love in all forms
A CELEBRATION OF
Stages of love
The ubiquitous perception of Valentine’s Day is that it is only celebrated on one day, the 14th of February. But that, my friend, is a naive mindset. You see, I believe Valentine’s Day is one of the few “festivals” that is celebrated in stages (the other well-known one is exemplified by the popular carol “12 Days of Christmas”). Largely, there are 5 phases that Valentine’s Day is spread over, and I’m going to waste the next five minutes of your life explaining them to you. Strap on, it’s going to be terrible.
Just a side note to all the couples out there - some parts of this might be applicable to you as well, but largely, this is for the single crowd, which is clearly the dominant population in society. Also, you suck. I mean, it’s fine. I don’t care. It’s okay. On that topic...
Phase 1: Denial
This isn’t as heavy as it sounds, don’t worry. It’s for that time of the year towards the end of January but it’s not quite February yet and you just cannot accept that it is the New Year already and almost a month has passed while all you have done is eat Maggi Magic Masala straight out of the packet at 2am and watch reruns of Tom and Jerry on Cartoon Network. It doesn’t feel like the New Year yet, but time flies so quickly. It’s in that awkward, limbo time between Christmas and Valentine’s Day with Republic Day just around the corner. Meanwhile, you’re still eating the leftover popcorn from Lohri.
Also, you are completely oblivious about Valentine’s Day.
Phase 2: Fear
First week of February.
You have just realised Valentine’s Day is around the corner. And you don’t have a date yet.
Panic mode sets in. Scenes of last year flash in front of you as you see the less mature, “kid” version of you putting yourself out there just to get beaten down. Frightening, isn’t it? You come to a concrete resolve that you won’t be alone this time of the year again. Some potential dates are mapped out, and you prepare a strategy to impress them (Note: I am being a little liberal using the plural form “dates”, but I have never achieved such a high stature).
Phase 3: Anxiety
The week leading up to the 14th.
You’ve narrowed it down to one person you’re going to ask on the 14th and you’re pulling out all the stops, with a bar of Dairy Milk Silk Oreo and a two-tiered chocolate cake with icing you’ve prepared yourself. A little, or rather, quite significant voice of reason inside you begs you to listen to it; you’re in denial of it (nice how things come around, isn’t it). Full preparation to impress her is underway and you finally convince yourself that there is a small, tiny, minuscule chance that she might say yes.
Phase 4: Show-time
She says no. You go back home.
Phase 5: Coping
The week after the 14th.
Happiness is hard to find. It feels like your world has just been turned upside down and you don’t quite know how to deal with it completely. The little things that gave you joy before don’t seem to excite you anymore. You don’t have any motivation to do the hundred assignments that are pending in your assignments tab (because, of course, you had that motivation prior to the heartbreak as well). You go through the five stages of grief all over again, if not for the person you wanted to impress then for the time you wasted in pulling out all the stops. It doesn’t feel like life will be normal anytime soon.
Or you just return to the same oblivious, shameless fool you were. Either works.
In essence, what I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day is just a concept imposed upon us by society and we shouldn’t let it dictate the terms of our life to such an extent. It’s just another traditional festivity and we shouldn’t really care about it this much. Care about it as much as you care about Kannada Rajyotsava - little to not at all (the only difference being you don’t get a holiday on Valentine’s Day but we can live with that). St. Valentine doesn’t deserve so much popularity in society and it’s time we get that.
Anyways, I hope everyone has a great Valentine’s Day, and if you’re single and Netflix-ing and chilling, I’m right there with you.
I think about summer in january, winter in june,
because i love what i don't have, forget what i do and
the only time i've ever been happy is monsoon.
yet my arms flake in the heat,
yet i rust in the wind. i stay in my
bell jar of temperate consciousness, never cleaned
Of stale thought and warm breath.
Caged, strangulated, with a window to the world
i've never opened, because i fear the grass is
a little too green for my liking, and the air
a little too crisp for me.
bland, unseasoned weather is a comforter
that just doesn't wrap around me anymore.
but then comes spring, then come
little joys and littler flowers,
because spring is ours.
On Romcoms and Love Songs
Every year, the world dedicates one day to the pretty romantic notion of love. It’s a day for people to spend time not only on, but also with their significant others. It’s a day that grants people a chance to unabashedly and openly embrace each other. It’s a day for couples to jampack their infinite and unrelenting love for each other into their Instagram stories, Spotify playlists, over-commercialized cards, matching lockets, and TikTok dance duets. It’s a day where people make each other cards, poems, notes, songs, twelve-part orchestral movements, NFTs, what have you.
