By Sripriya Ravi Kumar
Images by Srijan Jha
Crush, infatuation or love? Nowadays, it feels as if these words have no heated meaning for me. It wasn’t always so. We often think of a crush as something to do with silly teenage feelings. Society tells us “once you get married everything will become sorted”. But, in fact, these desires and emotions are a part of our lives, returning from time to time. They can be painful — sometimes you feel the pain and anger of wanting something you cannot have, sometimes you feel guilty and confused about the feelings you are not permitted to have. Yet, these experiences have been crucial to my growing up.
When I was in my teens, I had a lot of negative feelings towards men and movies or any talk related to the connection between man and woman. I remember writing in my school-friend’s autograph book “I LOVE – talking to you on the phone” and “I HATE – friendship with boys“.
When I was in class nine, reciting the pledge during the school assembly once gave me a weird idea. “All Indians are my brothers and sisters,” I said aloud and then it hit me. I promptly bought rakhis for all the boys in my class. It was an interesting day, to see all the boys sport the same coloured rakhi on their wrists, teachers appreciating me for my initiative and so on. Just imagine how it would have been if I had ended up marrying one of them later in life! God, what a character I was then 🙂 Back then, I used to actually pray to God that I should never feel those love-kind of feelings.
Let me qualify that. I didn’t want feelings like that for REAL people. REEL people were ok. I have had crushes and infatuations on actors all my life.
The Telugu actor ‘Victory Venkatesh’ was my all-time favourite for over 10 years. From age nine to nineteen, I don’t remember a single day that went without me talking about him. This was when Doordarshan was the only channel. Every Friday morning I’d wake up with lots of hope that the gods sitting in Doordarshan office would hear my prayers and play his songs during Chitralahari (the 30 minute Telugu movie song programme). If they did, it would be a day of celebration for me. Next morning, in school or college, my first topic of discussion would be about his song.
As a child, I imagined him as my father figure/guardian — protecting, caring and loving me all the time. After class 10 and the end of school uniforms, I could no longer fantasise him being my father. He still was a father-like personality, but my fantasies took new a turn. I saw him more as a dashing hero who was capable of making any actress happy. I didn’t quite fantasise him being my lover, but I strongly believed him to be the most romantic actor ever and indulged in a lot of listening to his songs and replaying some of his most romantic scenes in my head over and over.
When did this end? When I was in college, I watched a shoot of his new film for three whole days. The crush vanished. For years I’d been thinking of him, hoping to meet him someday and that’s it. The craze left me the moment I saw him. A real-life crush was around the corner though I didn’t know it at the time.
I always smile when I think of what a great companion Venkatesh had been to me for the major part of my childhood. He was always available, any moment I wanted, just sitting inside my head waiting for me to turn on my fantasy channel.
My 20s were harder than my childhood. My family had strong views on how young women should be, all tied to ‘status’ and ‘prestige’. And I did things that fell in line with my family’s beliefs. There was a deep confusion in me about “how I was” and “how I wanted to be”.
I always thought it was important to dress up super simple — in other words a little unattractive. I never went to college without my chipkoo hair plaited tight. I never wore fancy footwear, I can still feel my feet covered with beige lace-up shoes. At a shoe store, my friend once joked, “Priya, men’s section is upstairs, you will probably find some good shoes for college.” I succeeded in making myself look as unattractive as I could. I was convinced that my unattractive appearance would strengthen my practice of “I-must-hate-friendship-with-boys” and save me from any sin associated with “love-like-feelings”.
After three years in an all-women’s college, I registered for higher studies. This time it was a co-ed. The first few months I didn’t talk to boys in my class. They would crack jokes behind my back and seriously plan on how to make me commit the sin of talking to them. One day when I was feeling good about the determination I had in my “mounvrat” [complete silence], one of the boys decided to break the ice and asked me, “will you turn to ashes if you talked to us?” Very casually he said, “we are normal people, do not fear us.”
And it’s true, I’d grown up with severe conditioning to avoid boys. I knew I was considered good-looking and in many ways I was bold and confident. I was deeply afraid of ‘eve-teasing’ and anxious on hearing others gossip about me.
Though I was pretending that I do not like to interact with boys, it seemed like that’s what I wanted to do — talk to them and become friends. Thank god, I dropped the self-imposed rules. I made very good friends and enjoyed years there.
