I was born in a family where expressing love always posed a challenge to its members. When I was little, there were few behaviours that I associated with loving my parents. It was mostly through the conscience-drilling moral science textbooks that portrayed young children devoted to their parents and their elders that did the trick. Love still never entered into my vocabulary as a participating emotion or word. Honestly, I think I was oblivious as to what love really meant. It was a taboo word too, we were not allowed to say it out loud because it caused disrespect to our parents. There were other words too which were taboo, at least in the household that I lived in. Nonetheless, there were secret rendezvous with friends from the neighbourhood which included exploring parts of our bodies, (including our private parts), and playing marriage in which there were pregnancies involved.
Coming from this baggage that involved a part of our childhood lives operating n secrecy, we quickly learned how to keep a lot of things secret from our parents. I did, at least. There were lost pencils and erasers that were particularly devastating but could not be hidden but emotions, on the contrary, were easy to hide. There were words that came out of our parents’ mouths that damaged us for the remaining of our lives, words which still send us to our beds in a sobbing mess in our late twenties. But, there were more such occasions as we grew up. There were beatings, it was not called physical abuse then, and violence was not how it got recorded in our memories. For us, it was quite natural to be scolded and beaten by our parents. In fact, it was among the things that we believed was part of the destiny that we suffered as children. Hence, the eternal wait of growing up to become adults. I do see now how so many of the things which were innocuously done have scarred us into terrible adults or painful adults, but it was all part of it.
Our parents stopped hitting us when they were angry or when they thought we had done something wrong when we started menstruating. That connection between menstruation and not being hit was established much later, when we heard our grandparents talk about “girls growing up” but nonetheless, it helped us feel a little relieved. It was during this time, especially the days when I would be menstruating that my father would suddenly go out of my life’s activities. He would not be in a position to sort things out – the stains on the bed, the change of napkins, the right kind of diet – as if the commonality between him and me suddenly just left. I didn’t regret it too much. I was growing up and there were larger issues that I had to deal with. Beauty, for instance suddenly became the most important living reality that I had to overcome. The fact was that I was never beautiful or at least never told that I was beautiful. When I was younger I survived because I had a cerebral capacity that showed itself as good scores in the yearly exams but as I continued to grow, none of it really worked. For one, I started scoring less. The beauty over brains equation turned against me both sides.
During all of this, love continued to remain a secret as in secretly liking a Bollywood star (watching English movies was not permitted because of the kissing scenes) or liking a boy from class or a boy in the neighbourhood. There were many boys that I liked but unfortunately, they preferred my company as a friend to play with during recess or copy test answers from, but nothing more (talk about being friend-zoned). All this really did wound my pride and worthiness because these very boys will have crushes of their own and the girls that they liked were beauty with brains. The unfairness of it all – I think this dichotomy that exists in the world is quite unfair and largely untrue. These days, the new breed that exists is the one that has beauty and the brains – men and women. So, that is that among all the other kinds of injustices that happen in the world. What remains is the likes of us – the little-beauty and little-brains. This breed tries for their entire lives to be loved “for who they really are” – something that they themselves don’t know much about and we also end up having romantic comedies being made for promoting this blunder. It is one blunder after another, I tell you.
So, you see, love in an environment like this never comes with an isolated definition that you take pride in understanding and knowing that it is part of your life. You wallow most of the times, sometimes falling into it miserably, and sometimes wanting to really fall into it intentionally. Nonetheless, you will always have some memories that you learn to classify as love: your father telling you that it is your fifth birthday and that you are growing up to become a big girl now, or like coming home to your mother and cuddling into her warm bosom to forget the cold of the morning, your father sitting up all night waving a hand fan over your chickenpox-ed body during the summer power cuts, your sister following you around like a little puppy, imitating what you did, or learning to ride your first bicycle, or watching the paper burn by focusing the sunlight through a magnifying glass with the class rowdies, or catching dragonflies with the boys of the class, and owning fancy erasers that had amazing fruity smells.
Love is complicated but it is expansive. It is a pity that we have reduced love to such smallness and to an orderliness of things. For everything around us is crazy and the cosmos is a manifestation of love, of such grand nature that it cannot be encompassed or filtered down. Perhaps, we could love like that again.