Eleven Ways to Love (Penguin India): Book ReviewIt’s been nearly 60 years since Elvis Presley crooned, “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you…” Nothing much has changed since then about the impulsiveness of love, but a lot has changed in the way we love and fall in (or fall out of) love.

Love. What a loaded word it is.

Like the feeling itself and the relationships that emerge out of it. An avid consumption of films, songs, and poetry of yesterday has deeply conditioned in us a standard notion of romantic love: boy meets girl, they fall in love, a conflict arises, and they separate, meet again, and live happily ever after. This age-old plotline tells us that there is just one type of love: a monogamous heteronormative arrangement where two strangers fit together like the lost pieces of a puzzle. But this is not the 1990s of Raj and Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayega (DDLJ). This is 2018. And love, like all biological and anthropological concepts are wont to be, has evolved. Love, no longer, is bound by labels.

It is not surprising that the Yash Raj film DDLJ is referred to in more than one essay in the anthology Eleven Ways to Love. After all, this movie encompasses all the usual tropes of conventional romance. And it is this supposedly ideal concept of love that they have looked up to all their lives becomes the common denominator to make the authors of these eleven essays question their ability to find love.

But can love and the lover be boxed inside these ideals? Is it worth sticking to these ideals and be with someone who is obviously wrong for us? Can love happen only once, or over and over again? Is there just one true love for each one of us? What if we fall in love with not one but many all at once? What if we don’t want to be with anyone? Can we find contentment being on our own? How does our class, caste, abilities and disabilities, the colour of our skin, body size, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual orientation affect the way we fall in love?

Interspersed with Sharanya Manivannan’s lyrical poetry, the eleven essays in the anthology Eleven Ways to Love explore all these questions and give us new perspectives towards the concept of love. Gulzar sums up best in his foreword to the book: “There is no ideal love and there is certainly no ideal lover.” With an aim to widen the frame of reference for love, the 11 essays cover transgender romance, body image issues, race relations, disability, polyamory, class differences, queer love, long distance, caste, loneliness, the single life, and the bad boy syndrome. These essays demonstrate the intersectionality and inclusiveness of love. The struggles the eleven writers face on their quest to find love, intimacy, and companionship change them; and as we read about them, their stories change us.

Each of the essays in the anthology bravely breaks out of the mould of the heteronormative romance that is seeped within our collective consciousness. You realize how representation beyond the conventional is important on screen and in novels when you read Sreshtha’s Where Are My Lesbians? One of the most powerful essays in the collection, Where Are My Lesbians shows that breakups and long-distance can be messy, whether you are queer or heterosexual: “Fragility within every relationship is different, and they are all the same.” Like love, breaking up is universal as well. Drowning herself in web series and movies to cope with a slowly dissolving long-distance relationship, Shrestha finds solace in a poorly produced web series about a lesbian vampire called Carmilla: “…because after everything, after years of looking for people like me in texts and hoping they survive, there is something to say about a queer immortal who simply cannot be killed.”

It is also this desire for representation that Nidhi Goyal seeks out as she narrates in her essay I am Blind, so Is Love. She points out that the general misconception that disabled people are asexual beings or even that disabled women are can only be objects of pity and not subjects of romantic pursuits is often the major deterrent in finding a partner than the disability itself.

A common thread running along these essays is acceptance; it is often observed that acceptance through the lover’s gaze is essential for the acceptance of the self. However, the lover might not be another person. For some, the lover can be the person themselves as evident from Preeti Vangani’s pragmatic essay The Other Side of Loneliness where she talks about singleness being a conscious life choice than “a consolation prize in lieu of a stable and committed married life.”

Another common aspect of the essays is how technology has come to play a significant role in finding a partner. Dating apps and websites have become an equalizer in the world of romance. Once the mainstay of heterosexual dalliances, these apps have opened up opportunities to find love for people across the entire gender and sexuality spectrum. On the other hand, technology has also made it quite easy to form romantic liaisons and to separate love, intimacy, and sex in different silos. Tweaking one of Dickens’s famous quotes, it would not be wrong to say that perhaps it is the best of times and it is the worst of times to be in love.

Reading Eleven Ways to Love needs empathy and patience from the reader, just as love asks for from a lover. Patience because all of these writers are diverse individuals with their own distinct writing styles. At some place the narration falters, the flow disengages. But it is the stories that are important, rather than how they are told. The essays demand an empathetic reading because some of these essays require a reader to break their preconceived notions about romance and love and see it in completely new light, or colour. Because love is not just red, it imbibes all the hues of the rainbow.