What’s this thing called Love?
Growing up as a starry-eyed teenager in the ’80s in a small town in Assam, love entered our lives not through a heart-shaped emoji. Or a right swipe on the smartphone screen. We actually met. And it was magic.
We had not even heard about the internet. Neither about the mobile phone. Love came into our lives in shy, embarrassed glances. Sitting across tables at the college canteen. Our throats would grow dry. We could hear our hearts pounding in our chests like an industrial-strength hammer.
But falling in love was a lot easier than actually professing it. And there we were, many love-struck young men and women, searching for that moment to say those three words. Many never gathered the courage. Days turned to weeks and months, and years. Some were just happy to stand at a distance, under the ancient gulmohar tree, and just watch lovingly at the object of their affection pass by.
The words remained in their hearts, unspoken. The love remained in their hearts, unrequited. A few of them, I know, remain happy bachelors. Married to their memories.
What’s this thing called? Love?
Kaun kehta hai mohabbat ki zubaan hoti hai/Ye haqiqat to nigahon se bayan hoti hai (Who says love has a voice?/Indeed, it’s the eyes which give away the truth). For others, words were unnecessary. A glance here. A smile there. And the heart knows what it knows. Sounds mushy? Well, it is. That’s what love is all about, isn’t it?
And what better place and time to experience the highs and lows of love than the college days. The first brush, for most I would guess, with an unknown feeling. When the birdsong would sound more melodious. And rose would smell much more sweet. And unknown ache in the heart, the pining for just a glimpse of that face. The ecstasy and the heartbreaks. Aah, the absolute bliss to be in love.
What! Is this thing called Love?
But to be a college student in love in a small town presented its own set of problems. Not the least of all is the sheer lack of any privacy in a small place where everybody seemed to know everyone.
“Oi…who was the girl I saw you with in front of Baruah’s shop.” Many had returned home to find the neighbourhood uncle sitting and talking to their parents. But wait till you hear about a classmate who had taken his girlfriend to a movie; he then decided to come out to the street to see if any acquaintance had noticed the two. As luck would have it, his uncle happened to be passing the cinema at that precise moment.
Love made fools out of all. But the friend could never live down this incident. For the record, his girlfriend is now his wife of 15 years.
I just called to say...
Having a bike in college was a luxury for most of us. If at all, parents preferred their sons—only the sons, then—to have a scooter. Only a couple among my friends had motorcycles and they were the coolest ones.
For most of the others, love was an affair with the good ol’ bicycle. Everyone had one. Not the fancy sports cycle but the sturdy black Raleigh, the one even our grandfather rode on. Why, we even had a term for the romance that bloomed on the streets of our town: half-pedal love. The girl on foot and the boy on his cycle. He could only turn the pedal half-way to keep pace. A full rotation of the pedal would take him far away from his lady love, and fast. It was fun. I speak from experience.
And then there was the PCO, which dominated our love lives back then. Few had residential landlines (the waiting period for a connection stretched for months). The love-struck would often set up ‘dates’ by calling a neighbour from a PCO, to call the neighbour’s daughter. Then he would disconnect and call after 10-15 minutes. Usually, the boy could seek help from his sister or a female friend to make the call so as not to arouse suspicion.
When work took me to another city, I would invariably receive a call at my office landline after nine in the night, when the STD rates were less. She would walk half a mile to reach the nearest PCO to call me. Night after night. I just called to say….
(This appeared in the print edition as "College Diary")
Anupam Bordoloi is Deputy Editor, Outlook