fiction

A Brief History of the Free to Love Campaign

By RANJITH JAYARAM | 1 April 2015

ABOUT THE STORY Is India a free country? A serious consideration yields an extraordinary variety of answers. In Ranjith Jayaram’s story, an ambitious and idealistic couple attempt to question one of the principal contradictions of Indian democracy—that adults are thought to be responsible enough to choose their political representatives, but not to choose their own life partner.

They start a social movement called the “Free to Love Campaign,” aiming to give practical support to adults who want to be with each other but face dissuasion or hostility from their families. The campaign becomes so popular that it soon mushrooms (somewhat like the “India Against Corruption” campaign) into an actual political party—one with a potentially huge base, since its programme involves both a universal emotion largely ignored in political agendas, and identity politics of a new kind: the right to assert one’s identity as a person and a political being by responding positively to the promptings of love.

As the narrative—ostensibly revolving around finding the right candidates for an upcoming election—progresses, we realise that two stories are progressing in parallel: one exploring love in Indian society, the other recording what is happening between two people devoted to the first cause. In trying to convince more than a billion Indians of their right to love, will the protagonists end up seeing the electorate’s response as a referendum on their own love story?

 

A Brief History of the Free to Love Campaign

RANJITH JAYARAM

 

 

[ I ]

MY MEMORY OF THE ORIGINS of the Free to Love Campaign has been lost to the past. I got in touch with Aparna—after twenty-one years, five months and eight days according to my arithmetic—and asked whether her recollection was any better. She said,

“No one remembers even the precise moment they fell in love. And you expect me to remember the origins of a campaign? As we forget love, so we forget a campaign born out of love.”

Despite her nonchalance, in spite of the mist of our memories, we then reminisced about the modest mission the Campaign had at the very beginning: to nudge people into supporting marriages of loving minds.

“Nudge,” she said, repeating that old chestnut of hers, “because traditions, democracies and donkeys can only be nudged, not pushed.”

A short sketch of the Free to Love Campaign in its infancy will help illustrate its initially unassuming character. The organisation specialised in products and services for lovers kept apart or ostracised by their families. The Free to Love Guide, for instance—a collection of common-sense strategies and advice. Thumbing through an old copy, I find guidelines for lovers on dealing with troublesome family members. A young woman in love with a man who is unacceptable to her father is advised to be “stubborn and unapologetic,” and is urged to wear him down with resistance. It is recommended she recruit her mother to her cause because “the mother will be at a stage in her life where she has had it with her husband and is therefore thrilled and thankful to take up a mission certain to piss him off.”

In view of the tendency of those who deal with love to also deal in drama, what set the Campaign apart was an absence of sentimentality. Its work was practical, not romantic: a month of free food and lodging for eloping couples, subsidised wedding planning for those whom their families had refused to help, Parental Confrontation PracticeTM for lovers to stiffen their backbones by standing up to hostile parents played by Campaign members.

The Guide, though, remained the most iconic and popular of the Campaign’s products and services. This was attributed to a surprising idea Aparna had promoted—including testimonies from people who had encountered the same barriers readers faced and had utterly failed to overcome them. These were men and women whose attempts to fight their families and marry the ones they loved had come to nothing; those who had then stayed single; those who had married someone else chosen by their family and were miserable; those who had married someone else and found inexplicable joy and meaning; those who had chosen someone from their own community and convinced themselves they had married for love and not convenience. They all transformed their experiences into beautiful and heartbreaking confessional literature helpfully marked “Based on a True Life Story.” Reading these testimonials of defeat soothed forlorn lovers. As Aparna had said when she proposed the idea, “Nothing calms a troubled mind as the knowledge that failure is an inescapable and overwhelming option.”

In the summer of…well, it does not matter. A chronicle of love is like no other—the year does not matter, nor does the season. For it is the same damn tale every time, merely told by a different duffer.

One day, then, in an imprecise summer, traffic ground to a crawl and the city stood still. In one of my more poetic moods I might have said that from the skies the city seemed a maze of motionless snakes, smoke and dust oozing through metallic scales. In the sluggish afternoon, I accompanied Aparna to Maximum City, the radio station. She walked into a recording studio and I sat in a room outside with an old Telefunken tuned to the station on a table to my right. The Indian theory of relativity states that time flows at the speed of traffic, so my wait felt long and I fell into a vague sleep. I awoke to a man’s vigorous voice welcoming listeners to “the nation’s number one show on love, romance and inevitable heartbreak.” I heard him say that the day’s guests—Aparna and a local political star—would discuss “the remaking of love and marriage in our society.”

