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February 15, 2015

Changing Love

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Kalyani Ganapathy

Indian women today are no longer mooning over lost loves, first loves or could-have-been loves: their primary relationship is with themselves, discovers Madhu Jain, through the message of an ad…

The first stop for most stories I wrote on love, sex, relationships — and anything remotely related — was a well-known Mumbai psychotherapist, who, alas, is no longer with us. He was also the first stop for many advertising professionals. I wanted to tap what was going on in the minds, hearts and elsewhere of people (especially in the notional Youngistan) during my salad days working for India Today. The adwomen and admen wanted to get into the minds of consumers. But once there, looked for hooks to pull consumers towards their products. So, ever since, I often scan ads to read the zeitgeist of the times. I, alas, no longer have my reliable source; and the adwalas have no doubt found other gurus of the mind and heart.

The new Titan Raga ad eloquently tells us that Indian women today are no longer mooning over lost loves, first loves or could-have-been loves: their primary relationship is with themselves. It is all about charting the course of your own life, yes, loving yourself and even more significant — pampering yourself. In other words: when it comes to the crunch, the not-up-to-mark insignificant-other can go take a walk. In the ad Nimrat Kaur, The Lunchbox actress (she made such an enduring impression with her understated histrionics that she was given a blink-and-you-miss-her role in the American series Homeland) does it with gracious finesse.

The Moment
The scene: a light and airy airport lounge, probably business class. Nimrat Kaur, a picture of poise in a delicate pink outfit and freshly blow-dried long tresses, is reading a book and waiting for her order. She suddenly looks up and sees a neatly- turned-out young man, whom she almost married: almost, because he wanted her to give up working. For a brief wistful moment when he says, “This could have worked,” you think there’s a Happy Ending on the way. But the moment soon passes when he adds something to the effect of, if only you had given up your job. She sits back almost imperceptibly and tells him that he could have also given up his job. The camera then shifts to him, and he says men don’t give up their jobs. A look of bemused resignation later, she tells him that he hasn’t changed. The ‘moment’ has passed. Her attention now turns to the watch on her wrist, to which she bestows a love-filled glance. The voiceover says it all: khud se naya rishta (a new relationship with oneself).

In all the hullabaloo of the commercially fuelled Valentine’s Day increasingly celebrated in parts of the world where romance is supposed to follow marriage and love jihads are the order of the day, we tend to forget that the tectonic plates under the field of relationships are moving. And, changing equations: between parents and their offspring, between siblings, between men and women, between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, sons-in-law and the parents of their wives — and between a person and his or her possessions.

While the Nimrat Kaur persona in the ad sees her watch as evidence of the distance she has come through her hard work — proof of her independence and self-sufficiency, the strongest relationship that seems to be emerging is between people and objects, just things. For a while it was, to paraphrase Karan Johar’s tagline, all about loving yourself. Nothing said it louder than the outbreak of selfies; the selfie was quite the word during the year gone by: from Obama’s uninhibited selfie at the funeral of Nelson Mandela and Ellen DeGeneres’s ‘Oscar selfie’ to other narcissist indulgences. The object of desire was the self. But now it seems that the object of desire is rapidly becoming the object itself.

The Object
Just look at all the ads which are testimony to this new kind of love, or obsession. A woman returning home after a while rushes past her husband and his proffered lips or cheek to kiss the new tiles he has had installed during her absence. The fairly erotic one with a woman shown almost making love to her fancy imported and highly-designed bathroom fittings. Who needs a man; these ads and others like them would seem to imply. Or take the men, mooning over their slim smart phones and other electronic gadgets, cars and bikes. Come to think of it John Abraham in the ad for a powerful motorbike is almost merged with the bike: it’s become a part of him, and him of it.

I was just thinking about this intensifying relationship between people and things when I happened to come across an old episode of the American TV series, Boston Legal. One of the characters, a woman, has an extremely odd affliction. She is the victim of objectophilia, Latin for object sexuality. And in plain English a condition in which a person is sexually attracted to an object; in this instance an iPhone. I thought it was a joke until I looked up objectophilia: it wasn’t.

Is falling in love — or lust — with inanimate objects the next best thing? Perhaps, objects are more controllable, don’t have tantrums and moods and can’t emotionally blackmail you. But on the other hand, they do talk back, break down and are not always predictable — and are cold on winter evenings.

Makes me also wonder, did Prince Charming fall in love with Cinderella or with her glass slipper?

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