For the past two years, Fatima has been through a lot – she had nights of sleeplessness, couldn’t properly or think clearly, and felt restless. It is interesting that while the therapist may, after further questions, diagnose her with an anxiety disorder, our dear old Bollywood love songs may call these the “symptoms” of a blossoming romance.
Aisa lagta hai jo na hua hone ko hai
Aisa lagta hai hosh mera khone ko hai
Warna dil kyun dhadakta, saansein kyun rukti
Neendein meri kyun ud jaati?
Fatima knows it is not a new romance, she has been in pain for a while. I ask her about her story – how she started feeling this way, what helped, and what did not. Despite all my best efforts to let the conversation flow, I have a set format for these conversations (some would call this history taking). I wonder what we would talk about if I just let the conversation be. She traces back to her life, an unconventional woman coming from an orthodox family where she would only receive hand-me-downs of her brother. She speaks of studying when it was not considered important for her to go to college, and how she nurtures the dream of working once again. She speaks of a father who never valued her or her sisters and she speaks of the dreams she had growing up.
She told me how she thought marriage would be her escape - a caring family and a loving husband. Fatima could have told me a lot about her story, but she lowers her voice and peeks at her husband who is sitting at some distance and says to me - “ye bilkul bhi romantic nahi hai”.
“But romance kitna zaruri hai!”, I can't help myself from exclaiming. After all, she says, don't we all want to feel cared for. I know I do. And then I look at her husband – they have travelled 12 kms today to meet the psychiatrist – surely, he loves her, I think. Can love exist without romance, I begin to wonder…
Idhar udhar soch sochkar I start thinking about the problem with a singular narrative of romance that is engrained in our lives. Every movie, no matter about what- action or drama or horror- comes with a story of budding love. Radio par har song is about romance, and even the bachpan ka make-believe games and conversations with aunties revolved around how we would find our partners and how lucky they would be. I, myself, grew up with ideas of partners inspired from the movies of my growing up years – kabhi Rahul from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, kabhi sometimes Raj from DDLJ, and later Aditya from Jab We Met. I kept looking for them in every guy I met. With or without movies, romance still becomes the ultimate dream – aren’t we told that finding the right partner is what will complete us?
It is troubling to me, personally, because of how gendered it is, how it carries notions of a class where gift-giving or trip-taking become the ideal ways of presenting love, it is casteist for consciously or unconsciously we fall for the people from the same background, and it is problematic when you don't want a monogamous long-term romance to be the main representation of your life. Matlab romance toh end point hai hee, but that too of a certain type. Haaye tauba!
For now, I see the pain creeping up on Fatima and many like her who are beginning to realize that some of their dreams may never be realized – the ones they grew up with. Fatima weeps for her unfulfilled dream of romance. Somewhere, don’t we all?
With all good intentions, I ask her to build a new dream - one that is not around a knight in shining armour. She doesn’t need one, she knows that. But how do you pull out the “mere khwabon mein ho aaye” and the “ye dil na hota bechara… jo khoobsurat koi apna humsafar hota” that runs in the veins? And should we?