A minute or so into the show, Aparna said that our culture suppressed freedom of love. The politician asked her, madam, what constitutes freedom? Choice, she said, freedom of choice. Our society offers no choice? No, it does not. Of course it does, our boys and girls are free to choose. No, they are not. Of course they are, they freely and happily choose to let their parents decide who they must marry, so how then can you say we have no freedom of marriage? Freedom of love, she corrected him. What? Freedom of love, not freedom of marriage. Marriage, love, what’s the difference? he said. It’s all the difference in the world, she said, love is fundamental human nature, marriage is just an epiphenomenon.

I pictured Aparna, in her orange sari with gold glinting from its borders. I stared at the radio from which her voice flowed. It was surrounded by dolls that formed a wedding procession, led by a man sitting astride an elephant with bloodshot eyes. In order to not appear an idiot when I met her later, I pulled my phone out and looked up epiphenomenon in the dictionary.

And so the show went, heated, contentious. At the end the host insisted the two guests part in peace, so a reluctant Aparna extended a conciliatory hand to her opponent. The man refused her and said, with folded palms I imagine, “Namaste. I do not shake hands with women.”

He then stormed out of the studio and on his way out an unobtrusive microphone caught him muttering that Aparna was a 50-rupee whore upon whom he would like to perform a variety of physical acts.

Now, this comment would by itself have had little impact on the future of the Free to Love Campaign. After all, it is not newsworthy when a representative of the people calls a woman a common prostitute and threatens sexual violence. The incident therefore faded from collective memory after following the standard script for minor scandals: protests were organised by women’s groups, a rickshaw was set on fire, a handful of placard holders were ritually beaten by the police, two people suffered slight injuries, no one died.

No, the life of the Campaign changed that day, and it soon burst into the public’s consciousness, because Robi Coomaraswamy, the billionaire technology entrepreneur, had gotten stuck in interminable traffic, and his bored driver, flipping through stations on the car’s radio, had chanced upon Aparna’s debate.

Late that night, Aparna received a call. The evening after, she and I sat on a long black leather couch in a bright room with walls of glass and listened to Robi Coomaraswamy tell us that the Free to Love Campaign must become a political party.

“I have three pairs of numbers for you,” he said, rising from a spartan chair and walking with the gait of a gorilla towards a whiteboard. Using a different colour marker for each pair, he wrote:

45 crores        12

6                    20 lakhs

134                2

He looked at us with the eyes of a preacher and said,

“Forty-five crore Indians voted in the last general election. Twelve people turned up at the protest you organised this morning. I have a question for you. Do you want to play in a market of a billion customers or are you content running a sad little corner shop in your sad little neighbourhood?

“Six—there exist just six national political parties. But 20 lakh, yes, 20 lakh outfits like yours in this unfortunate nation of ours. Ask yourself. Do you want to be among the chosen few and transform the country? Or will you remain one among millions, a piddle in the middle of the Arabian Sea?

“And then there is this. It’s been 134 years since the Congress party was founded. Back in those days the world had no running water. No indoor toilets. Britain may have ruled the earth but Queen Victoria had to walk to an outhouse with a bucket in hand to take a dump. Older than toilets, that’s how old the Congress is. Come to think of it, that ought to be their slogan. Vote for us, we’re older than toilets. Now compare that with how long a typical charity survives. Two years. That’s it. You start a charity, two years go by, gone charity. Let me ask you this. Do you want to build a lasting legacy? Or would you rather your Free to Love Campaign have the lifespan of a hamster?”

He paused for effect and concluded, “You are nothing. Politics is everything.”

His logic was simple, his argument irrefutable. But Aparna and I expressed doubts, betraying our middle–class cynicism of all things political. In response, as befits a man who was fond of saying that money is the laxative of life, the remover of all obstacles, Coomaraswamy declared he would use his monumental personal fortune to fund the Free to Love Campaign and its political wing.