Some of us don’t have that kind of first-hand experience with romance (and if it wasn’t clear from the first paragraph, I’m one of them). All of us, however, have some appreciation for, and understanding of, romantic love - not by virtue of our feelings or relationship statuses (stati?), but by the Hilbert’s hotel of romantic content that pops up in almost everything we watch, listen to, and center objectionable fanfiction around. In a dedicated session to think about this content, I came up with a few things that changed the way I personally saw romantic love.
The first love story I encountered was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Imperfect as it may be, it’s something that defined romantic love for a lot of Indian kids. The train scene at the end may well be the most popular scene in the entirety of Bollywood, and for good reason. To many, Simran running to board the train with Raj is a moment characteristic of the ability of young love to lay waste to traditional, old-fashioned values. It showed us that romantic love is progressive and powerful in its conception.
That message has been well-affirmed by the thousands of thousands of love songs written since then. From Queen’s “Somebody to Love” to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” to Doja Cat’s “Say So”, music has always been a tool to celebrate romantic love, passion, and togetherness. Although more realistic and autobiographical, the songs don’t by any means lose the magic that the movies brought out, and stay firmly of the opinion that romance is something that’s inherently beautiful, overwhelming, and all-consuming.
To those individuals actively pursuing romance, these movies and songs are the blueprint. Some dream of chasing after their significant other on a train, being with their lover for 4000 Jeremy Bearimys, or reuniting in the rain after a fight. Some can relate to Louis and Ella when they ask their partner to dream a little dream of them. Some can identify with Shakespeare when he says that his partner’s eternal summer shall not fade, nor lose possession of that fair they ow’st, and that they shan’t ever wander’st in death’s shade.
I believe, though, that this stuff means so much more to those who aren’t as enchanted by relationships, Valentine’s Day, or those cute little couple lockets.
We live in a world where romance is, for lack of a better word, pummeled through our heads. We prioritize romance as a crucial part of our lives, and treat it as something of a necessity for happiness and satisfaction. As such, we make clear distinctions between those who like those priorities and those who don’t; those who wish to have romance and those who don’t really care about it; the romance-seeking and the romance-averse.
Sometimes, the more romance-averse of us feel as though we’re left behind - that we’re somehow wrong for not caring about this incredibly important aspect of our lives. Whether it’s that we feel we aren’t mature enough yet to be in a romantic relationship, that we prefer platonic love, or that we don’t experience romance the same way the romance-seeking do, we’re often out of the conversation. To make up for it, we live our artificial romances through the media.
We learn about romance not through our experiences but through romcoms and love songs. We attempt to contribute to the conversation not with our own stories but rather, those of Jim and Pam. We engage with our romance-seeking friends not with anecdotes but with comparisons to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.” It’s a way to feel like we’re part of a larger romantic community without breaking our own personal boundaries and limits. It’s a way to feel as though we belong in a world that isn’t exactly supportive of that.
I’m not here to proclaim that as a good or bad thing, partially because I don’t want to demean romantic love on Valentine’s Day. I do think, though, that we need to realize the feelings of our romance-averse friends who feel like they’re lacking in their desire to be whole. In our journey to accept and be aware of how diverse and expansive romance is, we can’t leave behind those who don’t feel as strongly connected to it.
Love is in the air, but not everyone feels the need to take a breath.
What Love Means to Me
I think love is the most important thing in the world. Platonic love, romantic love, the various other kinds my friends have explored at length in their columns - they are the meat of life. In this article, I’m not going to try to draw lines between different kinds of love; I’m going to focus, instead, on trying to explain what love means to me, using poetry.
Firstly, my poem, On building a home. This poem is almost two years old now, and I still think it is the closest I’ve ever gotten to explaining what love is to me. Love is knowledge. It is the desire to know someone as intimately as they will let you. It is knowing the figs will rot and writing a poem about it. Living for endless months of new figs that will go bad.
Now for our poetry recommendations. All of these poems represent, to me, the way love grows from the smallest things, and from paying attention to them. Read them keeping in mind the ways we see the world through the people we love - and vice versa.
Happy Valentine’s day. Drop a heart emoji in my messages.
ON BUILDING A HOME
Previously published in FEED Lit Mag
The figs are almost ripe
They are green, but a hint of mauve escapes them.
I like them unripe, but you say ‘let’s give them one more day’
Tomorrow they will be brown and purple
You will smell them and say ‘I guess we’ll have figs another day’
A month later you will throw open the door,
Say, ‘Honey, I brought figs!’
