Humour: What’s modern about love?

Examining romance in our times of instant digital gratification
Late capitalism puts the poor lover with a sizeable disposable income in a tight spot(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
Late capitalism puts the poor lover with a sizeable disposable income in a tight spot(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
Updated on Dec 15, 2019 12:51 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRehana Munir

Modern Love, the Amazon Prime series based on the popular weekly column in The New York Times, felt, to me, like a lousy blind date. Apart from rare flashes (like Anne Hathaway and Andrew Scott’s performances), it swung between the saccharine and the insipid. The TV adaptation of the self-reflective essays seemed always to have a pat explanation for the complexities in the lives of its narrator-protagonists. But you need a lot more than words to bring an essay to life on screen (which is why the Hathaway episode, with all its storytelling flourishes, worked).The show does, however, spark some thoughts about “modern love”. It’s fun to follow that mental trail.

With the camera as my witness…

What can be ‘modern’ about ‘love’? is a question that has no doubt launched a million chat-room discussions. If one were to talk about modern sport, for instance, we’d all know what was being spoken about. It means multi-million-dollar contracts and extreme close-ups of sweaty athletes spitting into the ground or muttering curses. Modern love, on the other hand, presents a peculiar problem. While the high point of a fairy-tale romance used to be a man proposing to his beloved on bended knee in a private moment, things have changed a bit. I was shocked to recently see a Facebook album with a couple in the midst of a proposal scene, shot by a hired photographer, documenting the moment from his hideout!

Modern love is not a private affair. Incessant sharing keeps the love alive, ostensibly.

So we can safely agree, then, that modern love is not a private affair. Whether a couple is checking into a fancy hotel for a staycation or just lounging around their house on a Sunday afternoon, incessant sharing keeps the love alive, ostensibly. It’s not just Virushka or Deepveer or Priyanka and Nick (I can think of a quite unprintable portmanteau) who thrive on public adulation. Everyday folk, too, realise if it’s not on social media, it’s not real. But not everyone’s hopped on to the PDA boat. Complaining to my CA about the impossibility of accounting during a recent appointment, I discovered he had a far more pressing problem. “I don’t know how to write anniversary posts for my wife!” We each left the meeting pondering the inadequacies of our respective existences.

Love in the time of late capitalism

Then there’s the issue of romantic tributes. Late capitalism puts the poor lover with a sizeable disposable income in a tight spot. With endless access to products of every kind, from portable music speakers to the rarest of rare first-edition classics, there’s no excuse for being a bad gifter any more. I’ve disgraced myself so completely on this count that I should probably just stay quiet on the matter. But how not to comment on the lengths to which the freshly-smitten or chronically erring go to in order to please or placate that special someone? If it’s not Christmas, it’s Valentine’s Day. Or then it’s a birthday or an anniversary. Each occasion must be marked by a shopping expedition, online or otherwise, yielding the most customised gifts. The top rung of the amorous gifting ladder is occupied by the surprise party, where the most fun is actually had on the WhatsApp group planning it. The real event, with its literal fun, is inevitably a letdown. The party does, however, have an afterlife in cleverly-captioned photographs on social media, shared strategically over the years. Modern love in its full glory.

Stove or microwave?

There’s one strand of modern love that I whole-heartedly endorse. Who can resist the charms of a box of sushi electronically ordered by an admirer from hundreds of miles away, delivered to rid you of mid-winter ennui? Or a piping hot pizza? Or a sinful slice of dark chocolate cake? Ditto for flowers delivered urgently. Or even a poem quoted at an apt moment thanks to the endless beneficence of Google. The instant age has its unique romantic gratifications that cannot be denied.

Whether we call love classical or modern or even postmodern, some things remain the same. The sleepless beginnings and the sudden struggles. The foolish nicknames and little triumphs. The dodging of each other’s friends and giving-in to families. For all the electronic progress of our digital times, a groggily-made morning cup of chai still has the power to reduce the weak-hearted among us to romantic fools. It makes no difference if it’s made on the stove or using the microwave.

Rehana Munir’s debut novel, Paper Moon, is now on stands

From HT Brunch, December 15, 2019

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Saturday, November 27, 2021