Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Is Love?

When the cab drew near, the first thing I noticed was his teeth, a block of white that made up most of his face. Thin girls wearing skinny jeans on their non-existent hips; a beggar at traffic junction pleading about a mother with chronic indigestion; Sardarji with an extra large turban, a car shaped like a frog (Beetle!!); frothy coffee moustaches; and even my nose blowing (I have a bad bout of cold) made him laugh. I would have been offended had it not been for his child-like glee; he is just twenty-two, a couple of months younger than my sister.

He took us to Chandigarh; and waited hours at parking lots while we shopped and visited old monuments in Delhi. And one of the reasons my trip has been enjoyable so far is because of the stories he tells me. He explains to me the lyrics of corny Nepali songs, and insists I explain to him the meaning of the songs in the sole English album (Rihanna!) he has in his car. He calls me Didi, and is unapologetic about barraging me with questions about Assam. Are there Nepalis in Assam? Does everyone have tea plantations? Didi, bhaal matlab achcha na?

He ran away from home when he was just eight, and his maternal uncle (mama) sent him away on a bus to India. He returned home after a decade. Without knowing a single word of Hindi, and under the pseudonym of Ravi, he worked as an orderly at a hospital in Noida. Later he worked as Viren the cook at a police canteen, as Nitin the babysitter at a sprawling household, and finally as Deepak the cab driver.  This is his real name; after years of answering to strange names he has finally got his name back. He has proof of identification, a driving license, and a single room flat with a pretty bride in it. He belonged now; he isn’t afraid of deportation anymore.

He asked me, “Didi, when will you get married?  My mother used to say that girls should get married by thirty. Time doesn’t stop for them (referring to the fertility clock).” I replied that not everyone finds love as easily as he did. He replies, “Arre Didi, sab kismat ki baat hain. When I worked at the police canteen, I was in love with a Haryanvi girl who worked there too. Very robust; she was a foot taller than me. She wanted to marry me. When I went to Nepal after a decade, my father threatened to commit suicide if I married that girl. Within a week they got me married to Pavitra. But I am happy now. My wife is very nice. Aap photo dekhenge?”

He gave up his teenage love to marry a stranger. But when I see her photograph, I realize why he is smitten. A round face with flushed cheeks, smudges of kohl lining the narrow slits that are her eyes, and a large red bindi on the flawless young skin. She looks happy and this makes him happy.

I spent an evening browsing at the Khan Market bookstores recently, and when I came back to the car he had a new story to tell me. He had called up his wife to ask what she was doing that afternoon. She was on the terrace, soaking in the winter sun. He asked her to stop running her fingers through her hair. This startled her and she looked around to search for him. He just laughed and asked her not to crane her neck all around. This baffled her even more and she demanded to know where he was. He admonished her for going so near the edge of the terrace to look for him on the street below, she could have slipped her feet and fell down. By now she was at her wit’s end in trying to locate the spot from where her husband observed her secretly. It was then that he calmed her down; he was miles away from her, he just knew her too well. The story made me happy.

She calls him up every half an hour with absurd queries (Mujhe phone battery repair karna hain. Battery ko engish mein kya bolte hain?), but he replies patiently to each of them. On the night we were driving back from Chandigarh, it was nearly midnight, and she asked him to bring her an ice-cream! I found both the weather and the time considerable deterrents to her request, but he went on an enthusiastic search around little known nooks in Noida to find that midnight ice-cream seller and was delirious with happiness when he finally found it. Love is weird.

She has a shrill voice; his voice is always laced with laughter. He saves a thousand rupees every month, which she spends in movie tickets (they watch the late night shows, before his early morning ‘airport drop’ duties) and in buying the latest Hindi music albums. He complains that she keeps the radio on the whole day, but is quick to justify that she has little to do at home, with him working for such long hours. He tells me, “Didi, I never get angry. But my wife loses her temper over little things, but cools down just as quick. She is very impulsive. But I find it endearing. Dil ki bohut achchi hai.

They have been married for three years and she is pregnant with their first child now. He is playing the role of the harried father to the core, and is fretting about what medicines she needs to take, how many health check-ups she needs to undergo, can she eat oranges, why does she vomit in the morning. When I visited the flea market, I gave him money to buy a jacket because he has only got a threadbare sweater to protect him against the harsh Delhi winter. He was reluctant to accept the money, but when he did, he spent it on a new shawl, a pink nail colour and earrings for his wife.

I feel an odd tenderness for this young couple, struggling to make a living in an alien country, without any other family members or friends to guide them through. It’s just the two of them; him for her, her for him; eating ice-cream at midnight, the only witnesses to each other’s lives. They don’t have much, they don’t aspire much; but their simplicity is a part of their happiness.

We don’t need much to love and feel loved, do we? We can love anyone. It just needs a genuine desire to do so. Deepak and Pabitra taught me that love is very simple. It is about the desire to spend your life making someone happy; when just a smile from them is enough to light up your heart. Everything else that we pile on in the name of love just complicates it more. Expectations, ambitions, comparisons dilute the very essence of love. Realists will scoff at this; and even I admit that it’s tough to find and maintain such a love nowadays. But out there in little known pockets of society, love exists for love’s sake. Flowers and chocolates are superfluous. So is everything else.

Just be there. Be a family. Discover together what you want in life. It’s a long life, and a wonderful world.

It’s a pleasant co-incidence that as I type these words my friend’s brother is playing “When You Say Nothing At All” in the adjacent room, and I can’t help but quietly wallow in the goodness of love thinking about an ignorant heart miles away. Sometimes the word ‘mutual’ becomes superfluous too, and contentment is just a thought away.

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