Greeting cards still exist. Okay, at some level I knew they hadn’t become extinct, exactly, but when was the last time you saw one? I saw one when a friend and I ducked into a small stationery store. Someone in her office was retiring. She wanted one of those cards that everyone can scribble you-will-be-missed messages on, only to discover, a few months later, that the person isn’t being missed after all. Still, it’s important to find the right kind of you-will-be-missed card – sentimental, yet not overly so; funny, yet not funny enough to make the recipient think no one was getting sentimental – and while my friend was engaged in that endeavour, I looked around.
I saw get-well cards, thank-you cards, cards for teachers and best-mom-evers. There was even a card for a first birthday – because, you know, one-year-olds like nothing better than to read congratulatory messages with lots of exclamation points. And then there were the cards that could be clubbed under the “romance” genre – the I-love-you cards, the happy-engagement cards, the anniversary cards. These haven’t changed at all. The same clichés, moonlight and roses and silhouettes of lovers. Some corner of me kept saying that if it has to be a flower, then – given the average Indian, um, shape – shouldn’t it be a lotus? But even that will wilt and die. Someone, sometime decided that these pretty ephemeralities are the truest symbols of everlasting love.
And I’m saying maybe it’s time for an update. I’m saying maybe we need new symbols, new ways of proclaiming love. I love you like free wi-fi. Go ahead, laugh – and then tell me you don’t feel some kind of fullness in the heart when you discover you don’t have to pay to use your smartphone in a distant land. You fill me with that kind of fullness. I love you like a fat child’s smile. Let’s face it, thin children have thin smiles. I’m talking about the kind of smile that elbows a fleshy cheek, which then fills like a balloon and makes Chinese slits of the eyes. The whole face works as a team, comes together for Operation Smile. It’s like a light has been switched on in the universe. You light me up like that.
I love you like the smell of freshly baked bread. It’s a stupid thing, bread. It had to go and fill itself with all kinds of carbs. But when it’s born, when it’s pulled from its warm womb by two careful hands, when it first faces the world – oh! I’ve seen people close their eyes, as if in heaven. Being compared to heaven is surely better than being compared to a rose. I love you like the needle on the weighing scale after a month of assiduous dieting, aka no freshly baked bread. I love you like the Sunday crossword. I love you like my favourite T-shirt (never mind the holes).
I love you like the weekly cigarette I allow myself. The waiting, the restraint, then the trip to the shop, the first hit of tobacco and all those other toxins – bad for me, I know, but I love how you make me heady like that. I love you like the Tamil chatter around me as I stand and sip coffee in the small restaurant near my home, after a six-month stint in the US. Or the UK. Or any of those cold places where coffee means a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. I love you like a puppy dropping a ball at my feet and looking up. Do dogs pray? I bet this one does, like I pray for you.
I love you like a bar of chocolate that’s been out in the sun. I’ll smoosh it all over my fingers and lips and taste you over many days. I love you like the little book in the pocket of the airline seat in front. All those glorious things, fragrances and diamonds, that I might be able to afford in a different life. In this life, I have you, and that will do. I love you like Maggi noodles. I miss you. I want you back. Even if you mean poison.
I love you not like the Taj but like my old room in my parents’ home. I love you like the splat a flip-flop makes when it lands unerringly on a scurrying roach. Not the most romantic thing, I know. But how many other things can you name, quick, that rival this satisfaction? You are my little love bug. I love you like the big kolam in front of the neighbour’s flat during festivals. I look at it and for a minute, just for a minute, you make me want to believe.
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