Tag Archives: #desire

Love: A Many Splendored Thing

(Featured Image: Debotri Dhar and her book, Love Is Not A Word)

“In literature, culture, history, metaphysics, politics, and their interstices, ideas about love abound,” writes Debotri Dhar who teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. The idea led her to thread together a book — Love Is Not a Word: The Culture and Politics of Desire — a unique collection consisting of twelve well-written essays by scholars, critics, storytellers, and journalists. The idea for the book first occurred to Dhar as a graduate student at Oxford University, and then again while teaching at Rutgers University in the US. It was while she was teaching at the University of Michigan that pieces of the book started finally falling in place. 

The anthology consists of serious yet engaging essays on love, its many definitions, moods, themes, and interpretations. Each chapter is a detailed account of a different aspect of love—tracing both its historical background and contemporary relevance—making it a deeply researched and truly comprehensive read.

In ancient epics, through the practice of the Swayamvara, women such as Sita and Draupadi would review a number of suitors and select one as her husband. And yet, India is known for its arranged marriages and patriarchal attitudes towards matrimony. Marriage is a kind of business in India — thus, giving rise to a lucrative industry of matchmakers, astrologers, horoscope readers, matrimonial advertising, and wedding planners. What’s interesting is that in the same country, Bollywood dreams of romance and love marriages also thrive. In such a context, the living mythology of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata influences modern lives as much as mobile phones and Netflix, writes Malashri Lal, a retired professor at the Department of English at the University of Delhi.

In contrast to the chaste Ram-Sita and Shiva-Parvati pairings in Indian mythology, there is the secret love couple, Radha and Krishna. Then there is Amrapali, the legendary dancer—the most seductive and powerful courtesan in Pataliputra. While writing in Amrapali’s first-person, academic and museum curator Alka Pande traces the history of the Kamasutra, considered the mother of all erotic writing in India. The essay is enlightening as it debunks the myth of this sexual-yogic manual, giving it a much higher status—that of a handbook to help live life to its fullest.

The city has time and again become the backdrop for many a love story. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, much of the tale is influenced by Verona’s streets, piazzas, balconies, and dance halls. Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Bordeaux-Montaigne University, Didier Coste writes a literary, cultural, and global exploration of love and the city through space and time. “Only the stereotypes of light romantic comedy can perpetuate indefinitely the wonders of bumping into each other on Times Square or the Champs Elysees, or fighting for a cab and ending up in bed together for the weekend,” he writes. 

The ghazal has always associated with love, and ideas of the beloved thrive in the ancient poetry of Urdu poetry’s famous exponent Mirza Ghalib. It is ironic then that in the present-day ideas of love, Jihad have negatively colored and taken over daily realities of interreligious love. Delhi-based print, television, and news media journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay traces the politics of love in the aftermath of various historical movements, such as the Partition, the Babri Masjid demolition, and the 9/11 attacks. “Love and Jihad per se are incompatible words,” he writes. 

While the tone of the in-depth essays in the book is mostly academic and scholarly, some are also personal. Through the larger debate around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Delhi-based author, Parvati Sharma writes about her personal experiences of being a young gay person in India. “When you love without the trappings that turn private ecstasy into social routine — marriage, family, children — when you insist on ‘living in’ or being flagrantly lesbian, when you harbor the kind of love that depends upon itself to survive, you do, of course, unsettle the world; and that is no bad thing at all,” writes Sharma.

Further, Christina Dhanaraj, a Christian Dalit woman, talks about her peculiar experiences in love as a Dalit woman. She argues that modern-day apps like Tinder only create an illusion of breaking barriers when it comes to caste and that it plays a huge role in one’s romantic relationship. It brings out the idea that love is, after all, a choice that one makes based on who we are and where we come from. “Loving and being loved, in all its glorified beauty, is a matter of privilege,” writes Dhanaraj. 

