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The relentless pursuit of beauty

Do we love people’s faces or their souls, asks Rohit Trilokekar

Rohit Trilokekar | Published 06.11.22, 05:36 PM
Which aspect of a person do we fall in love with first?

Which aspect of a person do we fall in love with first?


You know she dances while his father plays guitar

She’s suddenly beautiful


And we all want something beautiful

Man, I wish I was beautiful…

Mr. Jones, Counting Crows

The third line about “wanting something beautiful” evokes a vignette I found myself returning to like a moth to a flame in the ’90s. The fleeting vision of a girl in the lobby of a discotheque. One I instantly christened “the most beautiful girl in the world”. To be fair, the fifth or sixth to have secured that distinction. Haddaway’s What is Love (the sweet irony!) lent a new definition to “surround sound” as I entered the club, trying my best to look cool, failing miserably. I scoured the crowd frantically, but didn’t see the “disco girl” again that night. Lady Luck was on my side, though; she frequented the local gymkhana. After years of futile pursuit, I secured a date. A restaurant by the sea. She insisted I have a pint. I refused politely, drunk already on her charm. Our second date unfolded like a Beethoven symphony.  To be clear, I was not seeing her (we had not even held hands, let alone hug or kiss). A surreal harmony was shattered by a petty argument. At once Cruella de Vil stole Cinderella’s show. Disco girl turned ‘unbeautiful’. Quite literally.

I was incorrigibly and madly in love

In his profoundly candid memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie takes a dig at his ex-wife Padma Lakshmi, calling her a “millenarian illusion”. He alludes to her being ‘unrecognisable’ when incensed (I am no male chauvinist. Not supporting Rushdie, either; just telling his side of the story). Not that my married life has been all hunky-dory. All relationships come with baggage. We either pay ‘excess’ like Mr Rushdie or “make it work” (pro-tip: do not take more than you give).

Smuggling toiletries from hotel suites? No problem. That Buddha statue you were eyeing the night before checkout will cost you inner peace. No amount of bubble wrap can cushion the resultant damage. And yes, princes reverse engineer into frogs, too.

Then there was this other girl who did not fit my definition of beauty (my friends were harsher, ridiculing my “poor taste”). Let us call her Diva. I do not know how or when love happened. Perhaps it was her mesmerising eyes, or the haunting music with suggestive lyrics on a long drive. I was incorrigibly and madly in love. Not long after, I was yet again looking at “the most beautiful girl in the world” (number seven?). Cindy Crawford was no patch on her.

That was the first time I fell in love with someone’s soul.

Love could be a kind of ayahuasca

Does love make us think ‘we are all peacocks here’?

Does love make us think ‘we are all peacocks here’?


Diva and I were never a thing. Today, when I conjure a picture of her in my mind’s eye, she falls short of ‘attractive’. Love had rendered her beautiful, just like falling out of love had brought out the ‘ordinary’ in the “disco girl”. 

There is this South American spiritual medicine called ayahuasca. One touted to enable seekers to see the truth. Medicine, in this case, is undoubtedly a milder label for psychedelic drugs. Love could be a kind of ayahuasca, revealing the truth that “we are all peacocks here”. No more marriage biodatas getting cruelly rejected on account of “cheap Samsung photos”. Reality, not love, engenders our inherent blindness.

I must confess I did not fall in love with my wife until after we had decided to get married. If it is any consolation, it did happen before our wedding. It is far more decent to say you love a person instead of proclaiming your lust for them. We truly fall in love only with the persona behind the mask.  

My masseuse had once told me he was going to his gaon to get married. He would meet the girl his parents had selected a couple of times before cementing his decision. What remained unsaid was that the decision was never his to make. The lingering sadness in his tone betrayed his outwardly happy demeanour. Some people do not even see their spouses until their wedding day. What about love? 

We are hardwired to find love, if not fall in it.

Falling in love is easy. Loving is the tough bit

The initial rush of love at first sight subsides and we do not obsess over beauty as we did in the throes of passion

The initial rush of love at first sight subsides and we do not obsess over beauty as we did in the throes of passion


Have you noticed when a new track strikes your fancy, you listen to it on loop? Over time, you return to it less often; the magic wears off, and before you know it, a brand new song spearheads your playlist. Similarly, the initial rush of love at first sight subsides and you do not obsess over beauty as you did in the throes of passion. While the soul has no features, its beauty is far more luminescent than that of any countenance. No brownie points for beauty when someone lights up a room with their effervescence. The larger-than-life persona of theirs is sure to get your adrenaline flowing. An experience not quite like the high romantic love engenders, but stimulating nonetheless.

We now know that the chemical changes in parts of the brain when you are in love are equal to that of heroin doses or high cocaine doses, so you kind of know – if you have to ask you are in love, you are not

— JoAnn Deak, educator and psychologist

Point noted. Although, who is to say with absolute certainty: “It’s not love”? “It’s romantic love,” you might gush. The kind that makes us endearingly loony. Who can live without a love like that? It is the proverbial muse for some really great art. Whatever might Shakespeare have done without it?

Strangely, when I fell in love with Diva, everything came wondrously alive. Love for a soul mimicked love for a face. Like the first time I listened to Slash’s haunting guitar solo in Sweet Child O’ Mine. Love, in all its forms, blossoms well after the intoxicating rush, the kind I experienced when I first saw my wife. Might we then debunk the very notion of love at first sight? Why label something when there is proof to the contrary?

We all want something beautiful. We want our lovers to look like photoshopped models, dreading the prospect of our unborn children being diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. 

Falling in love is easy. Loving is the tough bit, the most achingly beautiful.


Rohit Trilokekar is a novelist from Mumbai who flirts with the idea of what it means to love. His heart’s compass swerves ever so often towards Kolkata, the city he believes has the most discerning literary audience.

Last updated on 06.11.22, 05:36 PM

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