passion is involved, and an inability to control one’s hormones. Broken down into the crude concepts of evolution and, subsequently, procreation, one is nothing but an animal seeking the best mate. In this situation, one that is so devoid of story, what can an individual do but make up stories in his head? By the time you’ve hugged her as a sort of friend for the first time you’ve already imagined telling the story of your lives to your grandchildren, and the deed is done. This is not love, this is infatuation, the argument goes. It is, in fact, a lack of understanding of love. Love is kind, love is gentle. Love takes years to cultivate. Love is born out of imperfection and compromise, through truly knowing a person. Love is not created, but is in fact nurtured into existence. No doubt. Love is also present in the way raised hand of a husband beating his wife, and in the forced practice of the veil. Love shows its head in the dictatorial voice of a parent who does not understand his children but wishes only the best. And in the most renowned image of love, love is present, without reason, without logic, without understanding, without thought, in the arms of a mother taking hold of her baby in her arms. What, then, is this love thing? Is it an emotion or an act? Is it a concept so undefinable that, like faith, it evolves and changes its face, from individual to individual? Or was it something invented by advertising agencies and the romantics, desperate to make money and give meaning to a meaningless world? There have been situations when I have felt such immense pity for an individual that I could not help but call it love. Pity gets such a bad name for itself that I cannot say this emotion out loud, but it does come from a core of intense caring. It cannot be felt without care. It is an act of protection, condescending protection, but protection nonetheless. It belittles a person to such a degree, that it is not surprising that it is found to be so disgusting. Is it such a wrong thing to feel? Is pity love, then? Is pity-love any different from true love? Is true-love a gimmick, a con invented by fairy tales? I have run my hand across a girl’s squishy cheeks and called it love. I have run my hand through her hair and called it love. I have lied to a person’s face and called it love. I have spent money and called it love. I have felt hurt and called it love. Any and every emotion I have experienced, I have, at one point or another, called it love. Is this about the time that we forget love as an actual emotion? Love, the most used of tropes, the subject of every single story ever told, is also the oldest trick in the book. It is so derivative, based on the notions we have inherited from art and culture and society, that we feel that we must, at all costs, stick by the definitions we have made up in our head. For one thing, that it should have a story. For another, that it should be instantaneous (or that it takes its time, it grows). For yet another, that it cannot be controlled (or that it can be). You can go either way. Without a clear answer of assurance, we’re all groping in the backseats of cars, in the dark. So what do I do, unable to define an emotion that I feel I need? Wait and see, or jump? All these stories, crashing into each other like dominoes, they have created narratives in my head fit for poetry. While writers and philosophers and poets throughout history have wondered and pondered, tried to define it and failed, what am I but another minuscule pseudo-artist trying to find the right words for the write-words? Was I, all this time, in love, or on love? And: who’s next?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant, Dhaka Tribune.