Pucker up, Valentine

Sophie Monroe once talked about how the human brain was the most outstanding organ; that it worked for 24 hours, 365 days, right from the time of your birth until you fell in love.  Neuroscientists the world over have still not been able to put their finger on it.  And since we just celebrated St. Valentine’s birthday, it would be an ideal time to talk about this most Googled and Tweeted word: love. It also happens to be the cause of the most accelerated changes in statuses on Facebook—2,93,000 per minute is what my research team tells me!

Legend has it that St. Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings of soldiers who were forbidden to marry. During his imprisonment, he also healed the daughter of his jailer, and before his execution, wrote her a farewell letter signed, ”Your Valentine”. So, thanks to St. Valentine and ‘I (heart) NY’, the heart-shaped outline has come to be so fervently employed today to represent romantic love—but before this was only used to depict foliage and water lilies!


Having deeply fallen (or arisen, with no pun intended) in love only once, I’m no master on the subject. Different people choose varying ways to express their love. While some buy expensive gifts and others indulge in lavish surprises, I travel to remote parts of the world on a shoestring budget. When I go with my wife, however, the shoes happen to be Jimmy Choo. 


To beat the 14th February rush, we decided to celebrate our day of love a couple of weeks earlier, on 26th January and headed to Tharamgambadi, alluringly called Tranquebar—the land of the singing waves. When you reside in South India, this is as exotic as it gets.  Borrowing a friend’s car and my wife’s credit card, we set off on a romantic five-hour drive from Vellore.


On this effortlessly pleasant joyride, she painstakingly explained to me why it is important to passionately love more than just your own work (which I am often accused of); why genuine fondness for the arts, design, sport, or for that matter even something as enigmatic as astronomy or elementary as farming is instrumental to one’s growth. With her trying to inculcate into me an appreciation for opera, we narrowly missed a few near-fatal accidents.


“Nothing is ever enough when what you are looking for isn’t what you really want” is the philosophy of Neemrana, the group which owns The Bungalow on the Beach—a 17th-century mansion with eight elegantly designed rooms and a sprawling verandah, where one could have the sea spray on us at high tide. Life isn’t always about escalating oneself into luxury. To get more from less is what this place was all about. Eventually, it’s about simplicity, which is the ultimate style.


The swimming pool there has a wonderful aquatic-green hue to it, and only when one dips in does one realise that it is algae giving it its leafy colour and foliating fragrance. One couldn’t help but notice little dark-skinned boys peeping in through the bushy fencing, innocently smiling at fair-complexioned foreigners sunbathing, their sparkling-white teeth reflecting the purity of their pleasure.


A 14th-century temple touches the Bungalow on its north face. The psychedelic luminosity of its exterior keeps even the gods inside a little dizzy; most of them are a little tilted on their stones. Tranquebar is a Danish town with the second largest Danish fort, second only to Kronborg – in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The fort on the east bank of this non-hotel hotel is a majestic stone structure, with our Indian tourists having scribbled their love for their spouses on each and every wall. When I see lovers’ names carved into walls, I don’t think it’s cute; I just think it’s strange how many people carry knives on a date! Hearts of various shapes and sizes are doodled on every square inch of this historic structure as a tribute to Mr. Valentine, who was much in demand even in this remote corner of the world, and Mr. Shakespeare who must be turning in his grave to find what has become of love today. The museum within the fort has a jar, a plate and a mug – that’s it!


India’s first printing press, dated 1715, lay in Tranquebar as well. As we walked excitedly towards it to see what machines of that time would look like, we were told that the press had been converted into a hostel for students and teachers. No machines, no paper. Ancient churches with pristine glowing crosses line the remaining two lanes that make up rest of this tranquil town.


Dinner was admirably above average. The fresh-lime soda was endearingly effervescent. Creole cuisine flirted with the Chettinad. The Malbari prawn curry was mystically magical. The polished and peppy pasta held its own amidst spicy competition. The reverberating sound of the waves hitting the rocks heightened the sensitivity of this candlelit dinner, the wind frequently blowing off the candle. Who needs an occasion to celebrate love?


The night was spent walking under the stars of a clear sky, breathing in the crisp air from India’s thickest ozone layer that prolonged our life in small ways. Chic lamp posts neatly lined our cobblestone path as we strained our necks to count the shimmering stars, giving each one a name and a dream. After an attempt to digest our food, we headed back to watch Blue Jasmine, a Woody Allen romantic comedy that tends to leave you a little confused at the end of it—like all his movies do. As Woody himself said, ‘life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television’.


As the sun pierced its sharp yet soft rays through our 30-feet tall, hand-drawn curtains, we woke up to the chirping of sparrows perched on the barren branches of slender trees, awaiting their next instalment of green furnishings. We then lazily feasted on double-cheese, extra-masala omelettes and crushingly cool watermelon juice.  It is the smallest joys, which can offer us all the fruits of the cosmos.


As all good things come to an end, so did this weekend getaway. We drove back listening to and reliving the romance of yesteryear with Raj Kapoor and Nargis serenading one another in “Pyaar hua ikraar hua”. This time I was in charge of the driving music! After all, when someone else’s happiness is your happiness, THAT is love.