There is a poem from Kurunthokai which I find captivating. It’s a classic moment of separation of two lovers. They meet, they are in love, but now they must say goodbye. She fears that this might be the last time they see each other, and he reassures her with beautiful lines of poetry. What’s not to love? So many Tamil movie songs have used these lines and my mother liked it so much that she chose to print this poem on my wedding invitation.
Something about the translator Chenthil Nathan’s explanation of the context of leaving a loved one has stayed with me. (Read his full explanation and translation on his amazing blog Old Tamil Poetry). Each time I read this poem, often in the context of my own pangs of separation and love, I see the man leave his inconsolable lover with promises that their story has the weight of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He says they are like red earth and rain water, inseparable once mixed together. Each time, I want to ask how he can be so sure:
love like ours is like red earth and rain,
we are no longer who we were before we met,
with some love, (or most, what do I know?)
the people you love are a part of you,
but you know,
red earth does not stay wet forever,
water sinks deep but also floats high.
…I suppose this is why I am not a poet.
Anyway, I simply hate goodbyes, they blind me from seeing that feelings don’t stop at each farewell, but that they take other forms and shapes. I don’t know how many times I must have had some version of this conversation with A–
‘Isn’t this ramen amazing? We should come here all the time!’
‘Yeah, we should try making this at home next!’
‘Getting away from work feels good’
‘Hanging out with you feels even better’
‘It’s the best!’
‘so…when are we going to meet next?’
‘I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out’
‘When will this get better, there’s not enough time to even fight properly’
‘We can still keep chatting on the phone?’
The absurdity is too real, we burst out laughing.
For long distance lovers with no definite end in sight, love is an act of faith and belief more often than not. We tell each other that we’ve come so far, we couldn’t have planned to be in this place even if we had wanted to, that next semester we will find the time and money to visit each other, next weekend we can have a long conversation, maybe next summer we can tell our families we want to marry each other, next year will be nothing like the time we almost gave up, the next month will be nothing like the past year of near total exhaustion.
I am writing this at a moment when life feels uncertain all over again, but it strikes me that I’ve been here before, this relationship has been turned inside out and come out okay, for now it still brims with care and laughter. I’d end by asking if it’s worth it, but the hopeless romantic in me thinks that maybe this is not the point at all. What is love if not a promise made in the present about the future, an affirmation of our destinies, or our choices of the past, or of dumb ephemeral luck that led us to each other?* We tell each other that the distance has many gradations and many textures, just like the rain falling on red earth has different stages of wetness and dryness, and we will explore the contours of them all, and this is also love, at every step this is love.
*I know I promised to myself that I won’t write about professional work on this blog, but it’s hard not to notice that my own life narratives shape what I notice in the lives of my interlocutors. We both seem to be attuned to the temporalities of our lives varying from the everyday, mundane, the past, the anticipation of future, destiny, change, et cetera.