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What love is not...

Monideepa Sahu Jan 28 2018, 0:54 IST

This is a carefully crafted tale of an unnamed young woman as she is perceived by others at different points in the course of her life. People who feel intrigued enough to care about her, share their impressions. The author examines the complexities and fleeting nature of human affections and longings. We first meet the central character as a schoolgirl, diffident yet defiant as she deals with that difficult prepubescent phase of life. Her art teacher is drawn to this moody child who can, but will not draw and paint. Why is she unwilling to unlock her creative potential, and what wounds does she carry inside her?

Can the teacher draw her out of her self-imposed shell and nurture the spirit which creates beautiful origami cranes? Will the student understand the teacher's own pain and disappointments, which the teacher shares with her in a disarming moment? The origami cranes reappear to remind us that "with origami you don't need anything else. You don't add paint or ink€ you don't take away from it, like with sculpture€ You start with a sheet of paper and end with a sheet of paper, yet somehow€ It's transformed."

Similarly, the characters in this story are transformed as they pass through each relationship. The nine people who form bonds with the central character, are unconnected. But their narratives are linked by the deft interweaving of recurrent motifs. The young woman's memories of abandonment by her parents who left her in the care of grandparents; the stone bridge crossing the unnamed city by the river; the young woman's love for stray cats; the folded paper cranes and the red-and-black painting of a tiger gifted by a former lover; such images connect the various relationships.

The nameless city on the river, and the other city away from the river provide backdrops for the action. The cities are sometimes in an unnamed European country, and sometimes in India. The young woman around whom the story revolves, and the people who are drawn to her, are also not named. The setting and the players are specific yet generic. These narrators and their stories are unique and yet, universal. The settings and visual imagery are built up like a delicate watercolour painting. Beautiful descriptions reflect the moods and emotions of the characters.

Love can be idyllic and lyrical. "I pull you away from a wave, but it splashes you and wets your dress. You laugh out loud like a child. We kiss in the light that's slowly fading into deepest blue. In our ears the roar of wind and water. We stroll, and finally decide to stop at a restaurant and order wine and dinner. You can't stop touching me. And giving me kisses." The deepest love runs like an unseen force; barely visible on the surface, but creating deep currents within. "The ones we pretend to ignore are the ones we're most aware of."

Love isn't always beauty and light. Loving relationships can develop cracks. "I try to involve you in the running of the household. You know, paying the bills, keeping accounts, but you pretend to be interested and concerned and then wander off. You like playing the part of the flighty artist, I think. It's a part you play well. And it's also convenient because you don't have to deal with the€ dirty laundry€ I think it brings you joy, so I allow you to, though we can barely afford it. But how would you know?"

The young woman gets involved with one man and stays with him though she isn't happy. He wasn't happy either, "but at least he knew when it was enough, when the unhappiness was too much, had gone on too long. 'I don't,' you say. 'I never seem to know'."

She launches scathing attacks on her lover, the budding musician and his dreams. "Oh, is that what you call it, you wannabe rock star?" she tells him, trashing his fondest ambition in a fit of angry jealousy. Love is riddled with contradictions. When she meets that same lover again after several years and lovers, he has successfully started his own band. "You're lucky, you know," she tells him. "Because you've always known what you want to do."

Love does not last forever. "I sit next to you feeling like I'm a million miles away. I'm also bereft but cannot express it. I guess I'm sad for other things too. That I thought I could feel for you the way I once did, but cannot. It has passed. Despite the second chance, the restart, the new hope, we cannot be saved." The human characters pass through the story. But love shines through greater and more memorable than any of them, including the young woman around whose relationships the narrative is woven.

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