I went to Delhi University in the 1980s -- to a women’s college. One morning, we arrived in college to hear the shocking news that a classmate’s boyfriend, after she broke up with him, had gone to her house and shot her. Our classmate stayed in coma for a month before she passed away, before she had even turned 20. I didn’t know her well -- I only noticed that given her seemingly conventional background, she had a rather androgynous dressing sense and a challenging air, which made her stand out.
I don’t remember the meaning of this incident ever being discussed. I’m not sure it was even reported in the papers -- maybe it was. I don’t know whether such incidents occurred with the scary frequency they do now, the latest of which took place last week at Jawaharlal Nehru University, where a young man attacked another student and ended up killing himself. Why does one inflict violence to others and himself when confronted with refusal? Do the young men who carry out this violence feel a sense of entitlement? Do they feel the loss of entitlement? It is important we find new ways to talk about and address these stories.
A young woman, I know, has moved from her small town to Mumbai to try her hand at showbiz. Her chance of making it might be iffy, but certainly her sense of freedom at being able to come and go as she pleases, the sense of purpose and importance that come from meetings to be had are unmistakable. Meanwhile her boyfriend, back home, is constantly jealous -- at times even remarking that he feels the ambient sound is different when they’re talking on the phone, so does this mean she is lying about her whereabouts? He calls to threaten her friends and colleagues, arrives unannounced and sometimes threatens to harm himself if she leaves him, which she frequently wants to, but doesn’t do.
This must sound familiar — we all know couples stuck in such relationships of control, dependence and violence. Truthfully, when I hear about this, I feel enraged. But when I see this young man, I start to feel sorry for him. All the sociology and politics of gender aside I wonder — what other narratives of love does one even know? The languishing male lover has wept and screamed and killed and died across the Indian screen since Devdas first dithered. Once upon a time there were languishing women too -- most notably Meena Kumari, whose birthday also we saw last week, but in fact now, it is increasingly rare to see a woman in our movies at least, who is not just a passive recipient of male affection.
On a research project about love and intimacy, countless young people said to me -- you can only truly fall in love once. Everything else is some false thing. I have women friends married to perfectly nice men who claim they have ‘no more love left to give’ because they used up all their love languishing for a girl they spoke to once in college.
For many people, love is the one grand thing they might do in an otherwise routine life. As long as only trivial ideas of love permeate our culture -- disappointment in one love is also likely to take on catastrophic proportions in people’s heads. Someone’s refusal is seen not as a painful but legitimate response to be dealt with but a crushing defeat. We may be a country of young people, but we desperately need some grown-up love stories that allow us to know, there’s always another chance at love.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.