I watched Persuasion today and was taken with Dakota Johnson’s Anne, like I knew I would be but even more by Louisa (Nia Towle). She surprised me like no other woman in love has. I have seen and heard women not only do stupid things in love but also believe that because they do it out of love, it somehow makes them noble. When I say them, I obviously mean moi.
But watching Louisa in love is as terrible as it is reaffirming. I have not read Persuasion but now want to after watching Louisa leap from a wall to revisit the sensation of being caught by the man she loves. It is disgustingly close to how I experienced love as a young woman.
He is leading her down the steps. When he reaches the landing she jumps, and he catches her and her giggles. Austen says “the sensation was delightful to her” – and to reproduce this she runs backs up again, declares to him that he must catch her again and leaps. It wasn’t sufficient warning and the fool falls down. He wouldn’t have been able to catch her safely from that height, even with sufficient warning.
I called her stupid 5 times even before I was fully done watching the scene. I watched it again and again, then went and watched the same scene from the 2007 and 1995 adaptations of the novel. And in each of these scenes, I was watching the same thing – a foolish woman leaping stupidly in love.
Even without meaning to, this need to leap, this desire to reproduce a sensation just because it seems delightful — even at the cost of knowing the pain it might bring — makes villains out of the ones who aren’t able to catch. It is unfair and more than that, it is unnecessary.
Why must we leap? Why must we expect to be caught? It’s perhaps why we do it. We don’t it because we are sure. We do it because we are unsure and want to be sure. It’s a gamble. A stupid, miserable one. It’s a lot like love. Stupid, stupid, love.
There is an interesting humiliation at play here. His is that she falls and hers is that he lets her. That there is an audience for this doesn’t help either case.
An old love and I would go to Kempegowda airport on his bike for kicks in 2008. This was before it was the resort it is today. Back then, it was just one long stretch of road to ride and play on. Once we were there, we’d sit and look at the sparrows, laugh, talk, watch the planes take off and head back.
One day, we began playing. We played lock & key, hide & seek and then running race. He obviously ran very fast. I couldn’t catch up so I began running the other way. He laughed, turned around and began chasing me. I don’t know how the game had changed but I was delighted to find it in my hands. Even so, I couldn’t continue running because I had started laughing so much. He caught up with me and we both buckled down with guffaws.
I went home feeling happy and childlike but mostly with a full stomach. He let the game go and chased me and this made me feel love. A month or something later we found ourselves in a large group of friends he liked because they were his friends and I hated because they were all chuths. We finished lunch at a dhaaba and were getting into our vehicles when the largeness of the parking area became a playground and again, somehow, we began playing running race. This time too, he was very fast and I began running in the opposite direction. I turned back and felt a mild stab of betrayal to watch him standing tall and proud, announcing in front of his friends “Go wherever you want”
We had an audience and he didn’t want to chase me. We had an audience and it’s why I wanted him to chase me. It’d have solidified our love in front of those chuths. In my late 30s, it kills me to say this but I haven’t gotten over this stupid way of leaping and feeling betrayed.
I never brought this up with him, we never found ourselves in large parking areas to lose ourselves in ever again. But I remember feeling empty in my stomach when he dropped me home that evening.
I feel stupid and foolish and small and petty as I type this but I wish there was a way of ensuring that our stomachs never feel that sudden vacuum. It shouldn’t have to fall on other people to catch us whenever we feel like leaping. It’s here that I recall Didion’s words on being in love and remaining indifferent at the same time. Self-respect makes it possible to achieve both she says.
I am thinking of how much self-respect Louisa had or didn’t moments before she took that leap. Why do we allow ourselves to give in to these random moments of leap? What are we hoping to find there? Something as strong and nurturing as the self-respect we seem to lack?
How do we preserve our sense of self despite love? This morning, I woke up uneasily in a rabbit hole I had been digging for sometime now- pinning down my self-respect to weak amulets. I could feel my Sunday slipping away from my hands even before it had begun. I hated it. I didn’t feel like myself. I felt betrayed, possessed, obsessed, in need of a severe makeover. Then I forced myself to watch a film, picked Persuasion, watched that scene, began writing this and somewhere in between the last two moments, I returned to myself.
I felt myself literally picking myself up at one point and I loved the sensation of feeling calm in my stomach again. I don’t know whom to thank for this. Dead white women writers?
A random dude once texted me on twitter to say that he finds it ironical when Dalit women feel inspired by white women. I told him I’d much rather feel inspired by dead white women than alive and thriving savarna women. His only response was “why not black women????????????”
Baba, on days when it feels like everything is slowly dying inside you and you want nothing more but to be held and feel sane and happy again, shouldn’t we do whatever it takes to persuade ourselves to feel whole again? So what if it’s some dead white woman from England speaking to me in Basavanagudi?
Maybe that was what Didion meant when she said not having self-respect was like returning home to oneself and finding it empty. That if we take the risk of leaping, we must also be prepared to take the risk of falling or worse, suffer the humiliation of not being caught.