We stared at him, eyes full of disbelief. To reassure us that his proposition was not the whimsy of a rich man, he said, “The financing will be milestone–based, each new round of money contingent upon the Campaign meeting certain goals. I propose we set the first in stone: win a seat in the upcoming general election.”

I interrupted. “That’s madness. We’re guaranteed to lose a national election. We should start small, if at all.”

“I admit winning a Lok Sabha seat is an ambitious goal, but it is necessary. For issues of marriage and divorce, the Central Government prevails over the states,” he said.

Aparna looked at me and, starting to side with him, said, “We’d have the advantage of running against candidates who remind voters of AK Hangal.”

“Against them we’ll field a fresh, telegenic and articulate candidate,” he said.

“We’ll sweep areas with surging young populations. Techpuram, Sector 17, Grand Park,” she said.

“Flush with Robi Coomaraswamy’s cash, we’ll outspend and outsmart our opponents,” he said.

Aparna turned towards him and asked a somewhat elementary question. “But why the Free to Love Campaign?”

He replied, “Because I heard your performance on the radio, Miss Aparna. Because the world is changed not by pacifists but by warriors, not by compromise but by conquest.”

Aparna, sitting next to me, shimmered with pride. She squeezed my hand and I thought I heard her whisper underneath her breath, “And by rich bastards.”

When she let go, her soft warmth lingered on.

 

[ II ]

 

“Running an election campaign is like running a start-up. Grunt labour, sleepless nights and no pay,” Robi Coomaraswamy said. Reasoning that for such a job we needed a top-class campaign manager, he recruited Behram Framroze, and, savvy investor that he was, stepped back from the campaign to let the new hire run the show.

We all loved Behram. It was easy to love a man who helped unknown candidates beat incumbents against the odds, a man who spoke his mind. Well, it was easy except when he spoke his mind to make plain his disdain for the Campaign’s “love-shove rubbish.” Or when he proclaimed our mission futile because “those who cannot help themselves in love cannot be helped, period.”

“Yet you’ve been working hard to find potential nominees for the Campaign,” I pointed out.

“Any fool can be passionate about a vision he believes in,” Behram said. “It takes a man of deep convictions to sweat for a cause he is opposed to.”

“Ah, a proud ideological rubber band,” I said.

“No, a Parsi with the Parsi work ethic.”

A delicious fragrance filled Aparna’s home—she had conjured up a redolent Malabar fish curry. When my end arrives, if against all evidence I were to come face to face with the Almighty, I will not ask him to resuscitate my dying heart. I will instead beg him to let me savour for one last time that exquisite dish. It was the centrepiece of the dinner the Campaign’s Managing Committee had gathered over to discuss the two candidates Behram had shortlisted. We had laid down strict requirements for contenders. They had to practice in their lives the core principles of the Campaign, and their marriages had to rate high on the Freedom of Love scale.[1] Both of Behram’s picks satisfied our criteria, even exceeded expectations. Renu Hassan, née Prasad, had married a Muslim, and Suresh Sharma had married a Dalit—acts of supreme courage in the face of their people’s ancient, ineradicable prejudices.

We therefore proceeded to do what any group of anthropomorphic creatures does when faced with a choice—organise into two mortally opposed camps. For many of us Renu was the ideal candidate, while others preferred Suresh. As the night drew on we bickered and we argued, with increasing ill will and irritation, over which act was nobler, a Hindu marrying a Muslim or a Brahmin marrying a Dalit, over which marriage was superior, which one more prestigious.

Several times during the argument, one campaign member’s five–year old son sidled up to me and whispered in my ear, “pee to love campaign.” Throughout, Behram ignored what to him was abstract academic talk and therefore useless. Late into the night, he sailed into the room where the rest of us were crowded around a table. Something told me he was determined to put an end to the discussion. He said,

“In Renu Hassan, five cards come together to form an unbeatable electoral hand. The youth—the Campaign’s natural constituency. Muslims—on account of her husband. The FBCs, the Forward Backward Castes—Renu is one of them. For the benefit of the socially ignorant among you, these are backward castes that are less backward than other backward castes but not forward enough to be forward castes. Fourth, bank employees. And finally, of course, women.”

Behram’s gaze swept across the room. “Our candidate ought to be Renu Hassan, royal flush of democracy.”

