About two months ago, my friend called up to ask me a strange question: “Sudha”, she paused a bit. “what is love?” When she finished the question, the first thought that crossed my mind was, it was the second time that I had been asked this question. Strangely, it made me feel very proud because, I felt, people around me thought me wise enough to understand this complex human emotion.
I did speak to my friend about “love” and have been wondering ever since. Do I truly understand it? My friend appeared very pleased with my answer — or so I thought. But, if I have to truly listen to my heart, I can almost hear me laugh — it is not as easy as black and white. It is a great feeling and yet, painful, tearful and at the same time, the one that can almost lift one’s heart in air — that feeling called love!
When I was a little girl — and I’m going to be honest here — I had no idea about love. Someone said at that time that it was grown-up stuff. I believed it. Growing up in a village in southern India, the word was “taboo” in our childhood. The word could not be uttered and whenever someone spoke about it, there were giggles from the other girls, leaving me pretty much confused. I joined the gang because it was much better that way.
Television arrived in my village, further confusing us poor folks about this strange feeling. It was the Bollywood emotion — completely extravagant with the boy and girl singing songs around trees and losing hunger and sleep. They said “I love you”, with beautiful music to back it up, and then they hid behind big flowers. I just didn’t get it.
My world, in contrast, had no background music or large flowers to hide behind. I was surrounded by people who cared. My little sister, who consistently fought, cried, shared my secrets and my parents — very supportive and understanding. I had respect all right, but that particular emotion was not named or recognised. We felt it, we shared it, but no one knew that it was actually love.
Years later, finally, when, I did become a parent — everything made sense. For the first time, I cried without inhibitions when I saw Sid crawl or walk. When I hugged him, it felt really good. Nobody told me what it meant. But I just knew what I felt — a strange tug. It was the same feeling that I felt when I watched dad and mom celebrate their 25 years of togetherness. It was the same feeling when Sis shared her earrings. And it is still the same feeling when I watch my husband play with Sid. It made sense that I finally had understood what that strange tug in my heart meant. Then, like a bolt of lightning, everything made sense. The subtle smiles, pats, talks and chats with mom and dad were all filled with love. It is just that I never saw it when it actually happened.
I am now glad that my friend called me to find out about love. I don’t know, if I answered right but, after all the thinking, I think I might have just about understood the strangest emotion of mankind. As for hunger and sleep — well they come to me very naturally in spite of the fact that I did marry the man that made me feel that way. So now, I don’t giggle when I hear the “L” word and I encourage Sid to use the word graciously and generously. For after all, it is one emotion you don’t have to be ashamed of.
Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.