And I will kiss you
Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.
Bird-Understander by Craig Arnold
Craig Arnold earned his BA in English from Yale University and his PhD in creative writing from the University of Utah. Arnold’s second collection of poetry, Made Flesh (2008), is “motored by vividly earthy language and disguised philosophical sophistication,” observed Publishers Weekly in a starred review. In 2009, Arnold traveled to Japan to research volcanoes for a planned book of poetry. In April of that year, he disappeared while hiking on the island of Kuchinoerabujima.
Lines Depicting Simple Happiness by Peter Gizzi
Influenced by Ezra Pound, the Beat Poets, and John Ashbery, Peter Gizzi uses both narrative and lyrical gestures to engage and question distance and light in his search for the unmapped. Reflecting on the question of whether his work is narrative or lyric, Gizzi stated in an interview with Poetry Daily, “I think I am a narrative poet—I’m just narrating my bewilderment as a citizen.”
Windchime by Tony Hoagland
Tony Hoagland was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Arizona. Hoagland’s poetry is known for its acerbic, witty take on contemporary life and “straight talk,” in the words of New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner: “At his frequent best … Hoagland is demonically in touch with the American demotic.”
The Meaning Of Love
It’s a simple four letter word, but its meaning is so much more complex than the four letters can convey. Love is making tea for your mother when she asks for it. Love is associating soft toys to people and hugging them when you remember those people. Love is thinking of someone and smiling. Love is being afraid of losing your friends and family, because they mean so much to you. Love could be you making videos, edits, poems, and just writing things for your friends. Love is what you want love to be, as long as you’re comfortable with it. Love is insane, love is divine and has literally no boundaries, and that’s the beauty of it. This Valentine’s day, the day which I and millions of others associate with love, (when companies make billions of dollars off marketing), I thought I could talk about how amazingly flexible the concept of love is by creating my own full form to it!!!!
The ‘L’ in love, according to me, is one of the most important letters. In my head it stands for “loss”; the fear of losing someone you love, the fear of drifting apart. As someone who constantly thinks that everyone is mad at them, I think it’s important to say that the fear of someone hating you or not loving you is, according to me at least, significant of love itself. Of course it’s great if you can be secure in your relationships with people, but that’s not always possible for everyone, because everyone is a different person, and I think it is important to acknowledge that.
Along with the fear of loss, the L could also signify (This one’s a bit far fetched but hear me out) “lumbar support”, the support a chair provides to your back bone with you sit on it. The support can be compared to the support you get and give from friends and family everyday because you love them and they love you. Love is so flexible that even this support, this backbone to your life if you will, has no specific definition. Lumbar support could be when your mother helps you by being there for you and spending all her day taking care of you, or it could even be someone checking in on you and asking you how you are.
L could also stand for “loser” which your friends call you because both of you have a mutual understanding that it's the way you show each other affection and it makes you both feel extremely happy. The L could be “luminosity”, the way some people just make you feel bright and happy and cause you to give them glistening grins. The L could be anything you want it to be, because love is not the same for any two people, it changes in how it is felt and expressed (if you think about it, the L could even stand for “lucrativeness”, the way companies profit off of valentine’s day).
It could even stand for “language”, talking about how different people have different love languages. One of my favourite love languages is making playlists for the people I love and the joy when people do the same for you is absolutely indescribable. You know love is divine when all the love songs suddenly start to make so much sense. The feeling of having something that I share with only a few other people and that we all understand that that’s how we express our love is absolutely great. The language could be playful teasing as you both understand that it’s how you express your affection for each other.
In my head, the O is symbolic of “obsession” and attachment. The feeling of liking something or someone so much that you cannot get enough of them. You always want to be around them, talk to them, watch movies with them, play games with them, or just sit in absolute silence as the both of you listen to music and do school work. O could stand for “Older” the way I want to grow old with certain people and spend my entire life with them, always and forever.
At one point, there was a thought among my friends (and the entire internet apparently) of someone peeling oranges and feeding you, and I think that the O could stand for “oranges”
as an homage to that because it’s a really divine way to think about love according to me.
The O could stand for “open”, a quality several relationships require to work.penness is an important aspect of any friendship, because when you are able to communicate your feelings without assuming a lot, it really helps in building stronger bonds with people.
The O could be “one-of-a-kind”, the way everyone’s love for each other is unique, or it could even stand for the word “observant”, like when you observe that someone is feeling down and you check in on them, or even observe that someone got a haircut or had a change in appearance and you compliment them on it.