It must have slipped by Behram that the brain when soaked in a night’s worth of alcohol is seldom open to appeals to reason and self-interest. By now, those of us who were for Renu (including myself and Aparna) and those who were for Suresh harboured an unconcealed resentment against each other. Everyone found compromise inconceivable. That night the campaign ground to a halt, and for weeks no one budged, nothing happened. Until one day Behram overheard a conversation comparing Suresh’s looks to a burnt garlic naan. That settled it. Not one to nominate for an election a man who resembled charred bread, he overruled all objections and picked Renu.

I was quietly satisfied that the party had chosen as its candidate a woman who had married a man of my own faith.

Nights are meant for speaking of distant and enduring things—an old photograph of Aparna’s grandfather teaching her trigonometry, our trip on a motorcycle to the blue hills of Ooty, the shades of a special twilight, the origins of life and love. Yet here we were after the sun had withdrawn, sitting on wicker chairs on the open–air balcony at Renu’s home in Grand Park, talking about politics, that most transient of affairs.

“What law can advance the cause of love?” Renu asked, sipping her tea, her voice resonating with the optimism of a first–time candidate.

“A Defense of Love Act,” I, no radical by temperament, said. “Ban an Indian citizen from infringing upon another’s freedom of love.”

Behram leaned backward over the railings of the balcony. He said, “It will be damn unpopular.”

“It will be a big hit among the youth. India is a young country,” I said.

“Their parents will hate it. The young do not vote. Their parents do,” he said.

“Leave popularity aside. The idea is too authoritarian. Downright unworkable,” Renu said.

“Why ban when one can tax?” Aparna said.

Renu put her cup of tea down. “What kind of tax?”

“A Love Discrimination Tax. Slap it on parents and families whose intolerance imposes a cost on their children,” Aparna said.

“The business community will revolt,” Behram said. “The Panayyas will take up arms. The Kondottis will throw a fit.”

“How about Muslim traders?” Renu sked.

All eyes turned towards me.

“How the hell would I know? My parents are in government service,” I said.

The conversation fell silent. Then Behram looked up into the darkness and threw two punches at the moon. He said, “A Public Sector Defense of Love Act. That’s what we need. Ban public servants, not private citizens, from curtailing their children’s freedom of love.”

Aparna stood up. She looked resplendent against the night sky. She said, “That’s a shameful compromise.”

“It’s a practical proposal,” Behram said.

“The law ought to apply to the entire hidebound social order,” Aparna said.

“Do you want the votes of the entire hidebound social order?” Behram asked.

For the first time since I’d known Aparna, her response was this: silence.

“Can it work, such a regulation of government employees?” Renu asked Behram.

“Certainly not,” he said.

“Would it be constitutional?”

“Probably not.”

“Will it be popular?”

“Absolutely,” Behram said. “People love to see their representatives uphold principles they themselves do not. It makes them feel good. It makes it appear as though they care.”

The candidates fielded by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general election were upright men with just one drawback—they each had less personality than an official at the Central Insecticides Board who dreams of working at the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying. In contrast, Renu was glorious. On the campaign trail, under the city’s blazing sun, she shone in her red–bordered saris. Silver-tongued, she charmed voters in person and through television interviews. Campaigning with her husband, her easy and ebullient manner refreshed voters. In her speeches, she urged the people to choose the heart over the lotus, the heart over the hand. She declared to loud applause, “Some say this city will not accept a Hindu woman who has married a Muslim man. We will prove them wrong. This election will be like our movies. In the end, love shall triumph.”

Naturally, in opinion polls Renu trailed her opponents by a mile.

Whispers arose among campaign members. Experts among us delivered judgments.

“A Muslim husband is a liability,” they said.

“He looks too pious and severe.”

“His beard is too long.”

“Renu ought not appear with him in public.”

“She should have never married him in the first place.”

Glory to him who gives to the poor, the devout would have said, for in that time of darkness donations began pouring in. And letters, letters from unknown citizens who wished us well. Let me find a few. Let me read them again.

