Love blossoms amidst adversity in a Pune settlement, and the internet keeps it alive

Satish B’s love life is intertwined with the internet in ways he did not foresee a couple of years ago. In love with Z (names changed to protect identity), the 19-year-old boy relies on Facebook to keep up the pressure on the girl’s family, hoping that pictures of the couple on his timeline will force them to acknowledge and accept the inter-faith relationship. And also, perhaps, help him track down his girlfriend who, he says, has been “hidden somewhere by the family as they are opposed to the match”.

“As long as the pictures are there, they cannot deny that Z and I are in a relationship,” says the Class 12 student. He knows his action may be seen by some as a kind of “blackmail”, but that is only to counter the “pressure on her, thanks to her family”. The internet for Satish then, is a kind of repository—a space for affirmation of a ‘truth’ he is attached to dearly. It is also a space that has helped him shape his ideas on religion and the co-existence of religions.

To understand that, however, knowing their backstory—narrated to this researcher over several conversations—is essential.

Till about a year-and-a-half ago, Z’s family used to live in the same low-income settlement near Sakal Nagar in Pune’s Aundh area that Satish calls home. They met by virtue of inhabiting the same physical space; he proposed, and she took a couple of months to say ‘yes’. The first foray into the virtual space for the couple was when Satish began downloading songs and videos for Z, who was not internet-savvy then.

Satish, who has helped many of his friends in the locality navigate the virtual world, himself went online for the first time sometime in 2011, using a friend’s phone. His explorations in cyberspace were limited to browsing for songs and videos, Facebook, and liking pages on FB that deal with body-building and disc jockeying.

“Body-building went for a toss once I got into a relationship,” says Satish, who lives with his grandmother and two sisters. “I was immersed in the relationship and stopped thinking about everything else.”

“Z was a big fan of Gurmeet, the television actor from Yeh Hai Aashiqui. Since I wanted to impress her, I began liking pages on Facebook that had anything to do with Gurmeet. I even downloaded pictures of Gurmeet and copied them on to Z’s phone,” he recalls. Those days, he used to work as a delivery boy for a leading pizza chain—something he has given up since it involves a lot of ‘jhamela‘.

The desire to impress, and the urgency to express how he felt about Z prompted Satish to follow pages on sher-o-shayri and begin writing down lines that he found particularly powerful in a notebook. “I would send these quotes to Z when she was angry…it would help cool her down,” recollects Satish.

Sher-o-shayri led to a fondness for Urdu. “Although I don’t understand the language often, I like the way it sounds, and I would text lines from Facebook pages on Urdu shayri to Z,” says Satish. “She understands Urdu, and we would often talk about lines I chanced upon in the many pages that I liked.”

Gradually, the calendar turned to Ramzan, and Satish took it upon himself to keep his love interest informed about the timings for fasting, among other things. “I searched for pages on Islam, Ramzan fasting and Sunnat (the way of life prescribed as normative in Islam, based on the teachings and practices of Muhammad and on exegesis of the Koran),” he says.

These forays, he says, broadened his understanding of the other religion, and taught him to respect it. Things, however, turned sour for the couple. Once, when they had a fight, he beat Z up, following which her brothers lodged a police complaint, and Z was sent off to a relative’s place. When Satish discovered her whereabouts, the two fled, took a house on rent on the outskirts of the city, and lived together for one-and-a-half months. That is when he saw, at close quarters, Z following her religion. Since he had already been sensitised about many aspects, thanks to the internet, he was accommodating.

But the girl’s family discovered their whereabouts. Her brothers showed up, thrashed him and took her away. The family shifted out of Satish’s locality and Z was sent away again to some other relative’s place.

Given the fracas, Satish says his family has had no option but to accept their relationship. “My grandmother was opposed to it earlier, since the girl is Muslim, but came around eventually,” he notes.

Their story, however, is in suspended animation now. Satish does not tire of talking about his attempts to trace Z, although her brothers keep threatening him, asking him to stay away from her. He says it is partly because of her brothers’ ‘antics’ that he ensures their pictures stay on his Facebook page. Even his own profile picture is a picture of the two lovers, and Satish’s Facebook status reads: S Z love forever…

“The way it works is simple: when her brothers’ friends who also know me, meet them, they will keep asking about Z and me, since our pictures will be on their Facebook pages as well. It helps battle the pressure on the two of us,” says Satish.

These days he is busy helping his grandmother who works as a door-to-door waste-picker as part of the SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling) initiative steered by the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a Pune-based union of waste-pickers.

Satish’s friends on Facebook seem to be egging the couple on. “hahahahlagnjhalnaa mag,” (Get married quickly) says one friend, commenting on their photograph. “Complete family,” says another. “Shaadihoooogayi… aurinvitionbhinhiiiii,” exclaims another, clearly believing that the picture of the couple embracing each other means they had got married. Satish responded saying, “Nahiaatataarjhavliaahe” (There is still time for that).

Even though the lovers are not in touch now, he regularly visits the pages on shayri, Top Ten (Marathi) Love Stories and Islam. “She must feel I respect her religion,” he says. And in a negation of the BJP’s ‘love jihad’ line—wherein the party says Muslim boys accost Hindu girls only to convert them—he says, “If and when we are married, I will not ask her to convert or convert to her religion. We should believe in both gods and give space to each other to practice our beliefs.” September 2014