“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs; being purged, a fire sparkling in lover’s eyes; being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears; what is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet.”
This is what Romeo tells his cousin Benvolio in William Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet. This is before we even know the lady that’s making Romeo so blue with love.
Benvolio asks Romeo: “Tell me in sadness, who is that you love?” And because Romeo is a bit insufferable on top of being a hopeless romantic, he asks, “what shall I groan and tell thee?”
And on and on it goes until Romeo eventually ended up drinking poison and died next to Juliet lying in a tomb. Sigh. Indeed, a madness so discreet.
Talking of madness, Valentine’s Day is up next week and it will be, as it always been, anything but discreet.
I asked a few personalities in business and what they thought about love.
I kicked it off with Chris Bitti, 42, the founder of DB Agency, an integrated brand manifestation agency. Chris, a Cameroonian, studied artificial intelligence, design and motion graphics.
He’s also a musician who released an album last year called C’est La Vie. I asked him what he would pick as a prerequisite for getting married, love or friendship.
“I’m that guy who still believes in love,” he said.
“I know friendship is probably the smartest way to go but I believe you can get married for love and make it work. I’m not going to get married to my friend if I’m not in love with her.”
He’s not married but says he has an impression that he will get married soon.
I called up Kris Senanu, managing director at Telkom Kenya’s enterprise division.
He was formerly at AccessKenya and a venture capitalist and founder of Blackrock Capital Investments.
I asked, “Kris, would you carry a big bunch of rose flowers from Anniversary Towers to Parliament road at noon on a weekday?”
He laughed and said, “Not on Valentine’s Day, I wouldn’t! Any other day I don’t mind at all. I’m not shy to carry flowers but I feel that this Valentine’s thing is overdone.”
Does he send flowers to his wife?
“I send flowers to my wife twice a month—that’s how you buy brownie points in advance.” (Big laughter.)
What about a poetry, when was the last timehe wrote a poem? “Look, I’m not one of those heart-beating fast, mushy romantics... it’s rubbish. Love to me is practical, great conversation, caring... So, I don’t write poetry, I write spreadsheets.”
Away from spreadsheets, I got Maggie Ireri on. Maggie is a director at TIFA Research and Frontiers Sports and is the chairperson of Marketing Society of Kenya.
She has 16 years experience in market research, having worked at Steadman/Synovate in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa. I asked her if she believes in love at first sight.
“No,” she said emphatically. “Love is a process, not an event. You meet someone, you are then exposed to parts of who they are and you fall in love with that. Love is also a choice.” But what about the adage that the heart wants what the heart wants? How do you explain people who fall in love with horrible people? Did they choose to?
“I’m a researcher so I’m a logical lover, I analyse things before I jump in, so I can choose not taking something to a level that I don’t want it to go. But some people are more free-spirited, that’s also fine I guess.” I then asked her if it’s possible to fall in love with two people at the same time. “I don’t think it’s possible,” she said.
“You can love someone then fall out of love and then love someone else but not at the same time. You can fall in love many times in your life but as you grow older, you love differently. The first love is chaotic, like a cult, it becomes sober as you mature in age because as you age, you come with experience and how you manage yourself is different. Love becomes not what you are taking from the other person but what you are giving.”
Still on the age thing, I called Sir Charles Njonjo, now 98 years old and finally retired recently. I pictured him seated in his study at home in his crisp pinstripe suit with a fresh rose flower stuck in his pocket, probably reading a book.
I said,“Sir, you got married pretty late in life, at 52, does that mean you never fell in love before?”
He laughed. “What are you writing this time round, Biko?”
I told him I’m writing about love.
He said, “I didn’t have time to follow girls, I was busy doing many things.”
But did they follow him, he is very successful, good looking and wore beautiful suits. He chuckled.
“I will tell you what I love now. I love sunshine, that’s what is wonderful about Kenya, our sunshine. I also love peace. But we are not at peace now as a country, are we? Not the way we had peace during my time. We are killing our sunshine. (Pause) Why are you writing about love anyway?”
We hang up and I rang Sheila Mwarangu, a partner and managing director at Gathara & Partners Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers and one of the finalists of last year’s Top 40 Under 40 Women.
She said, “How do I know you are who you say you are and you write for this newspaper?”
So I gave her my editor’s number to run a background check on me.
When I called her later, I asked her what percentage of trust she would you accord someone she loves.
She said, “I think 80 per cent. Because it’s unrealistic to trust and dangerous to trust another human being 100 per cent.”
What about her mother, how much does she trust her? She said 100 per cent because “she is family.”
I asked what the man she is in a relationship with at any given time has to do to bridge the 20 per cent gap.
“That’s a difficult question. (Pause) I think I would have to have gone through many hurdles with him, ride the journey together. That would push us to 90 per cent.”
I then called the founder and director of Nairobi International School and author of Rainbows in my Clouds, Radhika Lee and asked her what advice she would give her son about love.
“First, the love we talk about during Valentine’s Day is made up. It’s not the real stuff. The real stuff is when you are selfless, when you give in love because you don’t matter then. When you accept your partner for who he or she is. I will also tell him that there is nothing like a mother’s love.” She laughs.
I asked her if she is in love currently.
She said, “I am not, unfortunately.” I asked why that is unfortunate.
“Because people expect me to be. (Laughs) But my not being in love isn’t because of lack of people, it’s because I don’t rush into love.”
Over at 14 Riverside, Nairobi, is Valentis Clinic founded by Dr Tilman Stasch, a cosmetic surgeon and Dr Don Othoro.
The clinic deals with skin health, plastic surgery, hand surgery and cosmetic medicine. I asked the Dr Tilman if he has been heartbroken before, what he remembers about it and how he fixed it.
“I was young. I remember it being like a stab in my chest, a feeling that literally affects you physically. But then looking back it was a necessary experience because it made me know what it meant to be in love. The only way you can cure a heartbreak is to allow time to heal you and just like wounds of surgery that take at least three months to seal, it takes that long to regenerate your heart and move on and fall in love all over again.”
Still on Riverside Drive, the general manager of dusitD2 Hotel is Michael Metaxas, a Greek with his signature tongue-in-cheek and 18 years in the hotel industry all over the world.
I asked him if it’s possible to fall in love more than once. He laughed.
“I am married,” he said.
“You can’t ask me that, is there any other question on your list because I love my wife and I will always love my wife. What is life if not for love for your children and your wife? If you want to ask me about Valentine ’s Day I don’t send her flowers on that day. I send her flowers twice a year, on her birthday and on her “Name Day” which is a celebration for us Greeks. But she receives expensive gifts from me throughout the year.”
I ask him jokingly, ‘‘let’s assume your wife wasn’t around, like she didn’t exist, at all, do you think you would fall in love twice?’’
He laughed rising to that occasion as only he would.
“No, never! It would not happen. Now I hope she reads this interview.”
Indeed. Shakespeare might have said love is a madness so discreet, well, love is also a smart madness.