Love, a four-letter word?

It’s that time of the year again, when the noblest of actions is reduced to a love-themed merchandising day. I am talking, of course, about love. Love is something that we as a nation must understand completely before we can accomplish anything worthwhile. If we keep misunderstanding love, we keep wasting our precious time and energy in chasing a lie.

Defining love

Love is a verb. This means that love is an act between two people. Love, the feeling, is a product of love, the verb, plain and simple. If you do actions of love for someone, it will result in creating a space for that person in your heart, and a space for you in that person’s heart.

What, then, is an action of love? Let’s stick to the basics. The most basic action of love is the way in which you look at a person, the way you use your eyes in his or her presence. If you look at the wording of our traditional poems and songs, you will find that they are filled with description of the language of the eyes. The poet talks about sitting in wait so that he may gaze upon the beloved, the singer sings about that one glance he is dying for, and we everyday people are stuck scratching our heads and wondering whether Cupid ran out of arrows when it was our turn. The reality, dear readers, is simple: whether or not you believe in your life partner being determined by fate, finding that life partner is hard work, arranging to be married to them is harder work, and keeping a marriage alive and working is the hardest job of all. Love is work, and work is effort. The concept of love being something that happens all by itself due to the beauty of a random person’s body and mind catching your attention, is a nice little story to tell by the fireside, but it is not a law of life to believe in.

The effects of “crush culture”

When young people decide to spend their free time admiring celebrities, the girl next door and the cousin from abroad, a “crush culture” is established that results in heartbreak. By “crush culture” I mean the time and energy spent in watching the crush, thinking about the crush and obsessively discussing the crush with friends. Schoolgirls are notorious for this–they do not even spare the teachers who they see all year round or the invigilators who they see during their annual exams. Any and every pretty person they see is a target for their whims.

What is frustrating about this is that this heartbreak is completely avoidable. It is simply a matter of how much you value your own heart and your own ability to love. Are you going to throw away your heart after every pretty face on the TV screen, or that cute boy or girl in the tuition centre? Yes, it is completely normal to be attracted to what appears beautiful to you. What I am asking you to consider is: is it worthwhile to fill your mind and heart with every person who attracts your attention? What do you get in the end, from all the hours you spend fascinated by that personality? The answer is that you get nothing at all. You, your mind, your heart and your time are worth more than that.

The myth of “the one”

This problem begins when we take our different forms of entertainment too seriously. The media sells the lie that there is only one perfect match available for you in the world, and that you have to be very high up in the social rat race in order to find that one match, and you will never have “chemistry” with anyone else. The reality is that there is a range of compatibility we have with many people, and out of them we can choose the one who appears to suit us the best. For a man, that would probably be the best-looking woman out of all the women of similar personality that he can approach for marriage. For a woman, that would probably be the most “well-settled” man out of all the men she finds to be compatible with her own self. The thing is, in real life, suitable matches do not line up for selection in this manner. Life is not a reality TV show. Really finding and choosing someone for marriage involves considerable patience, prayer, planning and preparation, and how can we grow all these qualities and techniques in ourselves when we are young, if we are impressed by fictional stories?

Love conquers all

In our experience of life, we come across many different people. There are people we like, people we dislike, and people who don’t matter to us. Out of all the people we like, we spend more time with a select few. The others are just there to pass the time with when our close friends aren’t around. The way we approach people in general has a big effect on our effectiveness as an individual member of society. The human heart has an incredible capacity to love, if only we understand this. If you consider love simply as a positive force that you use to brighten up your little corner of the world, starting with loving your own self, then the time passes more pleasantly. Don’t get me wrong: approaching every aspect of life with love is not easy, and discussing how to do it is beyond the scope of a single article, but it is possible. I will go beyond even the word “possible” and say that love is the purpose of existence–just don’t get stuck on the romantic version.

The importance of self-love

By self-love I mean regarding your own self in a positive way. A lot of us are caught up in self hate simply because of negative body image, peer pressure, family problems or some other reason. Call it self-esteem, call it self-care, whatever you call it, stop right where you are and take a deep breath. We are all human and certainly, desiring marriage to a suitable life partner is perfectly acceptable. It just doesn’t make any sense to waste our mental, emotional and spiritual energy on “time-pass” connections and end up neglecting our own poor hearts that need our urgent attention. Like they say, “bloom where you are planted”–easy to say but hard to do, certainly, which is why actually doing it takes a lifetime.

This article originally appeared in Us Magazine for the youth, The News International:


Introducing…the iLove 2.0


The silence of my third tea break of the day is interrupted by a commotion at the front desk. Apparently, someone is challenging my right to five minutes’ seclusion by demanding that I see them right now. I enjoy my work as much as I enjoy my tea, but I hate it when an impatient client turns this circle of harmony into a love triangle.

Blink, blink, beep, beep goes the intercom. Back on the saucer goes the teacup. Into the room strides the client.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. Usually, I page the receptionist with any standard version of the message “I don’t keep you at that desk for decoration”, and he gets moving. This is the first time that his appeal on the intercom has failed in its timing. Failed miserably. The damsel of doom is not supposed to flounce into my office five minutes before her appointment. She is supposed to be made to wait fifteen minutes before being allowed to enter, so that exactly what is going on right now does not happen.