Overall, the book provides some insightful perspectives on various dimensions of love. We can’t wait for Volume 2! 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Covid-19 Blues: Was It Love or Lust?

Based on a true story…

After a really long time, I fell in love with my mirror. When I stood in front of it yesterday in my black top, I saw a radiant and gorgeous girl. Yes, a girl; a mixture of sweet and saucy, and not a woman. That’s how I would like to describe myself these days. But I guess my girlishness bloomed after the first lockdown was announced in March of last year. 

Soon after its announcement, the guy living in the next-door flat fled to another place, leaving the entire balcony to me, prancing amidst my aloe vera plant growing out from a large pot in profusion. As my neighbors grew tired of being locked up in rooms, they slowly started coming out in balconies. Some of them waved, greeted, and smiled for the first time. Among these were a few that I had never set my eyes on before. Covid-19 was finally bringing the community together in an unexpected way. 

I spotted a guy with a beard practicing arm exercises one late afternoon on the balcony, sometime in April, while I was watering my plants. His was the flat next to the one opposite mine; he waved and smiled. I waved back. A few days later more waving and more smiling followed and we tried to communicate using signs from our respective balconies.

After this, meetings took place regularly on the road running along the backside of my flat inside my Delhi colony. It is a beautiful spot for late afternoon walks in the summer, lined with tall trees on both sides. I had spent many moments on my own musing on its beauty and humming to myself “I walk a lonely road”. On this road, I walked listening to music on my phone while he paced up and down in his gym vest. At times, we would stop and exchange a few pleasantries. 

I thanked my stars for sending me this new diversion during such a difficult time. I dreaded calling my mum for she always fretted and worried. On top of this, too much work burden made me morose at times.

One night after 10 pm, he suddenly called me and demanded to meet at the same spot. It was a silent and dark night with silence weighing heavily all around. The oppressive April heat made my face mask cling to my sweaty face. Not the best romantic situation, but still it couldn’t be helped. We started sauntering and he described his experiences at the hospital (he was a trainee doctor) and I remarked on his bravery. The guy, then, suddenly knelt down on the road and I kind of blushed. His next words were so ridiculous that I burst out laughing. “Will you accept my jujubes? I had kept them in the fridge and thought of gifting you today.”

Before I could say something, the night security guard came running and dispersed us, saying the new rule demands people should not come of their homes late at night in view of the pandemic. I did not accept the jujubes and we ran to our places with the guard at our heels.

Reflecting on the incident later, I felt that my vanity was hurt. He wanted me to accept his jujubes after all and not him. What an immature boy he must be, I decided, and sort of cooled off towards him. Phone calls and balcony meetings became less frequent.

Around this time, a writer entered my life via social media, and that’s pretty common these days, isn’t it? I have always been partial towards poets and writers, and to top it all, this man was super hot. The man-boy doctor soon faded away. Perhaps his biggest fault was he never once complimented me. On the other hand, the writer called me wild and sexy. Needless to say, I was blooming under his compliments. 

Soon I discovered my naughty side. I started flooding his phone with my glam pictures wearing makeup and clicked in low light. The lockdown made me experimental and bolder with my clicks. Soon love talks followed, romantic chats filled up my FB messenger, and the doctor guy permanently exited from life. He called a few times but I kind of avoided talking. One fine day in November last year, I discovered the doctor was gone from the neighborhood. I also realized I hadn’t even saved his number. He was sweet and innocent and brought in his wake a taste of budding childhood romance. My girlish side misses him at times. 

Ironically, I haven’t met the writer guy yet and don’t think a meeting is likely in the near future. He is too mature and aloof, but he brought out my wilder side. Come to think of it now, both were good short-time romances or whatever you call it and helped brighten up the stressful Covid-19 period. I am too much into myself these days to bother trying to put things into place anymore. I have put away my heart in a locker where it will remain, Covid-19 or no Covid-19. 


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Featured Image shot in Hyderabad by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.