Sometimes after dinner, when I am sitting alone with her, my mother tells me about the time she met my father. With a smile playing around her lips, she tells me the tales of their love, talking about how they met, how they sneaked around the city to avoid being caught by her suspecting brothers, and how, they finally eloped.
“We used to have these codes. I used to hang orange clothes to dry out if there was a chance of us meeting. If not, it was blue”, she regales with a hearty laugh. “We got into serious trouble at times.”
At these times, I see my mother in a different light. It’s like I am offered a window into the person she was, not my mother, not someone who overfeeds me everyday thinking I don’t eat enough, not an alarm bell that I didn’t set. She becomes an individual I am still getting to know after all these years. And at the same time, my father becomes this romeo, an all-out hardcore romantic, bordering on chhichora, who was so committed to make my mother happy that he took up odd jobs to make their lives as comfortable as he could.
At my end, I rediscover who my parents were before they became parents – 20-something people who knew far more about things like commitment, responsibility, and perseverance than we do at the same age now.
It also makes me think about how far we have come from that day and age when sometimes women were married off to men even before they got a chance to know who they will be spending the rest of their lives with.
I have a friend whose mother tells me the most hilarious renditions of how his father drives her up the wall, every single time I go over to his place. She would go on and on, going as far as to say how, “she would have never married the annoying man had she known how he was”.
But even as I laugh my heart out, I sit there and appreciate the fact that after all of this, no matter how crazy he drives her, she has not left his side. That even when she is heartily complaining about him, she does it with a twinkle in her eyes, a grin of a little school girl on her face. Even with the hurdles faced, the problems encountered, she didn’t once consider leaving. It isn’t an option she even gave a thought to, just like my mother, or the countless other women from that time. And somehow, that is where you have to look to know what love is for them.
Now, as I sit and swipe people left or right on my Tinder, I think about the amazing gift of choice I and others from my generation have. I marvel at this digitization of love. I am amazed at the sheer amount of options that are available to me. And it breaks my heart.
It breaks my heart to think that I will probably not have those jitters that you get when you catch someone’s eyes across the examination hall and your heart skips a beat, or the shy glance that is shared when two unknown people are brought together with the excitement that they might spend their lives together.
That I will never be sitting at the dinner table, slicing a mango, telling my kids about how I used colors as codes for my lover to decipher from across the street.
But then what do I see myself telling them?
Do I tell them about the long forgotten people who I had sex with and never got to know?
Do I tell them about the number of times I didn’t think a person was worth investing my time in only because I had so many others to choose from?
How I dated one person, and then another, always with the intention to belong but not to be bound?
Or about the many almost-relationships that I was a part of, the ones long gone by but somehow never forgotten? About the guy I once met on a winter night, who told me he could see himself falling in love with me one day but disappeared as dawn broke, maybe because he was scared of his own feelings?
Do I tell them how broken that left me? And how I went on to hurt other people only so I could balm my own pain?
We are living in a time where we glorify the hookup culture, make commitment issues the in thing, and fail to communicate with each other even as we are so connected. We are so twisted in our own anxieties, fears, and in our inability to acknowledge another person that we never really get the chance to experience the grace of being in love. So constantly tempted we are with the idea that there might be someone better out there that we do not bother to actually get to know a person well enough to discover exactly how they complement us.
Our parents teach us so many things as we grow. They teach us to be independent, they make us competent enough to build a life for ourselves, and they encourage us to learn life lessons on our own. Taking a leap of faith, sitting on the cycle, falling down, getting up again, learning. We learn all that, and then we learn self preservation.
But do we learn from them the things they don’t teach us?
Things they hope we imbibe enough to learn on our own? Do we learn to love a person the way they have? Respecting differences, accepting the love, and sticking through thick and thin, loving the person slowly, subtly and sometimes silently throughout. We perhaps find more obvious poetry in crashing in like tides, living a few days of combustible passion, and end up with a heartbreak.
Everywhere we look we have been fed this idea of love – this highly romanticized, passionate, end of reason thing that we then try to look for everywhere but at the same time we forget that real life doesn’t work like that; the 2 hour movie may not show you the other side of what happens after the happily ever after.
Torn between our emotions, self preservation, and what we are designed to think we want, we forget that there is a reason why every book, every movie starts with a disclaimer that they are fictitious. Real life isn’t always like that.
Our parents didn’t have that. And they fared better, so turns out the lack of technology, the not being so exposed to the outside world, not having over the top unrealistic expectations did them better.
Maybe that is what my mother thinks about, every time she finds me breaking down in her lap over a “love story” gone awry, unable to comprehend why I choose to go through this pain. Maybe her idea of love, and waiting for the right person makes sense after all.
And that is what I will keep in mind here on.
So that when he comes along, I will remind myself of the night my mother told me about the man who asked her if he could borrow her pen, only to share with her a life forever. I will remind myself of the look on her face as she recalled memories she had carefully preserved all this while.
And I’ll remember to stay. So that one day I can tell my kids that even if I swiped their father right on the basis of a few words he had written and some pictures he thought he looked best in, I had the courage to open up my heart, the strength to fight for him, and love enough and more to be with him even when he drove me insane.
And if I can manage to look just like how my mother looked telling me her love story with my dad all those years ago, I think I will consider that a life of love well lived.