On Mehdi Hassan, Conditional Love and Emotional Labour

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in one of the largest public parks in the city; my friend and I were lazing about on a picnic blanket and listening to Mehdi Hassan crooning from the Bluetooth speaker. A nice spread layout before us; Doritos and a cheap store-bought hummus. We were leisurely dipping each chip into the garlicky sauce; licking it off the tips of our fingers. The cold December wind was whipping around us; leaves lay scattered on the ground and we were at peace. Two women, against the big bad world. All was good.

But of course, as questions do arise and as things do tend to go the other way; while talking about love, life and relationships— I asked her something; something which I’d never thought of before. Kind of like an epiphany.

Men and women are naturally attracted towards each other in most cases, and often in a symbiotic relationship. But is it really symbiotic, when one person ends up giving more than the other? In an ideal world, in an idealistic setting; equal expectations would make complete sense. But in a non-ideal world like ours; is love really reciprocated the same way?

In South-Asian communities where marriages are mostly viewed as business transactions, built upon complete practicality; devoid of emotions and any trappings of lust — this kind of symbiotic relationship is non-existent. Without an equal division of labour, and polarizing, gendered experiences; women end up giving more in marriages than they usually end up receiving.

Forget marriages for a second. Even a seemingly healthy relationship within a Desi community, will at times seem completely one-sided. Love, in this case, is received in instalments. Perhaps, since women have long been perceived as ‘caretakers’, ‘motherly’ and ‘nurturing’; the stereotype has stuck. And this has led to women overly-compensating for a relationship, which does not do them justice most of the time, unfortunately.

A good example would be emotional support. In a country where patriarchy dictates that to be a man, one must not display any moments of weakness and emotional intelligence, the women swoop in to bear the brunt of it. At times, almost willingly, because that is all they have known their entire lives. To pick up the pieces when it gets bad; to act as a crutch, even when they may be staggering under their own weight; to welcome any tragedy or burden with open arms.

One may wonder — in a society rife with men in the field of literature, spinning out one romantic poem after the other, being explicit about their feelings in all sorts of ways; how could this be? How is it possible then, that the same men exhibit none of these characteristics when it comes to their own real-life partners (not some make-believe ‘haseena’ in the novels)? How is it possible that these very men who harp on about fickle hearts and unrequited love; eat up their own words and do the exact opposite?

It is jarring when you think of it that way. The truth is, unfortunately, most of this ‘Romanticism’ is a guise for manipulation, cheating and a cluster of insecurities. No, I am not trying to ruin Faiz Ahmed Faiz for anyone, or even Jaun Elia (if that wasn’t possible already!), I am merely stating the pattern that most of these men seem to follow. You love, you screw up, you leave. You write horrendous poetry. You regret. You regret. And you regret.

And while these men channel their grief into words; it is us women, the actual vessels for their grief. We take in all that we can. We give and give and give, just to receive scraps. Kind of like telling a dog that he’s been a good boy today, and then feeding him biscuits accordingly. Nothing wrong with the biscuits, it’s the ‘today’ that seems to be the problem.

You see, such kind of relationships, such kind of love, is conditional. ‘Today' is conditional. Yes, almost all relationships are conditional eventually, but why pursue it with idealistic notions from the very start, knowing that you will end up contributing next to nothing in it?

I guess I had answered my own question, really. Us women have ingrained adopted, and even accepted this one-sided, conditional and subject-to-change kind of love. Because our society doesn’t allow room for the evolvement of healthy relationships in the first place.

But do we continue to keep giving then? That is the true question. You could either become a doormat or become stingy with your love. The choice is yours.

Pocket your love, when not required. Distribute bite-sized versions of it. But never give yourselves wholly to someone, who is not willing to do the same. The poets may look like they have figured it all out. But then again, have they really?

Third-culture kid, dividing time between the UAE and Pakistan. An engineer by the day and a writer by the night.