Saturday, February 16, 2002

Shades of Love

For some, love is a luxury that only the rich can afford. Anyway, the ugliness of poverty precludes any possibility of the blooming of such a delicate sentiment. Love needs to be nurtured with beautiful thoughts and surroundings that only money can buy, says Randeep Wadehra

Photo by Gaurav Sood

LOVE is perhaps the only creed that is not normative — its followers make and observe their own norms. Love is a feeling that numbs all senses. It is an experience that heightens sensibilities. Love is a chemical reaction that involves pheromones. It is a spiritual function. Love is blind. It opens one’s eyes to an entirely different world. Love is profane — a thoughtless consummation of carnal desires — an all-consuming passion. Love is sublime — it prompts one to sacrifice one’s all without expecting anything in return — it is tranquility personified. Confused? Not surprising, really. It is a phenomenon involving curious contradictions. It has not been demystified despite the best, or is it the worst, efforts of poets, philosophers, scientists and ordinary folks.


Is love a function of the eye or the mind? One must first see the cherished ‘object’. If it matches the image that one carries in the mind, one is in love! Or at least that is what one believes. Now, if love is merely a function of pheromones, how does one explain one-sided love? And what about platonic love? Moreover, what prompts one to give up all worldly pursuits for one’s beloved? For example, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated his throne in 1936, proclaimed, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." Is that a mere chemical reaction?

While one pines for a glimpse of the beloved, the latter behaves as heartlessly as la belle dame sans merci. Surely chemical reactions are not selective to such a severe extent. Perhaps physical attraction has something to do with the crude sense of aesthetics, where the bodily aspect alone counts. Perhaps the Canadian economist and humorist Stephen Leacock is right in pointing out that men in love with a dimple often make the mistake of marrying the whole girl. American writer Helen Rowland’s remarks highlight a mother’s despair, "It takes a woman twenty years to make a man of her son, and another woman twenty minutes to make a fool of him." And then the ‘fool’ goes ahead and gets married, for is it not said that love ends where marriage begins? Not really, says the Swedish writer Ellen Key because love is moral even without legal marriage, but marriage is immoral without love.

Marital love has spawned its own brand of humour. One can quote from British writer Jennie Jerome Churchill’s His Borrowed Plumes:

"ALMA. I rather suspect her of being in love with him.

MARTIN. Her own husband? Monstrous! What a selfish woman!"

Oscar Wilde has this to say, "The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public." Of course, it is not impossible to write a tome on marital (in)fidelity.

‘Love’ oozes out of classrooms and spills all over the campus lawns. It springs forth in chic discos and gushes through lonely lanes, finding consummation in a car’s backseat. That is when the Lothario quotes Robert Burns, ‘Green grow the rashes O,/ Green grow the rashes O,/ The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,/ Are spent among the lasses O!’ The comeuppance comes later of course. But love cannot be ugly! Wanton carnality can be. Gratification of one’s senses is a gross subversion of an essentially ethereal experience. I am sure you are familiar with these lines from Merchant of Venice: "But love is blind, and lovers cannot see/ The pretty follies that themselves commit".

For some, love is a luxury that only the rich can afford. Anyway, the ugliness of poverty precludes any possibility of the blooming of such a delicate sentiment. Love needs to be nurtured with beautiful thoughts and surroundings that only money can buy. But John Keats considers love in palaces more grievous than a hermit’s fast. There are others who believe in the universality of this fine emotion. Italian writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio belongs to this school of thought, "Although love dwells in gorgeous palaces, and sumptuous apartments more willingly than in miserable and desolate cottages, it cannot be denied but that he sometimes causes his power to be felt in the gloomy recesses of forests, among the most bleak and rugged mountains, and in the dreary caves of a desert...."

Is love real? Countless skeptics will trot out convincing arguments against the possible existence of real love. Like the US writer, Dorothy Parker, who comes up with this shard: By the time you swear you’re his/ Shivering and sighing/ And he vows his passion is/ Infinite, undying —/ Lady, make a note of this:/ One of you is lying. The French dramatist, Jean Anouilh, however tries to assure us with "Oh, love is real enough, you will find it some day, but it has one arch-enemy — and that is life." If life is the arch-enemy of love, things could get pretty rough for the lovelorn. His own compatriot Denis Diderot retorts, "It has been said that love robs those who have it of their wit, and gives it to those who have none."

According to William Shakespeare, love is unalterable, "an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken." But some consider love as a passing fad; something to be displayed or indulged in just because it is fashionable to do so. If you consider love as a form of friendship, remember what the French writer Duc de la Rochefoucauld had observed. "If one judges love by its visible effects, it looks more like hatred than like friendship." Kahlil Gibran, however, looks upon love as akin to friendship and asserts that every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.

There are others who take love for granted, while still others echo D.H. Lawrence’s sentiments. "I’m not sure if a mental relation with a woman doesn’t make it impossible to love her. To know the mind of a woman is to end in hating her. Love means the pre-cognitive flow... it is the honest state before the apple." Sometimes one takes one’s partner so much for granted that the relationship reaches a breaking point. Then there are others who belittle love. At least this is the impression given by British dramatist George Colman, the Elder, when he remarks, "Love and a cottage! Eh, Fanny! Ah, give me indifference and a coach and six!" Gibran counters such cynical self-indulgence, "Everyone has experienced that truth: that love, like a running brook, is disregarded, taken for granted; but when the brook freezes over, then people begin to remember how it was when it ran, and they want it to run again." Often it is too late.

If Tennyson thinks it better to love and lose than not to have loved at all, there are others who prefer to agree with British poet John Donne when he exclaims, "I am two fools, I know,/ For loving, and for saying so/ In whining Poetry."