We grow up — thanks in part to Bollywood movies — with preconceived notions about love. We are so sure of how we want to be loved: ‘My partner should say this to me’ (courtesy this song), ‘should treat me like this’ (courtesy that movie), ‘propose to me like that’ (courtesy that movie’s climax)...
Wrapped up in all this, it’s taken me a painstakingly long time to take off the rose-coloured-motion-picture glasses and really see things. In fact, it’s taken a 70-year-old couple to show me the reality.
Every night, I see this old couple holding hands and walking. A cliche? No, it isn’t. Look closer and you see the man holding the woman by her arm. The lady, who retired as a school principal, suffered a degenerative disorder soon after retirement, rendering her listless, lost and speechless.
A principal! What persona she must have had, what respect she must have commanded, what love and respect her students must have felt for her, I can only imagine. Was she the cool mentor everyone loved or was she the strict disciplinarian?
She no longer talks and cannot walk straight. Some days, I see her walking towards any bright light. It’s her husband’s hand, resting firmly on her arm — at all times — that guides her everywhere. And that’s not all. In the front pocket of his kurta is a small phone, which plays songs and bhajans for the wife.
There is no errand that he can run solo anymore, for the lady of the house cannot be left alone. It’s not uncommon to see the two make their way to the nearby market — his hand on her arm, always — on a hot summer afternoon for an emergency sugar run... Or sit in silence on the park bench early in the morning.
I see them every night, walking in complete silence, and I cannot look away. I cannot imagine what they must go through, I cannot imagine what he feels, and I cannot bring myself to go and talk to them. Do they have any kind of conversations? Does she even remember him? Every time I see them, I say a silent prayer. Some days I just want to go and find out all the answers. But, I stop and let them be. They deserve that.
A story like this isn’t uncommon. Love like this isn’t uncommon. My grandfather took care of my paralysed grandmother for decades. Look around and such stories are right there in front of our eyes. Isn’t it silly, then, that our idea of love still remains so melodramatic and silly and Bollywood-esque? Why do we wait for someone to sweep us off our feet?
We see such manufactured images of love – all too perfect, too happy, too unreal – that we overlook reality around us. It’s the reality that shows us, if we only wish to see, that real love is all around and is bigger and better than shown in movies. There is no big proposal, no time for song and dance (definitely no ‘item song’) and no big finish. But, it’s real. That should be enough.