Happy Warrier, son of a Punjabi mother and a Malayali father, school teacher, unsung wordsmith, writes that he “craves a break from the routines of this democracy, less than seventy years old and yet already as much of antiquity as Mohenjo-daro, as sacred and corrupted as the Ganga.” Lakshminath and Lakshmi, a couple with two children, write that they were forced into a marriage, fell in love afterwards despite their own resistant wills and found an unexpected happiness together. Still, they do not want others to go through what they had to. A letter accompanied by two thousand rupees in cash we must have overlooked is from Alphonsa Mathews, a broken-hearted woman who holds her family responsible for her misery and says “the act of contributing sweetens my bitterness.” A group of musicians from Vasco have composed a song for us and sent us a handwritten lyric sheet along with autographed photographs of the band. I browse my music library and listen to the song once more. Clearly they have mistaken free love for free sex.

With Behram and Renu taking charge of electoral strategy, Aparna and I plunged into the daily frenzy of the campaign.

Every little thing about Aparna appeared to gather speed. I could no longer tell her approach by the echo of her footsteps for I was not familiar with the new, quickened rhythms of her feet. She spoke faster, and with brusque twirls of her wrists urged us all to get right to the point. She radiated purpose. Her energy infected me with a fevered enthusiasm.

Together, we raised the saffron, white and green flag, the chakra replaced with a blue heart. She wove vermilion garlands and strung up heart-shaped bunting, I flung confetti and flyers into the wind. We glued posters and painted slogans on buses and rickshaws with scant regard for private property. She wrote pamphlets and speeches in her awkward cursive hand; I helped build makeshift pandals for rallies. Together we whispered silly limericks into microphones. I admired her scent of jasmine in the morning and in the evenings I mixed her favourite varieties of chaat. We wound down in the nights watching mad Shammi Kapoor dance on her television, she laughing in her irreproducible way. We bought things for the campaign: pennants and balloons, pins and badges, salt and chalk to colour a sand sculpture of two lovers on the beach, a stool for Renu to stand upon behind podiums. We bought things for Aparna’s home, things that must have far outlived their original purpose: hooks, a hammer, waste paper baskets, ginger tea to calm her tonsils, a collection of songs of the Bauls of Bengal, a Jodocus Hondius map of the world in 1609. We rode through the city in open jeeps and lorries, she shouting into megaphones, me beating drums and blaring horns, both sharing a cool lemonade as an antidote against the venomous sun. We walked and we ran, from huts to flats to villas where we were allowed to canvass only the watchmen. We overthrew heat and dust, crowds and cars, noise and sweat, oligarchs that dictated daily life in the city. Towards the end of the campaign the two of us exploded in a burst of energy, full of action and free of thought, paying no heed to the polls, contemplating neither victory nor defeat, caring not for Renu nor for the election nor even for the Campaign, just soaked in our domestic happiness.

I will not drag the narrative. The world is all too familiar with the ceremonies of democracy. On the night of the election, we assembled in Behram’s suite at Le Méridien. About 50 of us sat around a television watching the results come in. Robi Coomaraswamy joined us by video-link from San Francisco. A mood of anxious optimism filled the room, and utter exhaustion loomed. Aparna faked an uncharacteristic calm.

One must deliver bad news fast. The vote was lost and lost badly. Renu did well in a few neighborhoods in Techpuram, but everywhere else the Free to Love Campaign was routed. The BJP won, the Congress came second, and we finished a distant third with a 2-percent share of the vote, a pittance thrown to us by the citizens of the city—this cosmopolitan, freethinking and dashing city.

Renu said that had we lost to an ugly smear campaign, we might have made peace with the defeat. But our opponents had been, to our surprise, honourable men, who ran campaigns of restraint and decency. What made acceptance hard, she said, was the knowledge that we lost in a fair and uncorrupted contest, the feeling that we lost to an indifferent world that cared little for love.

Behram blamed the pollsters, saying the bastards had overestimated youth turnout. Worse, they failed to account for voters who lied in surveys that they would vote for us. Late in the night, he spoke to us in consoling tones. Change is hard, he said, the first banal words I heard him speak. For a brand new party, we had performed with honour. He advised us to leave the past behind and look towards the future. The next morning, he took the first flight back to Mumbai to rejoin his girlfriend Parveena Parzai, supermodel, Bollywood star.

