Hum ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain,
Shaadi bhi ek baar hoti hai,
Aur pyaar…vo bhi ek baar hota hai.
Growing up in the 90s, this Kuch Kuch Hota Hai dialogue was stitched in my head like a crappy song stuck in your mouth appearing anytime like it was stored in you a priori. Much like all the other Bollywood films that taught us only one kind of romance-of two heterosexual people running into oblivion after dodging kaante in their pyaar ke raaste, the screen blacking out with a happily ever after, KKHH too sold me, an Anjali, a happily ever after with my Rahul (saajan ji ghar aaye plays in the background). I actually grew up believing there would be one person custom made for me sitting somewhere on this planet committing themselves, inevitably, to a series of heartbreaks before they meet their sachcha and only pyaar, me. No, you watch Karan Johar family dramas before thinking I am living in a narcissistic, half-dream in which I’ll always pitifully remain. However big a jerk Rahul was, I thought that two people who dil se loved each other would do anything to be together hamesha and forever and would maintain the ties of ‘one and only’ aka monogamy at all times throughout their lives. All that until I met P.
P and I were great friends, the absolute best. The day I heard them speak was the day I decided that I had to had to know them more. Cut to 6 months labour later, we were doing most of the things together. P is so much fun and kind and intelligent to be with. P also had a partner whom they loved and missed a lot. P had another partner with whom they were in on and off vala love. P happened to also begin loving me. P, you see, identifies as polyamorous. Sach mein when I heard the first time about their kind of commitment in relationship, I was like hain? Ye toh cheating hai! Dating multiple people at the same time? Where is love? Rather where is my Johar vala monogamous pyaar? But P explained to me how their relationships worked, how polyamory works for different people. It’s not cheating they told me with their hand comfortably sitting on my lap and that dreamy look in their eyes, it’s not cheating because “all my partners know about each other and our positions in relationships”. What a fun idea, sir ji!
I rushed back home to work my Google up on every information I could find about this kind of commitment. Personal accounts of people dating each other and simultaneously other people coloured my screen along with some accounts of women who reported their male partners to have cheated on them all along and shoved polyamory over their act when caught (sigh, men).
But contrary to my imaginations of it being fun, polyamory turned out to be a piece of work! You had to make time for multiple people, albeit in different capacities, and be honest with each one of them, including yourself. You can sleep with one partner one night, and wake up with another two mornings later or you could all do a sleepover together if the relationship dynamics were laid out for everyone to understand. It is also possible for you identify as polyamorous and not tell your partner about details of your newer relationships as long as they know your commitment level and understanding. Transparency is key. Lying, a big no no!
I didn’t know P loved me. Not only because I am the mother of oblivion, the non-knower of romantic inclinations towards me but also because I deeply liked someone else. My pursuit landed me in a lot of trouble, and just when I was giving up on them and love P waltzed in. P did their pyaar ka izhaar unsure of whether I’d reciprocate, whether I’d be able to love them without letting my monogamous expectations creating a syappa. But how can you not move towards wholehearted love and respect? So after a few initial hiccups, I said yes to them. While we were having a great time together, one of their partners who wasn’t as comfortable them being with me expressed their dissatisfaction. Jealousy creeped in and they moved away from each other. Now it was just me, P, and their main partner.
A few months later, the person I doted on, let’s call them T, came back (they always do when you don’t need them), and as much as I want to say I remained undeterred, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I thought about the possibilities of our relationship, whether I should give them a chance, what it’d be like to touch them, to be with them like I always imagined. I spent most of my days guiltily wondering how I could do this to P, this cheating, double-timing. I was with P sometimes and all I could think about was T. Hello, syappa! I decided to take my time. I stopped talking to T until I was sure of my feelings towards them, and informed P of my position. A month of thought later, I was sure I didn’t love T like I loved P, I just liked them. While I explained T and P both where my heart lied, I began thinking about my own commitment preferences…I was okay if I were dating both of them, in extremely different ways though. I loved P like Anjali loved Rahul, that forever vala pyaar which will never be weaned. I loved P more than panipuri and you should know this about me, I love panipuri A LOT. I liked T because of how they made me feel about myself, which was new for me, which is probably why I couldn’t let them go easily. So much for someone who identifies as monogamous, right?
By the end of the mess that our lives had become because of my indecisions, I realised that I am actually polyamorous. I was with P, am with P but I wanted to mildly date T as well. We all discussed this prospect and they both left it on me to decide. T turned out to be a jerk so that didn’t happen but the fact that I was inching towards both of them for different relationship needs helped me climb out of my polyamory ambiguity. I was recently reading Edward Carpenter’s book, The Drama of Love and Death: A Study of Human Evolution and Transfiguration where he talks about polyamory, way before it was discussed like it is today, and I’d like to quote:
Sympathy with and understanding of the person one lives with must be cultivated to the last degree possible, because it is a condition of any real and permanent alliance…After all, it seldom happens, with any one who has more than one or two great interests in life, that he finds a mate who can sympathize with or understand them all. In that case a certain portion of his personality is left out in the cold, as it were; and if this is an important portion it seems perfectly natural for him to seek for a mate or a lover on that side too.
This sentiment captures what I feel and love the most about polyamory: I don’t have to burden one person with all my needs and expectations, I can scatter them into multiple people who are more suited, according to their personality, to respond to them without reminders. This way your idea of loving and being expands. There is jealousy, of course. I remember when T, P and I met, rather unexpectedly for the first time, it was the most difficult time for all of us. Because I was still juggling with the idea of having two relationships at the same time, and also because both T and P rested on unstable, jealous grounds in their relationships with me. It was difficult to be with two people who loved me and for whom I reserved my likes for at the same time. Polyamory, seriously is a lot of work! But it is beautiful too if handled with respect for every partner and a clear understanding of one’s commitment. P and I have promised each other that we will be honest about our crushes (blurs are not for us), and that we’ll be clear on where we stand in our relationship always.
Polyamory is recognising what makes us love and what makes us step out of it, it is learning how to keep communication at the front and navigate jealousy: the monogamy side-effect, with every challenge to your relationship. And I might be going too far with my cheesiness, but what else do you expect from a Johar fan, I think polyamory in its truest sense also implies letting love be in all its messy, blurry self. It is setting yourself free in loving, it is singing pyaar diwana hota hai to one, and khoya khoya chand to another in the same day and listening to the joys of both of them and feeling happy about it. So I end my gushy love stories with a slightly changed KKHH dialogue,
Hum ek baar jeete hai, eb baar marte hain,
Shaadi kayi baar ho sakti hai,
Aur pyaar…vo toh bahut baar, ek saath bhi hota hai…