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1972: A love story
In those days, romance began with a diffident smile from a passing rickshaw and ended with a turmeric-touched card announcing the girl's marriage.
Back in the 1970s, falling in love in a small town in central Bihar was like participating in the reality TV show Khatron Ke Khiladi. Entry was restricted to the daring and the desperate. Love was a transgression, a punishable offence. A lover getting thrashed then was as common as MS Dhoni's Team India getting beaten nowadays. Forget romantic dalliances, brothers would take umbrage if strangers stared at their sisters.
Not surprising that most abandoned the very idea of real-life romance much before it took shape. They would try to experience love in the paperback novels of Gulshan Nanda and Prem Bajpai or a Rajesh Khanna movie;but not in real life, and certainly not before marriage. For the majority, romance began with a diffident smile from a passing rickshaw and got over with a turmeric-touched card announcing the girl's marriage. That was the end.
But there's something about love and its irresistibility. Against such adverse working conditions, lovers always found ways to defy the unwritten decree. Romance was conducted in secrecy and with imagination. Love letters, small enough to be smuggled inside a blouse, were often the preferred mode of heart talk. Timings would be synchronised to the second as love-letters were exchanged on rooftops. The small note would be sprinkled with cheap perfume and cheaper shayari such as Likhta hoon khat khoon se siyahi na samajhna, marta hoon tere ishq pe jhoota na samajhna. (I am writing this letter in blood, don't think it is ink;I am head over heels in love with you, don't think I am a liar).
With lovers hardly able to speak with each other in private and for long, romance in the small-town was often rooted in unreality. It wasn't love but its exaggerated, imagined sense that enveloped the young. You didn't fall in love with the person but the idea of what one thought and imagined he or she would be. Trusted friends would join this imagined world. A girl would promptly be referred to as bhabhi if she so much as smiled while talking to a friend. Such friends from both sides would do their best to help the couple find safe meeting points. Despite a premium on secrecy, every love story became a collective project. Yet few couples eloped. Only the rarest of the rare defied their parents or opted for a court marriage. It was as if they had subconsciously accepted and internalised the principle that the family's honour comes before everything else.
In such small-towns, dating was unheard of but mating was commonplace. Passion's call was answered in the unlikeliest of places - a staircase, a sugarcane field and even the buffalo shed. The girl would feign a bad tummy and stay back at home while the entire family went to a satsang to meet her lover alone.
With time at a premium, foreplay was generally reduced to a couple of breathless bites and kisses. Clothes, usually sex-friendly attires such as saris, were never taken off because it was too risky.
Girls were keen to have sex but also determined to protect their virginity, considered the ultimate certificate of 'purity' in such patriarchal settings. What will I tell my husband on the wedding night - was the normal concern. But in the best tradition of innovative India, ways were worked out.
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