One of those boys was Piyush. He and I shared a very special friendship. Those who didn’t know us must have thought we were serious. But it was never a full-blown desire. We never held hands or greeted each other with a hug. There was some possessiveness. I don’t think I’d have liked if someone replaced me or took that position of a special friend in his life during those years, and I am sure it was the same for him. All this sounds like an intense love affair but it wasn’t.
Here were the two things I liked about Piyush.
- I trusted that Piyush would never insult our friendship. Talking to boys was so new to me and almost everyone knew what a huge mental barrier I had to cross to get there. I was still afraid of getting cheated or defamed. Part of my fear of being judged was probably linked to the fact that I was somewhat judgmental. I’d talk about other people when hanging out with friends – “you know what, the other day I saw Smitha go on the bike with Ram” or “near the school I saw some xyz spend too much time with abc, she must be what hardly eleven years, does she need all of this at this age?” So I was afraid of others unnecessarily talk about me similarly. But all this was submerged somewhat in the new found joy of making friends with boys. And in Piyush’s friendship with me, I could always sense some genuineness.
- Piyush was such a great flirt. When I was with him, I’d laugh, I’d smile, I’d blush all the time. He’d flirt with me to ease my fear and panic.
Of course, Piyush didn’t know that I knew about his relationship with Parol (who is his wonderful life partner today).
In our last week together, Piyush and I longed to meet at Lumbini Park every day. We were the only two weird people who paid to get in, find a good lake view, open our books and actually study for our exams. Most pairs were looking for either secret spots behind the bushes or corner seats at the refreshment stalls. We were not looking for either. But our tiffin boxes helped. Piyush loved the dosas and coconut chutney that my mother made, he would eat it all, and affectionately give me some of the stuffed parathas in his tiffin box.
Months later, when I was invited for our convocation, none of my family members could join me. But I did insist that Piyush come from Agra to Delhi. What could be better than celebrating this moment with a special friend, without whom, without whose vegetable parathas I may not have got that certificate?
In our last weeks in college, Piyush told me, “I don’t know when we’ll meet again but I don’t think it is all over. Mere bete ko khoob patana sikhavoonga (I’ll train my son well in the art of flirting) — to get your daughter.” And just before we said our final good-byes, he said, “Priya, your future husband will be very lucky to get you.”
Friendship with Piyush and a few others in my class ended inhibitions and misconceptions I had about boys/men. I left open my long hair un-oiled, tried waxing my arms and occasionally got my hair trimmed and bought myself a few pairs of good looking footwear. The intensity of internal conflict on “how I was” and “how I wanted to be” reduced. I have cherished moments like these.
During the same years when I was doing my graduation, something else was happening in my life, “chorichori-chupkechupke”. We had a new neighbour next door who was all the way from eastern India. I first noticed him when I realised he was making prolonged eye contact each time we crossed paths. For almost two years we never spoke but our eyes did.
Some silent conversations included:
- Whose scooter sparkled more from a good cleaning?
- Is your scooter parked next to mine?
- Were we timing our departures from home in the morning around the same time?
- Did he hang about a coffee shop to time his return home with my getting off the bus?
I made sure I left home at the same time and took the same bus back every day.
I liked the feeling of being noticed, valued and pursued. I’d eagerly wait for my next eye contact with him, I was very curious to know his name but never even dared to go look at the name on the door. I had an immense urge to share my joy with someone. Fortunately, I was gifted with wonderful friends who shared my happiness.
He remained a stranger until the day he met with an accident and broke his leg. I told my mother and she asked me to go check on him. I was super happy to know that I was going to talk to him for the first time, introduce myself and ask for his name. I was nervous but became excited after I saw him just five feet away from me. This was the beginning of our friendship.
College-studies-home-and my so-called love became a routine of my life for sometime. When I found out he was a computer science graduate from a university, I was thrilled. God had sent me a private tutor plus life partner next door. I asked my parents if I could go and take his help with my studies. My mother didn’t like the idea completely as she could clearly sense my teenaged excitement. But she trusted that I would not let her down, and said yes.
