Of Love and Urban Experiences: Ravish Kumar’s “Ishq Mein Shahar Hona”

Written by  //  August 3, 2015  //  Literature, Reflections  //  Comments Off on Of Love and Urban Experiences: Ravish Kumar’s “Ishq Mein Shahar Hona”

On one of those tiring internship days in Delhi, I stumbled upon an interestingly titled book written by Ravish Kumar “Ishq Mein Shahar Hona” amongst the numerous books laden on one of the typical bicycle book vendors right opposite to Triveni Kala Sangam at Tansen Marg. Ishq Mein Shahar Hona is a compilation of micro-fiction stories, each story being only a few sentences long. A loose translation of Ishq Mein Shahar Hona is ‘a city in love’. This is obviously my own inference, but the point should nevertheless be made: The phrase conveys a message completely different from “Shahar mein ishq hona”, which would be ‘love in a city’. The book is not about how the experiences of love in rural setting are different from experiences of love in urban setting. Instead, it is about how one’s being in love can affect his urban experiences. The book is about the blending of experiences of love and experiences of becoming and being ‘urban’. While on one hand, it gives us a different picture of Delhi, on the other hand, it also creates its own niche in the ways we read and write about the themes of ‘love’ and ‘urban’.

The most enthusing part of the book is its introduction titled “shahar ka kitaab banna”, which can be vaguely translated to mean, ‘a city turning into a book’. The introduction narrates Ravish’s personal experiences of ‘becoming urban’, for one who migrates from a typical rural environment. Beautifully described by him, the journey of becoming ‘urban’ begins with a distinction between ‘temporary address’ and ‘permanent address’ which hovers over the newly urbanising people, constantly reminding them of the insecurity of still not having procured permanent address. He describes the process of transforming from a quintessential ‘rural’ to ‘becoming urban’ as one where clear lines between ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’ first become fuzzy and subsequently, the feeling that the city after all is just a temporary address vanishes away. The process where city transforms from a ‘temporary’ address to a ‘permanent’ address is, according to him, what essentially characterises the process of becoming urban.

Delhi is read and written about from different lenses: political corridors, historical monuments, famous moments etc. While Delhi is burdened with the heavyweight of historicity and politics in our readings, in its daily existence, it also shares some light moments with lovers who are historically and politically irrelevant. Ishq mein shahar hona brings out this aspect of Delhi very beautifully, entombed in the shared experiences of the many individuals who constitute its public spaces.

The book covers multiplicity of urban experiences from the occasional middle class protests, the daily travel insecurities to religious and caste tensions. While in some stories, ‘urban’ is shown as anonymous, and thus facilitating closeness between two people, in other stories, ‘urban’ is shown as a constantly surveilling state force. In some stories, the lovers are compared to different parts of the city, while others showcase the lovers’ longing for lonely surroundings. The book brings out the dual forces of public anonymity, yet more intimate personal space that a city may breed between two people.

The narrative doesn’t separate the quintessential urban experiences from the experiences of love. Ishq mein shahar hona does not hide the necessary ingredients of Delhi like politics and history. The love stories are not apolitical or isolated in vacuum. In fact, at times, there are strong political commentaries through these stories. The idea that it is difficult to escape from ‘being political’ in Delhi is beautifully portrayed by Ravish. In one of the stories, where two lovers are participating in a political protest, one lover asks the other – “Are we in love or in politics?” To this, the other replies – “How does it matter, if we are in love or in politics? We are in Delhi.” In another story, where one lover mentions that he sees Anna and Gandhi in his dreams, the other replies – “tum bahut political ho gaye ho”(you have become very political).

Ravish also locates the daily urban problems in the context of experiences of love. In one story, the lovers lament that they meet less often now, due to rise in petrol prices. In another story, they are struggling with the status connotations that are attached with different areas of Delhi. Another very prominent theme is the urban obsession with English and its role in status connotations. In one story where a woman uses English to show off her status in a fish shop, Ravish has a very elegant way to express his concern with this obsession -“English is not supposed to be the weapon for every status battle.”

It shows us how even urban love is not really disconnected with what we may ordinarily understand to be stereotypically rural experiences. While urban may be representative of progressive society, the specter of caste and religious divides often haunt the urban experiences. However, the book showcases the sentiment that this doesn’t hold back the young urban from falling in love and imagining a future, which can chart the course that the Constitutional idea of India is supposed to provide for. While the social change that the Constitutional ideals may bring, these lovers place their trust in the Constitution for the limited purpose of struggling through the oppressive social customs for getting united. Portraying this very idea, I conclude this post with my favourite story from this book titled “Khaap kahin aaspaas” (Khaap is somewhere nearby): Two lovers are sitting with each other under the statue of Ambedkar. She asks him, “Why does this man in blue coat always stand there with a book (The Constitution of India)?” After thinking for a while about Ambedkar’s dream of casteless society and the Constitutional ideals, he replies, “I assure you, this book will one day unite us”.

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