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February 13, 2016

Is Our Loudness of Being Killing Romance?

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Hemant Sapre

Romance has too many enemies these days… who writes poems for their beloved anymore? Here is the case for love in a world gone madly commercial

School buses grumble past. Sounds of the kitchen stirring alive — the cacophony of steel utensils being banged about and our old pressure cooker letting off steam — disturb the tranquillity of a foggy cold winter morning in Delhi. Our Jeeves wants money to buy milk and eggs. The newspaper delivery boy rings the bell: he has brought the monthly bill. And the phone, well, you get the picture. That lovely time of reverie, before memories of a delicious dream that transported you to the country of youth evaporate completely, has been brutally cut short.

It is not that I am a diehard escapist, luxuriating in nostalgia and shutting out everything else. But, reality has begun to bite. Everything has gotten so much louder. To begin with, people’s voices: everybody seems to be shouting, taking a cue perhaps from ear-shattering high decibel television serials to reality and news shows. Arnab Goswami, who people love to hate but secretly admire (the ratings say it all), may have set the bar for thunderous primetime gladiators. Cars pass by with music blaring so loud that the vibrations seem to accelerate your heartbeat. As for the movies, the sound is turned on so loud that I have started taking along ear plugs with the popcorn. I am beginning to wonder if we are a nation on its way to turning deaf. Nobody seems to have heard of or cares about noise pollution.

POPCORN AND EARPLUGS
The ever-increasing loudness of being goes beyond mere decibels. The visual loudness is equally killing: our desi TV serials with women and men decked out in shrieking, warring colours — the necklaces and earring and bangles like blinking sirens on VIP cars — are almost blinding. Actor Govinda’s sartorial excesses of the past now appear minimalist and distinguished in comparison. Even the once-iconic Rakhi, she of the loud voice and attitude, now fades in comparison; she is almost like a shrinking violet. Our films are no quieter. In addition to the popcorn and earplugs, the other must-accessory to take along are eye masks — they used to dole them out on airplanes before budget cuts to simulate night. The Zorro-like masks can create a sense of tranquility and aesthetics when the ill-assorted bling crosses into the realm of the intolerable in the movies.

So, in such loudness, what chance do the whisperings of love and the cooing of canoodling couples have of being heard over the din?

Very little. Romance has too many enemies these days. It seems to have been mowed down by the juggernaut of the 21st century. The lament of cynics mourning the death of romance and the fragile state of love is more audible, and getting to be widespread. If it isn’t the high decibel levels and perpetual surround sound, it is the Hallmarkisation of romance and courtship that is writing RIP. Actually, make that dating: courtship is so, well, early 20th century.

The ubiquitous mass-produced interpreters of love and romance have taken over, snuffing out individual declarations of love. Taking away with them, our words. Who writes poems for their beloved anymore? Scribbles surreptitiously written on torn-out sheets in class, scrunched up and dispatched as love missiles to the respective objects of love (over the heads of classmates) are rare. ‘Prem Patras’ can be bought and downloaded for free.

Young lovers are rapidly becoming conduits for ventriloquists: Hollywood, Bollywood, Archies and Hallmark, TV shows and songs. Not to forget Tiffany and, increasingly, other big-ticket jewellers.

Say it with jewellery, no need to exert the little grey cells — or the heart. Perhaps we should blame the late gamine Audrey Hepburn who played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the charming 1961 film based on Truman Capote’s book. The love affair with the iconic Manhattan store with its lovely blue boxes truly began then — in the popular imagination that is. Tiffany and Co describes itself as the ‘Concierge of Love’ in their Valentine list.

Included in its jewellery offerings for romantic couples: heart-shaped lockets, heart tag charms, rings with ‘I love you’ written on them, interlocking hearts, bracelets, chains…. After all, money and jewels make Holly Golightly happy: what’s love got to do with it, as Tina Turner memorably sang.

VIRTUAL ROMANCE
If romance is increasingly being outsourced, the final coup de grace against it is sexual glasnost, the winds of which are blowing rather strongly these days. Life and romance have been moving to the virtual world. Forget romance, you can have sex (even if it is only talking about it) at the push of a button. New mobile apps are the cupids of the day, with their arrows not always landing in the heart, but lower. Snapchat allows you to, in the secrecy of your bedroom or bathroom, send photographs and videos — which will self-destruct after a bit.

The Fling App allows you to hook up with anyone, anywhere, with several people at random — all the while keeping your identity a secret and letting you share graphic content. Then there’s TrulyMadly: it allows women to check out ‘cuties’, rewriting the stalking equation. And of course Tinder, which offers a transition to the world of flesh and blood, as well as sex, ‘neat’ — without romance, foreplay or love. As novelist Erica Jong put it decades ago: a ‘zipless fuck’.

I am not writing a requiem for romance and love, despite the hard knocks it has been getting lately. The biggest romance now going on is with the self. Oscar Wilde put it so tellingly, long before the age of the ‘selfie’: ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’

Is there room for anybody else? I rest my case.

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