The Indian Express: Love Will Keep Us Alive

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Love Will Keep Us Alive

Written by Arefa Tehsin | New Delhi |
Now, more than ever, we need love jihad. For, isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time?

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Where even inter-caste marriage becomes an issue, how open are we about inter-religious marriages? (Source: Thinkstock images)

 

Disclaimer: This is a true story of love jihad, based on real characters in real circumstances. The names of the characters haven’t been changed (it’s a different thing that I haven’t named any of them).

Oh yeah, it is a filmi romance — a girl from the sleepy, lake town of Udaipur; a boy, two years her senior in college, from badass Bombay (uh-huh, Mum…baai). A college picnic in the remote, forested tribal lands of Jadhol. A few students from the picnic group go on a trek. The girl and the boy get lost in the jungle. Alone. Period. Need we say any more?

The girl is from a Bohra joint family, which has a history of love marriages from the early 1960s. Hindu-Muslim, Shia-Sunni, you name it. The reason: the grandparents — the matriarch and patriarch of the family — were both much ahead of their times. But the girl’s mother is a conservative Bohra, wanting to marry her daughter into a pious, godfearing family. What? A son-in-law without a beard? The clean-shaven, agnostic husband has been more than enough on her nerves all these years, thank you very much.

The boy, a rebel from a joint business family, an Agarwal — pure descendants of Agrasena himself, that too. Love marriage? Love happens after marriage, anyway. Inter-caste marriage? Unheard of. Inter-religious marriage? Heart-stopping. “Chhoro naak katavega!”

The boy and girl break the news to respective next of kin, or rather the news breaks itself. Ishq aur khansi chhupaane se nahi chhipti (love and cough can’t be kept secret), the girl’s mom’s prophetic words come true.

Both the sides are appalled, but they still have faith in providence. Surely, this is jawaani ka josh, which will soon die down. When it doesn’t, hell starts to break loose. A small word of caution travels from the boy’s family to the girl’s, through a common acquaintance. The boy hears about it and travels from Mumbai to Udaipur to apologise and have a word with the girl’s dad, a well-known and mild-mannered naturalist. They meet on the banks of the famous Fatehsagar Lake; both the wanting-to-be groom and the not-wanting-to-be father-in-law arriving on their scooters.

Boy: I really love your daughter.
Father: Boy, what’s the sense of it all? Your family is opposed to it, my wife is opposed to it. How will you make it work?
Boy: We will. You see…
Father: Hang on a second! Do you see that turtle there? Do you know about the hardness of its shell? (Father goes on to explain the scientific reason). But, my boy, what will happen when you have children? When they go to your place, they’ll teach them namaste, when they come to our place, we’ll teach them salaam.
Boy: Oh, it’ll all work out since we love each other.
Father: Wait a minute! Do you see that bird on the tree trunk? Do you know why it makes its nest there at that particular angle? (Another explanation follows). You know what, why don’t you both just run away and get married? I can’t convince her mother. You have my blessings.

The father is not spared the trouble as the couple doesn’t elope. However, the girl and boy realise that trying to wait for the families to agree one fine day is like waiting for a flight on a bus stand. The girl, with the secret help of her hassled father, calls her mama from Mumbai to convince his fiery sister. The boy, pursuing his MBA, conveys to his father that it’s either this marriage or lifelong celibacy. The father grudgingly agrees. And so does the girl’s mommy after a night-long convincing about fate and faith by her elder brother.

The boy, with the girl’s father, approaches the district court in Udaipur to file for their court marriage. The lawyer looks at them as if they have let loose venomous snakes on him. “Boss, why do you want to incite communal riots in our peaceful city?” It takes him a day to locate and pull out the dusty form for an inter-religious court marriage.

The boy, seeing the supreme reluctance of the lawyer, approaches the Mumbai courts. Without even looking up, the babu at the registrar, says, “Which date do you want? The 14th of February is completely booked.”

The small-town girl and the guy from the metro get married in the Mumbai court, and squeeze their way out after signing the paper, as the registrar calls, “Next!” When they emerge from the crowded court, they see the two Mummyjis hugging each other and crying, and not out of joy.

People forget that there is always a reception before the “happily ever after.” In the evening, with just the two families and a handful of friends, the wedding reception is held at a resort. While the couple flashes 200 watt smiles, the rest look like fused bulbs.

Yes, it has been a filmi journey for us, minus the slow motion shots and background music. After more than a decade of being married, the families have accepted us wholeheartedly, opening their hearts and their minds. They have changed for us, and that speaks volumes. But isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time? And what our society needs more than ever today is love jihad. Let’s tickle the tender sentiments of the anti-Romeo (and anti-Juliet?) brigade and mix it all together so that they are completely confused about who to place before the firing squad. For, I believe, we do not have to save love. Love will save us.

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.

 

 

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The Neighbourhood Grocery Store


“Some have too much, yet still do crave;

I little have, and seek no more.

They are but poor, though much they have,

And I am rich with little store.”
– Edward Dyer

The grocery store near the old neem tree that I used to visit as a child always had enough for our need and our greed. I was always overwhelmed by the collection of things the store contained. I remember the friendly face of the grocer who never failed to give a discount or hand over a colourful toffee out of one of those unreachable jars. We called him Uncle. He would disappear with my mother’s list in that wonderful assortment of things and come out, as if by magic, with all that we’d asked for. He neatly arranged all our things into the basket we carried from home. Uncle still remains in his small grocery shop, which once seemed so big to us. The jars are now reachable and the collection of things no longer overwhelming. But the smiling face has remained the same; except the cluster of wrinkles that compete with the cluster of things in the shop.

I’ve long left my hometown and that street where everyone knew me. But even when I return to that grocery store after gaps of years, Uncle still smiles at me and hands me a toffee like he did when I was a little girl.

I often shop in supermarkets now and complain how devoid of space they are.  Supermarket, a one stop shop, a place where I get everything under one roof, where I go in to buy one thing and come out with five and where I have abundance of choice but still at times do not find what I’m looking for. When life seems to travel with the speed of light and hours seem more packed with work than a Mumbai local, it is an efficient way to manage our daily requirements.

But somewhere within I’m glad that the multitudes of India in cities and villages still shop from the neighbourhood grocery stores. Everyone has a fixed shop from where they buy. The relation with that shop commonly dates back years, or even a generation or two. The supermarkets can’t compete with the free home delivery and credit to the customers. More than that, how do the supermarkets compensate for “How is your little daughter?”, “Would you like a cup of tea?  It’s cold outside”, “That’s okay, you can pay later.”  That grocery shop perhaps doesn’t give one a better price, but a better value to what one buys.

Makes me wonder, when the final moments come, would I remember the book launches, feats and triumphs in life or would I remember the old falsa tree in the compound, the funny names by which Adu calls me, Uncle handing me an orange toffee and all other Gods of small things…