We began our sessions after he recovered from the accident. It was during these times that the feelings became more intense and flowed through my body. I was convinced it was love. All the conversation, little touches and intimate moments seeped in to my being. We spoke at length about childhood, family, friends, work and college. As long as our caste (I come from an orthodox Brahmin family and he didn’t), wasn’t the topic of discussion everything seemed lovely.
My strong feelings for him changed my attitude towards my grandmother, parents and relatives. They all became secondary and unknowingly I got trapped into his possessiveness.
My cousin could sense the tension in me when we met. After much contemplation, I told him what was going on in my life. He said, “You are confusing infatuation for love. Love should make you free and not so tense.” My ears shut off automatically when anyone said, “he isn’t the right person for you”.
This story had a sad ending. He went to his hometown assuring me that he’d convince his parents about our wedding. But he called me to say that he got engaged to someone else. I had conjured up many dreams for myself and they had ended cruelly.
I had sleepless nights and uncontrollable tears. I felt stupid, foolish, disappointed, sad, afraid, and powerless. First, I reacted in ways to restore a more pleasant equilibrium, but there was no way I could avoid the feelings of disappointment or fear that was alarming me. I was lucky to have people around me who heard me and showed me that this wasn’t the end of the world. I was reminded of my favourite slogan, “ All that happens is for good”. And what seemed like failure and rejection actually made me free – my relationship with my family improved. I never wanted love at the cost of everything else. I didn’t want to live as if “he is everything and everything else takes a back seat.”
We maintained contact with each other until we made sure we recovered from this emotional experience and were good to move on in life. Nevertheless, it was quite painful to let go of the attachment I developed. I put my faith in god so I knew the pain wouldn’t last. I sincerely wished him a successful marriage and moved on.
But how was I to survive the void I was feeling after the farewell? I was happy to have found my freedom, but I was craving similar intense feelings of love and intimacy, to receive that special importance from someone. Fantasies took over my empty brain and I was once again happy, feeling loved by some imaginary boyfriend (can’t remember who, but it must have been some actor I liked then).
By then I’d developed confidence to be more open to my grandmother and parents who were looking for matches for me. I wasn’t afraid to say NO if I did not like any marriage proposal. Three or four years after the above episode, I got married to Ravi. By then, memories of the neighbour hardly ever bothered me.
Ours was an arranged marriage, and it all happened at rapid speed. A week after we met for the first time we were married.
Before we were engaged, Ravi and I spoke for a total of four hours only. He told me that he had just broken up with a woman. The break-up was hardly five or six days old. She was a match his parents had found for him a couple of months ago. He and the other woman got along well and fell in love with each other. They couldn’t wait any longer to get married. He’d actually arrived in India to marry her but he ended up marrying me instead.
I liked his openness in sharing something so personal with a new acquaintance. He assured me that none of his past experiences would interfere with our marriage. I surrendered to the wishes of the universe and went with the flow. We began our journey like every other newly-wedded couple.
I did not feel love or crush-like feelings for him. For a very long time we did not experience any strong love or physical attraction towards each other, yet there was some connection. We became busy learning how to build our relationship, manage funds, keep the house and develop common interests. We enjoyed each other’s company. We liked our long walks and drives and conversations.
We’ve been married for 12 years and in these 12 years we have made major changes in our life together: work, home, pastimes. Lot of uncertainty but we rode those waves.
Within a year or two after our marriage, I again fell into the trap of “he is my everything”. It must be childhood conditioning. I began to believe that “Ravi is everything in my life, all other things are secondary.” I could feel discomfort rising in me each time I compromised and adjusted to his needs. But I couldn’t act on the discomfort. It seemed more important to support his career change decisions and join him in his journey and deal with the uncertainties that the changes created.
When you are not the person doing the hero’s journey, but assisting someone else in his, then going from the known to the unknown is not very easy. It calls for quite a bit of compromises in life — which I made. As always, in such moments of emotional crises my fantasies floated in front of my eyes. I imagined living with a friend and a father. I had fantasies about actors again. Sometimes it was Chiranjeevi (as father), Tom Cruise (friend) and later I think there was Madhavan (again friend). I imagined being in a safe world where nothing but only care and love existed all the time. Part of me always (24/7) spent hours fantasising on having intimate moments with that friend in the secret romantic world inside my head.