The O could signify the “obscurity” of love, and how no one can ever truly understand the scope of it and how it’s so weird to you but you can’t get enough of it. Or even how your parents help you clean your room and keep it in an “orderly” manner. How every single person you love has an “organised” location in your brain and how you wouldn’t trade their place for anything else ever.
I think V is one of the harder words to find a meaning for since it is not as popular as the other letters, but I also think that it is this very quality that makes the letter more unique and interesting. V could stand for “validation”: the idea of feeling wanted and cared about by someone you love. It could be a compliment someone gives you, or even an action such as your mother making your favourite meal when you are sick, in the hopes of you feeling happy because she is tired of seeing you being sad. It could also be your friends giving you their jacket to wear because you thought it was pretty.
V could also stand for “vulnerability”, which some people may feel in a relationship with another person. V could also stand for “voice'', the way some people change their voice and the way they speak with different people so they can easily understand each other, which is something I do involuntarily, sort of like a reflex action. Most importantly, in the age of the pandemic, V could mean “video calls” where I hang out with the people I love on a daily basis.
Getting “Vanilla” ice cream together and laughing and talking could be what this letter signifies, because ice cream is one of the purest forms of love. V could even mean “vacuum”, the thing that you feel when you don’t talk to a person you love for an extended amount of time or when someone in your life drifts apart from you.
The V could be “valuable”, because every single one of my relationships with friends and family is important to me, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. There are a few people who I started talking to online and I haven’t met yet and there is nothing more valuable than the thought of running up to them and giving them a hug.
The last letter of this complicated yet beautiful word is what I think signifies “easiness”. How it is easy to talk to the people you love about anything. How I can easily go down for lunch with my parents and talk about how we love our cat or even gossip about something together. How I can talk to my friends about absolutely anything easily and they help me out in teaching me things I didn’t know.
The E could also be “energy”, the amount of energy you give to a person because of the amount you love them. The energy could be something that you bounce off of each other and share with each other. It could also be compared to how we feel good when we do “exercise” and spend “energy” the same way I personally feel good when I put in energy when I interact with the people I love dearly.
It could also be the “effort” people put in to put a smile on your face like painting you frogs or building things for you in a game, and how the effort they put makes you grin like an idiot. For me, there are several people that I love the most that have to put little to no effort to make me feel on cloud nine. And if I were to just watch the people I love for the rest of time, it would be “enough”.
“Eternity” is what the E could stand for. As in, wanting to know each other and talk to each other for all of eternity or hugging someone and staying there in embrace for all of eternity. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but like how everyone says, it's the thought that counts. The E could mean “evergreen'', which could signify how you feel lush and fresh when you talk to someone you love, like a bright sunlight glistening on the dew filled leaves of a plant. The E can be “eagerness” of wanting more or even earning each other’s trust and respect.
I hope you could understand what love means to me with this, and how there is no one way to experience it. It comes in many forms as well, it could be romantic, platonic, love for family, a sibling dynamic, or a million other things. Love has no limits.
There is a particular verse in the Bible which describes love, I think it is an extremely beautiful way to look at the whole concept of it -
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”
This Valentine’s day, I hope you don’t spend too much money helping companies profit and just get to do things you love with the people you love in the way you love to do it. I for one will show my cat how much I love her by making her a box to sleep in. I just want to end by saying how I might not know who you are, but I love you for reading what I wrote. It means to me as much as a round trip to the moon and back in an Elon Musk space ship would cost. That being, an insane amount which is impossible to think of but I insist is completely necessary. <3
Stuffed animals have always been my favourite kinds of toys. They make me feel safe and warm inside, much like a nice controlled fire (which, of course, also makes me feel warm on the outside).
The first stuffed toy I formed a bond with was a goose that had black wings. I, of course, named her Goosey because I was seven years old and that was the best name I could come up with. I remember taking her with me everywhere, because no experience could ever be complete without Goosey by my side. Whether I was reading bird books, colouring in my bird colouring book, or birdwatching in my balcony, I always had that stuffed goose tucked under my arm.
I don’t play with my stuffed toys nearly as often now and they gather dust very quickly, so they’re all bundled in a blanket and stay in the storage unit below my bed for the time being. When I decided that I was going to write about stuffed animals, I knew I had to consult Goosey again. So, I held up my mattress with one hand, and with the other, I scrambled through the assortment of items that was stored neatly under it. After a minute of searching, I found the goose I was looking for.