I dropped Aparna off at her flat at sunrise. It was the hour the sun swaddles the earth with a fatherly warmth. The city was covered in celebratory smoke. At the gate, an old woman swept away the debris of firecrackers. Aparna got off the rear seat of my motorbike. I left the engine running and removed my helmet. With a graceful sweep of her hand, she flicked her hair away from her face and started to say something. I interrupted her. I looked at her with bleary eyes and said, “This damned city and this damned country will not let a woman who is married to a Muslim be at peace.”

She said nothing. From her silence, I could tell she had recognised my meaning. We Indian men are inarticulate in matters of the heart, so I mumbled the usual gobbledygook. We ought to look out for the good of our families. We ought not to cause them pain. This was, in spite of appearances, an act not of surrender but of defiant self–denial, a selfless execution of duty (yes, I used that treacherous word). She said nothing. I felt she heard nothing, and in a corner of my mind I realised I was spouting words. Words, my words, mere words, words in vain. I knew, and I knew that she did too. This was no noble renunciation. This was my feeble excuse, my act of submission and of fear, an act she saw for what it was and which I will never know if she forgave.

That morning, as I left Aparna and rode back home, I blamed the city and its people. I blamed those women who did not vote for a woman. I blamed those youth who knew not what was best for them. I blamed those of Renu’s caste who did not vote for one of their own. I blamed my fellow Muslims who did not vote for a woman who had chosen one of our own for a husband. Most of all, I blamed the Free to Love Campaign, for promising a world without caste or colour or creed and yet leading me to a mirror in which I saw myself, confined, consumed and cowed by identities—the identities of others, Aparna’s, my own.

 

[ III ]

 

Early in the next year, Robi Coomaraswamy announced he would stop funding the Free to Love Campaign, saying “start-ups in the political sector face unreasonable barriers to entry.” Despite the setback, chapters of the Campaign began to spring up in cities and towns around the country. The most enterprising one, in Vizag, went on to gain a mild notoriety for fielding candidates who cheated on their spouses on the campaign trail. Aparna moved to Chennai to work for an organisation that helped women start small businesses, and we drifted apart.

For the following national election, the Congress adopted as part of its platform the Sonia Gandhi Defence of Love Act. It was modelled after the Campaign’s proposal to punish those in public service who infringe their children’s freedom, but was modified to reflect “Soniaji’s personal experience and insight into cross–cultural love.” The party swept elections in several major urban centres. That led the BJP to promise an identical law, one they nevertheless claimed was superior to the Congress’s as it would “protect the Indian and not an imported way of love.” In a few years, a Narendra Modi government passed the Defence of Hindustani Kissing and Loving Act, which the press promptly dubbed Modi’s DHOKLA. Albeit the law came with a caveat—it applied only to senior Members of Parliament, and exempted all other public servants. It was hailed as proof that accountability now began at the top ranks of Indian democracy. It went unnoticed and unremarked that the median age of senior MPs was 72, and they had long ago ensured that all their boys married the right girls and all their girls married the right boys.

Remote descendants of the Free to Love Campaign continue to operate across the nation. With the Freedom of Love Index stagnant after a brief and modest rise, they are frustrated and grasping for a new direction.

Over the years, I have relived the past so many times that it has merged with the present. After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the Free to Love Guide’s analysis is mistaken, its fire at parents and families misdirected. Its publication ought to cease. I am of the opinion that the Campaigns need a new diagnosis and a radical change in strategy.

I refer, of course, to the new drug that in medium doses is rumoured to spark feelings of universal love. It is said that the drug was first cooked up by a sushi master in Kasumigaseki, who massaged it into octopuses he served to officials at the Japanese Ministry of Justice, hoping to unchain their hearts and prevent them from deporting his grandson’s beloved Peruvian girlfriend. Some even say the chef wished to nudge old Japan into throwing itself open to immigrants. In Atlanta, in the month of September, a Venkateshwara temple performed 17 weddings between Indian men and black women. I hear this singular occurrence has been traced to a summer party at the foot of Stone Mountain, where the drug flowed freely under the disapproving noses of the three carved–into–the–rock icons of the Confederacy. Last week, a leading imam from Saudi Arabia abdicated his position and landed in Munich with his partner, hand openly in masculine hand. He was reported to have devoured several doner kebabs spiked with the narcotic during a recent trip to Manchester to consecrate a mosque.