I couldn’t quite understand why these visuals were so strong. I could never accept that I was missing something. I had so much guilt for not being true to Ravi and for fantasising about a rosy life with someone else. My fantasies made me guilty for almost five years and I fought the fantasy world.
Luckily, I felt safe in sharing my issues and struggles with Ravi. Not because he had solutions for everything. In sharing this turmoil with him, I learnt that vulnerability does not equal weakness.
Ravi tried to help me see how much I was conditioned by my grandmother to believe that following the husband’s path is best for the family. It was evident to him that the turmoil is a result of all the compromises I was making to make his journey easy.He’d often encourage me to find my passion and pursue that interest seriously. He liked the fact that I was supporting him with his pursuits, to advise even his picking a difficult path away from the mainstream. There was always a possibility that my new-found interests could take us both in different directions. I could be gone from his life forever. But despite that he encouraged me to meet people, learn things that helped me sort out my issues by myself.
Five years ago I had a crush again. I was in my early 30s. I’d been married seven years. I was in a week-long workshop and once again I felt the same very intense feelings of crush and love for another man, let’s call him Dheeraj.
The objective of the workshop was to recognise and be honest with our feelings. I felt a connection with a man and I expressed it to him on the last day of the workshop. Those five days involved a familiar extended eye contact, compliments, appreciation, a sense of ownership of the other person. Those wonderful feelings of being noticed, loved and valued reappeared.
This experience followed me like a shadow for months after it was over. It still does sometimes when my mind is bright open for flashbacks. I wish I had asked him how he’d cope after he went home. I felt pain and disappointment in losing him and the feelings of love in my life again. The climax to our simple story was no different from the climax of the movie Mr and Mrs Iyer.
Sometimes I would get worried about him and desperately want to know how he was doing, but no, I didn’t pick up my cell phone and dial his number. Once again I had questions. Why did I invite such situations, if not to live in a constant state of internal conflict?
Time has done some healing. And as I’ve grown more mature and seen more of life I’ve begun to accept some of these feelings. It is truly a gift to have Ravi in my life. He is the one person I share everything so private to me. He has known when and how to be my friend and not a husband. Of course, he has felt bad when I told him I felt a connection with someone else. But soon after, one of us begins to examine it more. What was it about that person that was so attractive? Was there something that we needed to change to make our marriage better for us?
I know it’s comparing apples and oranges to compare Ravi to someone I’ve a crush on. I don’t expect Ravi to become that person but I generally share with him what attracts me and what doesn’t. If Ravi feels that some change in his behaviour can make life better for me, he does make that change, else he gives me all the time in the world to get back to reality and life. ☺
So what do I think about crushes?
This has been my understanding so far. A crush tells us things about who we are, our likes and who we think we can get along well with. It also creates an illusion that we are safe, loved and secured all the time. As if we don’t have to worry about ourselves anymore and that it is the headache of the person we are in love with. These feelings make us believe that we are beautiful, unique and perfect.
The illusion (in some cases) might last a little longer, but sooner or later, reality does come into the picture, which is when things begin to get harder. It can get hard if we do not address the situation with maturity and detachment.
My fantasies, my friends, my marriage, and the many people I met in workshops and my teachers in Vipassana who helped me talk about these things — they have given me many intangible gifts.
The truth is, these experiences helped me get in touch with myself, my strengths and weaknesses, taught me how to respect my needs, interests and people who are important to me. I learnt how to be honest and fearless in life when it comes to owning my space in this universe. It made me a better person – capable of feeling true joy because I had allowed myself to feel real sadness; they made me strong because I had faced rejection, instead of denying and repressing my feelings.
In disappointment, I learnt to feel vulnerable and even embrace vulnerability. I learned to survive, to respect life and all its emotions instead of being locked up in society’s ideas of good and bad. Whatever the kind of relationships one has in life — from the monogamous to the polyamorous — life is a series of experiences that ultimately unshackles us from a narrow existence. It is up to us to take on this adventure and come out of it as a free spirit.
Sripriya Ravi Kumar (known to most as Priya Ravi) is based in Hyderabad. She has worked in e-learning sector for several years with expertise in Visual Communications. Currently, she is homeschooling her five-year-old daughter Deeksha. Together they explore the world of natural learning.