Looking at my Goosey filled me with an inexplicable emotion. It felt like lighting that one scented candle after years of staring at it with longing in my eyes. It felt like that moment of precious silence which accompanies driving under a flyover in the pouring rain. It felt like hugging my mother with tears in my eyes and realising that everything would be okay.
It felt like a seventeen-year-old looking at a stuffed goose at three in the morning.
I don’t know how to describe love in its true form. I can’t describe the safety and security that settled within me as I squeezed that goose. Every metaphor that comes to mind seems stupid and pretentious, because love is the only thing I have experienced so far that is neither.
I used to think that showing love was lame and weird. I was scared to be vulnerable so I decided to be detached and aloof instead. Instead of facing my fears and opening my heart, I decided to hide the fact that I loved people.
But the problem with love is that it’s hard to conceal. Much like the scorch marks and wax that a scented candle leaves when it falls flame-first onto a brand-new sofa, it’s visible no matter how hard you try to hide it. No matter how sarcastic I was, I would still lean in whenever my friends spoke because I wanted to hear everything that they had to say. No amount of me rolling my eyes would be able to conceal the way they sparkled every time one of my closest friends told me about her favourite books.
I’m not proud of the person I was then, and I’m trying to learn from the mistakes I made. I try to be more patient and kind with everyone around me. I try not to light candles near flammable furniture (keyword: try). But most importantly, I try to tell the people I love how much I love them, as much as possible, because we all need to hear it.
It is a privilege to love and to be loved. I am eternally grateful for the people (and geese) in my life. So of course I’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day, and I think you should too. Attempt to make a heart shaped cake, sing love songs at the top of your lungs, and light as many scented candles as your heart desires (because pyromania and self-love are obviously synonyms).
As for me, I’ll be doing all of the above with the co-author of this article tucked under my arm, for old times’ sake.
LOVE LIKE THAT
my greatest fear is forgetting the shape of your nose // or the crookedness of your front teeth // the way your clothes hang off your body // or even just the way you breathe // we fell apart like branches from a tree // buried in the soil of the old farm, do you remember me? // the idea i had of you is something you could never be // if you were the one to cut me, i would forever bleed //
i used to think of an invisible string // that tied together our pinky fingers // it's golden like sun rays on a warm summer eve // but the knots could not help but linger // and dug into my skin, i still have the scars // reminders of love like that // love that we lost.
and now my wounds bleed purple like your lipstick // i’ll forget the way your eyes used to shine and those high heels clicked // it was death by a thousand razor-blade nicks // every dry summer night i replay the signs i missed//
someday i’ll forget your favorite songs and your peanut allergy // someday i won’t hear your voice again, not even in my dreams // i thought i knew where i belonged, the space between your arms // but it grew wider and wider // until it wasn't there at all //
love like that is crash and burn but I'll remember the fall.
INKSTAINS/ LIKE A WRITER
she sits there, in front of you, and calls you a taker.
she says that you take and take and take, you take
pain and eat it for breakfast, and come up with some
grand retelling of events that didn't need to be recounted.
she says that you take lives and memories and words
that were never even spoken, you chew and swallow
and when you're done with it it's a shiny new thing
no longer theirs but not quite yours either.
it shames me to admit that i see myself in you
your hollowed out cheeks and nimble fingers
only my eyes still have the spark that yours are missing
but i wonder if the flame will only leave blisters.
i think like a writer, in prose and future memories
i cry like a character in a best-selling teen novel
i live like a writer, in flashbacks and hazy recollections
like my life is but a montage of better times.
i love like a writer like i love the thoughts in my head
too much, or not at all (there is no middle ground)
i breathe and eat and laugh and cry like a writer
and by that i mean that all of it means next to nothing to me
not until it's marked by an inkstain on an old worn notebook
or a half-finished jumble of words on a notes app.
i change the world as a writer, but not in the way you think
i write the things that i wish i would've said: here, now, and yesterday
because at least on paper i am who i want to be.
i am a writer, because i am what i've written
i am flawed and perfect and real and scenic
and even when i come undone it is beautiful
if i was written, if i write, then i have meaning.
Context For This Poem-
Opening lines are inspired by a dialogue between two characters in the TV show ‘The haunting of Hill House’, where one of them is a down-on-his-luck author and the other is his conscience (in the form of a figment of his wife). He is selfish and manipulative, but he is a genius and goes on to sell millions of copies of a book that profits off of his family’s trauma - without their consent.