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Photo: iStock

Death of romance amid a pandemic of twisted hearts

As we brace for a post-covid world of thermal scanners, tracker apps and other dystopic stuff, one wonders how it will affect romance. Will lovers, for instance, ever get to kiss again?

At times I do an Aldous Huxley and reimagine my very own bravura Brave New World. Thermal monitoring, intelligence streamed from covid data, mandatory app-controlled movement from point to point, bio-weaponry, and other such usual suspects. In the midst of all this dystopia, I also think of love…. No, not love for humanity or community or offsprings or siblings, but the overwhelmingly grandiose romantic version that impels kings to abdicate thrones.

For instance, what will happen to lovers if Valentine’s Day beckons and the virus shows no sign of retreat? Will they be content to moon over objects of affection on Zoom? Or, even if they are courageous enough to get together for a face-to-face, will they be foolhardy enough to unmask and kiss?

Talks of “upcoming" romantic weekend getaways have been shelved, stories on being “spoilt for choice" on Tinder are being swiped left, and plans of walks down pretty aisles are in cold storage. What’s more, the Big Fat Indian Wedding industry, which had promised to bask in the spotlight of eternal sunrise, is sighting a sunset looming on the not-so-distant horizon.

At one level, I’m deriving a kind of sadistic pleasure: bragging rights and silly giggles on matters of the heart are on mute mode, and the silence is rapturous.

At another level, I’m a bit worried. The other day, I heard an odd tale. A married man known to a friend of mine boasted that he’d created a fake profile on a dating site “for kicks". He wants to be entertained by going through other members’ bios, my friend said, because he’s “bored out of his skull".

“Scary much?" I asked, doing a balancing act, talking on the phone while trying to prise out the last-remaining lot of kettle-fried chips from its packet—my second bag of treats for the day. “He’s obviously a stalker."

She: “He has gone on record to say he’s ‘just looking’. You know, like harmless window shopping, with no intent or means to touch-feel, let alone buy."

Me: “So his wife knows, and she’s okay with it?"

She: “Obviously not, she’d be furious! But he’s really zoned out with his life and wife right now, all these months of being boxed in at home, so it’s a diversion. By the way, he’s keen to check out the men as well, says he wants to know more about these ‘losers’ who are looking for love in the time of corona."

Me: “When the pandemic knocks on the door, love flies out of the window?"

She: “That’s cruel! Let’s just say familiarity breeds contempt."

Clearly, it’s not only the serial daters or relationship enthusiasts who are experiencing FOMO—the fear of missing out—and having a bad time. Those in the thick of things seem to be equally miserable.

Someone told me of this honeymooning couple stuck in a lovely Mediterranean coastal spot for more than three months because the lockdown was imposed all too suddenly, and are now being counselled since they are seriously considering a divorce. The first few weeks were reportedly great—the two of them, a love suite, olive and feta salads, and the sound of the sea. After that, with beaches out of bounds, it was downhill all the way, till they could no longer stand the sight of each other.

My favourite love story for the season, however, belongs to a dear friend who lives in Dubai. Let’s call her Tosh—not least because I’ve been watching Shetland. She and her husband were mighty thrilled when work-from-home was imposed by both their respective companies. “We’ll be working, but also getting to be together 24x7 at home." Her WhatsApp status from thereon read: “Do Not Disturb".

I took the cue and called her only a month later. She immediately informed me that her husband gets on her nerves: “I can’t wait to get back to work, he calls me a nag and a whiner…. It’s been a bad time."

One day, they squabbled more than usual. To make up for the excesses, Tosh made spaghetti Bolognese in the evening, cracked open a bottle of Chianti, and laid out the dinner table with a mimosa-scented candle as its centrepiece. Man and wife sat down to eat, and, as she carefully poured wine into fine goblets, he trained his gaze on her (she swore there wasn’t a twinkle in either of his eyes).

“I have something to say," he began. “I may have started believing in reincarnation: I’m sure you were my mother-in-law in an earlier life."

“You mean you were married to my daughter?" she asked. “Kind of icky, right?"

He: “I meant I must have been your daughter-in-law, and you were a saas of the desi variety, the sort who spawns Balaji Films’ soap operas with her taunts and bickerings."

She spilt a little wine on the crisp table linen. “My heart literally bled." But by the end of dinner, they were in splits. “I guess that’s what really matters, being able to laugh together," Tosh sighed. “Oh, I’m joining work tomorrow.

Sushmita Bose is a journalist, editor and the author of ‘Single In The City’.

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