“Thank goodness I got in here, doctor! Your telephone operator tried to tell me that you weren’t free, but I couldn’t stay in that waiting room any longer!”

He. Is. Not. A. Telephone. Operator. “Take a seat, madam,” I speak automatically. She flops onto the patient’s couch but instead of settling into it so that she faces the opposite direction, she twists around to face me.

Regular people act the way they’re supposed to. They sit the way they should for their therapy session. Your brother’s business partner’s sister-in-law—well, the less said, the better.

“I can’t believe it, Dr. Q,” she says. “You’re such an excellent therapist, just walking into your office soothes my nerves. But he’s just spoiled the place for me now. I can’t believe he’s here! I couldn’t bear seeing him in your waiting room. I just had to get out of there.”

I don’t like stories with snapshots-from-the-middle-of-the-plot epilogues. They never make any sense. “Who are you referring to?” I ask.

“I told you about him last time. Guy Z. The one I met after I left X. You know.”

“Hmm.” I rack my brains to make sense out of this alphabet soup, searching for recognisable labels. I probe for information: “Always Online or Photo Junkie?” Then I prepare myself to receive the incoming onslaught of information as the damsel (or Dod, as I personally call her) launches into the narration of her woes.

“Neither of them. They were a waste of time. I don’t know what they were even doing on a dating site. Always Online chatted with me for two weeks, went on a week’s holiday and then when he came back, he told me to remind him who I was! As for Photo Junkie, all he wanted was photo comments, he apparently hadn’t heard of the existence of photo sharing sites.

“I thought X was my type. He really had potential, but then he just had to go and display his complete lack of brain cells. He didn’t get it when I acted attractively mysterious. It’s the first rule in every book, don’t give too much about yourself away. Maintain an alluring aura of riddles and half-clues. Be elusive. But I was so gorgeously elusive that he totally missed the hint and thought I wanted to get away, so he gave me a good push to speed up the process. Deleted and blocked me from everywhere! After I spent a good month taking pictures of myself with my eyes peeking out from behind my dupatta! I can’t believe I wasted so much effort on that loser.”

“So this…X is in the waiting room?”

“No, that’s not X, that’s…well, let’s call him Zanzibar. He’s a real find, I subscribed to iLove 2.0 to find my perfect match and we got together. I sent him my mobile number, very conveniently tagged ‘AA Rabia Jaan’, so that it would always be at the top of his contacts list. He called up the owner of the person with the same mobile number as his on another network. He had to threaten him with arson and murder before he agreed to give up his number, but we finally got matching mobile numbers. I sent him an MMS of myself and he set my picture as the wallpaper on his mobile phone. Isn’t that just darling?

“The climax of our relationship was when he told me that he was driving past my neighbourhood to see me, and asked me to come out onto the balcony. My mother nearly had a heart attack when I asked her to let me drape the laundry over the terrace rail that day—I don’t even make my own tea, otherwise—but the mission was completed successfully. Just as I was rearranging Munnu’s cloth diapers for the fifth time, he drove past. The sun glinted off his sunglasses so that I couldn’t see his face properly, but he sent me a text message to ask where we’d bought the stonewashed jeans which were drying on the rail, so I knew that he could see me just fine. Wasn’t that a Romeo-and-Juliet moment!

“But something happened. He wasn’t texting me every few seconds anymore. I don’t know what happened. And now he’s here, so that means that whatever problem he has, he didn’t consider me worthy enough to confide in, so he’s going to discuss it with you!” The Dod glares at me for a moment, then a very different expression crosses her face. “Doctor…if you ask him to come in here and discuss it in front of me…you can do that, can you? I know you will. You treat me just like family.”

I treat you because you have money. “As both of you haven’t mutually agreed to come for couple therapy, I can’t guarantee anything, but—”

“Forget it. I’ll just ask him myself.” She frisks out of the room before I can say anything else. I glance in the direction of my (now cold) tea and suppress a sigh. The things one has to do to earn a living! I was better off before dating went digital.

The Dod strides back into the room. Impossibly, she is even more agitated than she was before. “He’s gone!” she shrieks dramatically. “Dr. Q, can you believe it?”

I very well can. The scene is very clear in my head. Dod and Zanzibar see each other in the waiting room. Dod flees to my office. Zanzibar exits the building. If that guy has an ounce of sense, he will be twenty miles away by now. That leaves me, a sobbing Dod and a curious receptionist leaning into the hall trying to eavesdrop.

Dr. Q Pid is the name, longtime clients is the game. I don’t run after people shooting arrows after them anymore. Sending them fishing for people in the world of bits and bytes is much more convenient. The new and improved system, sponsored by the Doc himself, the iLove two-point-oh. I sit at the edge of the lake selling equipment and listening to their woes when something goes wrong with their fishing rods. Some things work so well once you get them going that you wonder why you didn’t set them up years before.     

I try to console the Dod. Have to do something to send her away thinking about something other than a broken fishing line. I have just the perfect suggestion to drive all other thoughts out of her mind. “You just need someone to talk to, right?” She nods. I consider her for a few moments before popping the proposition out of its shell.  “Well, then. Why don’t you just take my number and talk to me!”



 Originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on February 12, 2010.

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