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Blue is a Way of Life

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ashoka chapter.

Dear Thisbe,
I wish there weren’t a wall.
Love, Pyramus

–        Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston 

Pyramus and Thisbe were a pair of ill-fated lovers in a Greek myth, “children of rival families, forbidden to be together. Their only way to speak to each other was through a thin crack in the wall built between them.” In André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, Elio and Oliver are separated by religion, hesitation, and the fear of rejection. In Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, Alex and Henry are separated by two governments, an ocean, and most annoyingly and gratifyingly, by their endless misleading faux pleasantries and the underlying archrivalry. In Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue, Tanay and the nameless tenant are separated by a floor, an undying difference between their ideas of love, by Tanay’s naivete and the tenant’s having seen too much of life to still believe in the idea of non-performative love.

Cobalt Blue and Call Me by Your Name share not only the premise of a hot artist or academic type moving into our just-coming-to-terms-with-his-sexuality protagonist’s home but also that they have been adapted into films. While Red, White & Royal Blue creates a relatively idealistic world where although difficult, it is possible for the First Son of the United States to come out as bisexual and in a relationship with the Prince of the United Kingdom when his Latin American mom is the President of the United States, Call Me by Your Name creates a relatively realistic world set in 1983 Italy where it is difficult for two Jewish men to act on their feelings towards each other so much so that it is always a presupposition that their hot steamy love affair is a thing of the summer. Come autumn, he’s gone. Cobalt Blue is similarly realistic in that Kundalkar knows and shows that a Marathi household that defers to haldi doodh as the ultimate cure-all is not going to accept homosexuality from their chirag.

Okay, let’s talk love. Call Me by Your Name’s, or Elio and Oliver’s, is the more mature first-kiss-by-the-creek-where-I-spent-hours-reading-as-a-child kind of love. Red, White & Royal Blue’s, or Alex and Henry’s, more passionate push-you-against-the-wall kind of love. And Cobalt Blue’s, or Tanay and the tenant’s and/or Anuja and the tenant’s, is the more infatuated with the free-spirited manic pixie dream boy, unrequited kind of love. However, I must confess, I didn’t care about Anuja and the tenant’s love at all, I was only interested in Tanay’s heartbreak and how Anuja and the tenant’s love makes Tanay feel.

Even though Elio and Oliver don’t end up together, Call Me by Your Name imbues you with a kind of graceful acceptance. They meet again at different stages in their lives. Elio remains a bachelor for all intents and purposes, and Oliver marries a woman, becomes a professor, and has children. There is longing, but there is also quiet respect. It’s an aspirational love story, the kind of love you hope to have, the sapiosexual kind where you name-drop Heraclitus and read French poetry to each other, where you play Busoni’s version of Lizst’s version of a Bach caprice. Red, White & Royal Blue is the Walter Mitty kind of love that ruins you, like the Disney movies you watch, because you know that it doesn’t exist IRL. The witty banter, the sock-knocking but laugh-through-your-nose email exchanges, the absolute zero possibility of your mom becoming the President of the United States, it’s all soul-crushingly wonderful. Cobalt Blue, on the other hand, portrays the kind of love that inspires sleepless nights and barren gardens on account of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, so much so that it feeds into the tortured artist trope where you need the heartbreak to grow as a person. The novel is told from the perspective of two people, a brother and a sister, Tanay and Anuja, who fall in love with the same person and are completely changed by him. He, however, seems indifferent to the whole thing, but his indifference also seems out of his hands.

When it comes to the people around them, Elio’s father displays a kind of unsaid and then a said understanding of Elio and Oliver’s love. He epiphanizes what it means to love and lose when he says, “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!” And you either just want to eat his words or paint them in a screaming blue on the wall between Pyramus and Thisbe.

While both Tanay and Elio inhale the tenant and Oliver’s shirts respectively to commit their scents to memory, it’s only Elio and Oliver’s love that’s trapped “between always and never”. Retrospectively, Tanay and the tenant’s love heartbreakingly reads like a phase Tanay had to go through in order for his idea of love to mature. His section of the novel is addressed to the tenant. He says to him, “You had a way of looking at things which seemed sharp, perceptive, cobalt blue.” But it seems as though Elio and Oliver embody that blueness better. Reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, they dare to eat the peach, to absolutely surrender knowing that it could never have yielded an outcome different from heartbreak. Elio thinks, “I would have been satisfied and asked for nothing else than if he’d bent down and picked up the dignity I could so effortlessly have thrown at his feet.” Reading Call Me by Your Name is like having Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” permanently embedded in your head. Funnily enough, in Red, White & Royal Blue, Henry writes to Alex, “I thought, if someone like that ever loved me, it would set me on fire” because “he wanted him, singularly, not the idea of him.” Eatable words! 

Akshali is a content writer at Her Campus. She is a sophomore at Ashoka University studying English, Philosophy, Creative Writing, Media Studies, Entrepreneurship, and really any course she can fit into her sleepless schedule. A vocal James Spader fan, when she's not immersed in intellectually stimulating conversations on Squidward or weaving rock lyrics into her pieces, you'll find her gorging on momos.