Living one's life while living with parents involves a few deceptions.
In his 2003 film The Five Obstructions*, Lars von Trier set his mentor Jørgen Leth the task of remaking one of his own movies (Leth’s 1967 short The Perfect Human) with certain constraints imposed. The point was to get Leth to slip up.
One such constraint was the stipulation that Leth shoot his film in “the worst place in the world”. The setting Leth chose was Mumbai. Specifically, it was Falkland Road, the red light district, that Leth described as “hell on earth“, and which he showed through translucent plastic as he ate a lavish meal. Leth hit upon a truth we all recognise: an ordinary endeavour can be made fiendishly difficult thanks to the basic realities of living in Mumbai. The endeavour I’m talking of is dating.
“Lives at home” sounds like a perfectly ordinary tautology. Where else? one might ask. But we all know what the phrase connotes. And when applied to a girl, no three words promise more trouble. There’s a curfew. There’s a commute. And inevitably there are the conservative parents, to whom the less is mentioned, the better.
At the centre of all these inconveniences is a woman. A professional, competent woman, working a full-time job. An independent woman, with a variety of interests. A very lovely woman. A woman who, for all that, lives at home.
Mumbai being Mumbai, the prohibitive expense of living on one’s own, even for someone pulling down a decent income, is enough to banish fleeting hopes of an independent life for all those but the luckiest, or perhaps the most obstinate, among us. (Very few of my friends from the suburban hipster scene grew up in Mumbai.)
For her parents, the economics make perfect sense. Of course a girl shouldn’t be living on her own, and the idea of their girl trying to do so suggests unspeakable horrors. Nonetheless it’s difficult to imagine their being so blind—willfully blind, I suspect—as to imagine her idly passing the time until they hand her off to a suitable husband. Not even in the most Malgudian of tiny towns does the story end that way. Nonetheless their expectations of her are set. And she, determined to defy the rules, deftly finds her way around them.
Yes, we’ve been sneaking around. It’s a challenge for both of us, a set of obstructions designed to get us to slip up. (Continuing with the comparison, I’m aware, risks putting me in the unenviable position of the Lars von Trier of dating.) I’m flattered that so much conniving has gone into seeing me, and I’m impressed that she’s smart and gutsy enough to pull it off.
For my part, I’m constitutionally lacking in any ability to lie, perhaps because I’ve never been forced to. So to engage in an activity predicated on lies feels racy, as though I were in the middle of a bedroom farce. (Yes, that’s better. Who wouldn’t prefer starring in Secret of My Success to Antichrist.)
The fabrications take many forms:
The misdirection play, e.g., getting dropped off at the mall, then taking a rickshaw to a totally different destination. Or leaving her family at Dadar and then getting on a train headed in the opposite direction.
The reliable friend, with whom she can be engaged in perfectly innocuous activity.
The extended outing, placing her at a location long after she has left.
The bald-faced, explaining away that mark on her neck as a “perfume allergy”.
I hold up my part of the deception by not giggling as she conveys the above information over the phone, though with all the alibis I feel like I should insert an urf into my name. And, of course, there’s a certain amount I have to hide here, lest somehow it find its way back to someone capable of placing an identifying detail. But so far we haven’t slipped up.
Naturally I wonder whether she’s being completely honest with me—or I with her—or I with myself. But these aren’t so different from the usual feelings attendant upon meeting somebody new and getting to know her. If anything, the fact that we’re constantly concealing so much makes personal disclosures so much the more valuable.
In Bombay: The Perfect Human, Jørgen Leth plaintively asks a series of rhetorical questions, all the while eating his sumptuous dinner: “Why is joy so whimsical? Happiness so brief? Why did you leave me? Why did you go away?”
Not before a fleeting twinge of unspoken misgivings creeps into his expression, he concludes, “Very, very, very tasty.”
*The Five Obstructions can be watched in its entirety for free from the United States (or, using a proxy server, elsewhere) at hulu.com.Tags: Dating, Lars Von Trier, Relationships, The Holdout