This is a drug that is said to bridge chasms in the minds of men and women. This is a drug that is said to fortify wills and metallise spines. This is a drug that is said to unroll the dice of birth and fortune and faith. This is the drug that I am hoping the Free to Love Campaigns will use, not to treat parents or families or an unchanging world, but to medicate the youth of this vast and ancient land, to inoculate them against the cowardice that corrupts my repentant heart.

 


[1]
To quantify the Campaign’s performance and to measure its ability to make a meaningful difference, Robi Coomaraswamy recruited two economists from the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata to devise the Freedom of Love Index, a numerical measure of marriage mobility nationwide. “Who cares if an upper-class, upper-caste twit from Chennai marries an upper- class, upper- caste bimbo from Bangalore?,” he told them. “I want the Free to Love Campaign to usher in and measure real change.”

The two industrious men used public records and chose a random sample of Indian marriages. They rated each marriage on the basis of the divide that separated the two families involved. The greater the divide, the higher the score. A marriage between, say, an Arjun Bharadwaj and a Mehjabeen Hussain, rated high. One that merely brought together families of similar castes on the same rung of the class ladder and speaking the same language rated low. All the individual marriage ratings were averaged into a single number on a one–to–ten scale that represented the extent of marital freedom across the country.

The result: 1.2 out of ten.

When Aparna found out the first Indian Freedom of Love Index, she said, “Godse would’ve given Gandhi a better rating than that.”

 

ABOUT THE STORY Is India a free country? A serious consideration yields an extraordinary variety of answers. In Ranjith Jayaram’s story, an ambitious and idealistic couple attempt to question one of the principal contradictions of Indian democracy—that adults are thought to be responsible enough to choose their political representatives, but not to choose their own life partner.

They start a social movement called the “Free to Love Campaign,” aiming to give practical support to adults who want to be with each other but face dissuasion or hostility from their families. The campaign becomes so popular that it soon mushrooms (somewhat like the “India Against Corruption” campaign) into an actual political party—one with a potentially huge base, since its programme involves both a universal emotion largely ignored in political agendas, and identity politics of a new kind: the right to assert one’s identity as a person and a political being by responding positively to the promptings of love.

As the narrative—ostensibly revolving around finding the right candidates for an upcoming election—progresses, we realise that two stories are progressing in parallel: one exploring love in Indian society, the other recording what is happening between two people devoted to the first cause. In trying to convince more than a billion Indians of their right to love, will the protagonists end up seeing the electorate’s response as a referendum on their own love story?

 

A Brief History of the Free to Love Campaign

RANJITH JAYARAM

 

 

[ I ]

MY MEMORY OF THE ORIGINS of the Free to Love Campaign has been lost to the past. I got in touch with Aparna—after twenty-one years, five months and eight days according to my arithmetic—and asked whether her recollection was any better. She said,

“No one remembers even the precise moment they fell in love. And you expect me to remember the origins of a campaign? As we forget love, so we forget a campaign born out of love.”

Despite her nonchalance, in spite of the mist of our memories, we then reminisced about the modest mission the Campaign had at the very beginning: to nudge people into supporting marriages of loving minds.

“Nudge,” she said, repeating that old chestnut of hers, “because traditions, democracies and donkeys can only be nudged, not pushed.”

A short sketch of the Free to Love Campaign in its infancy will help illustrate its initially unassuming character. The organisation specialised in products and services for lovers kept apart or ostracised by their families. The Free to Love Guide, for instance—a collection of common-sense strategies and advice. Thumbing through an old copy, I find guidelines for lovers on dealing with troublesome family members. A young woman in love with a man who is unacceptable to her father is advised to be “stubborn and unapologetic,” and is urged to wear him down with resistance. It is recommended she recruit her mother to her cause because “the mother will be at a stage in her life where she has had it with her husband and is therefore thrilled and thankful to take up a mission certain to piss him off.”

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Ranjith Jayaram lives in California with his wife and daughter, and works as a product manager at Google.

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READER'S COMMENTS

One thought on “A Brief History of the Free to Love Campaign”

well…highly intellectual article highlighting d most important concern of a human being’s lyf….that we eventually neglects…but in reality dat do matters a lot……..

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