Posted in Random

The English Affair



For a writer some strains of thought remain with you for a lifetime, and you tell yourself, ‘I’ll write about this one day.’ This essay is one of those containers in which I have been adding grains of thought for as long as I can remember, and I would tell myself: ‘someday’.

I could try defining love, but I cannot. Sonnet 116 comes to mind and when the revered poet says, “love is not love”, there is so much you could add to that list and even more to the part, “It is..”. One of the reasons I have been moved to write this morning, after sehr during ramadan, is the novel, ‘A Map for Lost Lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam.

I think that has struck a chord somewhere. Although J.R.R. Tolekin says “All those who wander are not lost,” I kind of beg to differ with that statement. I think, at least, all lovers are.

It appears that they seem to be forever in a flux, a fluid ephemeral of part liquid and part solid, and within it they seem to swim, dance, fly. They are lost. They don’t know what they are doing. But the search for the other remains a constant beacon: if I am to stick to Shakespeare’s analogies, I’d use that. And in case the search is over, which might happen for so few of us in one lifetime at least, if we are that lucky, to find the significant other, then most of the remaining life is spent attaining the impossible. And for those few of us for whom, that part is miraculously triumphed, keeping them within the grasp of your flailing fingers could easily become a story for another saga.

Between the mystery of “he loves me, he loves me not”, between the halos wrongfully placed, between the pain of having and being to the not-having and never-being, between the woes of the heart that blames itself often for its weaknesses, between the thrill of the chase, between the journey that has yet to end, for the lover you could not conquer, between the base accusations and the constant heart-breaks, between the life that doesn’t conclude, between the shallow breaths that do not cease, between the times you were made to become weak, between the moments of total relapse and pills, between the time you had it all and nothing at all, between the time air was air and then a wall, between the moments when the distances were many to when there were none, to the time when everything made sense to the period of complete oblivion, between the stretch that seemed like an infinity to the epoch which is the now, between the hurt that never went away to the time bliss was sufferable, between the moments of utmost passion to the moments of utmost destruction, to the lover who always lied to the one who stayed, love is and is not.

Perhaps most of the agony of the world can be taken away by one simple statement, “It doesn’t matter,” for truly it doesn’t. Russell in his The Conquest of Happiness, says that if all our misery and suffering was put into the retrospect of the infinite chasms of the universe, it wouldn’t even cause a ripple. Our existence just like our misery doesn’t add or take away from the grand design of things. When looked this way, nothing does really matter.

But wouldn’t that put context out of all the poets and their heartache? Wouldn’t that take the punch out of the novels we read and the aesthetic pleasure from the movies we watch? If it really didn’t matter would Heer be killed for Ranjah? Was her death pointless? Maybe. Probably. For what did she get out of it other than being brutally murdered by her uncle and left seven foot under to rot? It didn’t do her any good. It never does.

So why did Shamas die? Because Saruya carried his child but married someone else who wanted to keep it when he didn’t? Why were Jugnu’s and Chanda’s bodies chopped up, burned and then buried under the lake? Because they loved or because they defied tradition?* I think most of the time, most of the people can’t accept the fact that some of them got the longer side of the stick. It would make us happier if everyone got the shorter stick, save us. After all, wouldn’t then the world be fair?

The superficiality of the occasion reminds me of all the instances when language, English, seems to be a whole lot of nonsense. Wait, that doesn’t sound right, right? I am a language teacher, surely this is a joke of some kind? Wait, let me try to put this right.

Remember, all the times when we read things, they seem to be saying things backwards or forwards or round-and-round? And sometimes words are used, and they mean nothing at all? Before, you refute me, this is an actual thing. It goes by several names, as I like to tell my baffled students often. I ask a question, and the student raises her hand, and then I motion them to answer. They answer. It doesn’t mean anything.

At least, that is what I tell the daunted student staring wide-eyed, accusingly at me. They used my words from the questions, jumbled it all up, added two of their own and spat it all out. Much to the oblivion of the student in question, I give them words for what they just did: circumlocution, tautology, claptrap, reiteration, redundancy, regurgitation, verbosity, superfluity, pleonasm, the list is long but I think you get my point.

The arguments of lovers or all the love talk, or all the literature on the same, at times, seems to be the same words said over and over again like a man at the park, who makes bubbles out of a tin of solution. He has a wooden stick in his hand, at the tip of which is a wired sphere, which when dipped into the solution and rotated in an arm-length circle, gives a steady stream of bubbles, much to the glee and giddiness of the children who surround him.

The entire bulk of all love stories from time memorial appears to be like those train of bubbles, a repetition, a reiteration, a never-ending verbosity, a redundancy that always has a new pitch, just like this one, a circumlocution, a constant tautology.

The water bubbles that the vendor sells at the park, seem to be swimming, dancing, flying in air. Some fall to the earth and burst just like the sad demise of the sad hopes of most sad lovers. Some seem to be pinched by the eager children who can’t wait to see what happens when it pops like most curious relatives and friends of lovers who like to see it all end with the death of the pair. And some few escape into the bright, blue sky and off they sail across the horizon, no one knows for how long or how far away, but they were the few that got away to, perhaps, a more happier version of The Titanic.

Despite the constant sense of repetition in the theme of love, despite the boredom that never comes, despite the fact that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy forever are an epic story of love in the classics (for those of you who are more into the gothic form of a novel─ then perhaps Heathcliff would suffice making your tea sweeter), despite being verbose at the expense of circumlocution, I hereby rest my case for the English Affair:

“If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”


*characters from ‘A Map for Lost Lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam