27 May 2008

On Love

An Apologia-

Though this is exposing the central weakness of all my arguments beforehand, but still, I would like to confess in the beginning itself that most of the claims made her, most of the cases argued under the following heading, are pure speculation. Not exactly pure though, for there is a little bit of personal experience as also that which has been personally witnessed. Along with this, I have drawn heavily from all the as-of-now-insufficient information/knowledge of the real world which I have gleaned from the modest number of books which I have read in the course of my small (as in temporally) life. All that I have said here is more or less a hunch, and hunches can never really either substitute the real experience of life or act excuses for a glaring or otherwise lack of it…

I also pray tolerance for the obviously didactic tone in this, an article which talks, or at least attempts to talk, about a thing so personal that no definite pedagogy can be applied to it!

To Mamma, Dadi, Nani, Maggie, Terence and all the other writers whom I
had the honour of reading in my life- without them this would not have been possible.

“To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anaesthesia- to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess.”


Even though it is has been described umpteen times as the most exalted emotion known to this feeling race of human beings, even though its powers have been held in the highest possible esteem by some of the brains known to this thinking species of homo sapiens, love, like all others of its ilk, resists all attempts to a clear cut definition and thus, in spite of being one of the most talked and thought of things in the world, remains ambiguous, subjective and hence, difficult to define. Indeed, it would be not just extremely ambitious but also extremely injudicious to even attempt define an experience so rampant and so widespread that it is personal to the last alphabet and has different connotations for every other individual.

Nevertheless, as for all things mortal and human, it is really not too onerous to observe various types and patterns of love. Here, I intend to talk about all those types which to me appear as the most common and the most easily recognisable.

Sociological and psychological critics have often used the terms ‘spiritual love’ and ‘sexual love’. While quite ambiguous themselves, these two terms do give us a starting point to embark upon this investigation.


The word ‘spirit’ is generally held to refer to all those feelings/emotion/beings which belong not to the world of material desires but to that higher one where all is sublime and wherein one loses all ‘human’ (and by this (in this context) degrading virtue, worldly) attributes/qualities for divinely inspired peace, calm and bliss. The word ‘spiritual’, therefore, would refer to such a blissful state of existence above, and hence, free from all the struggles and strives of common, petty life and the term ‘spiritual love’ would, in its most general meaning, be seen as a selfless sort of love wherein one devotes oneself entirely to the unconditional service of one’s idol of-as is in this case-worship. This can easily be recognised as the love of the sages and the saints for their Lord, the love of Lakshman for Ram, of Peter for Christ, of Meera for Krishna…this is the sort of love which, for a few queer reasons-for here happens a complete abnegation of the self, total abandonment of one’s life for that of one’s beloved-has been and still is held as the highest order of love which a human being can possess. Herein on would become the seraph, completely immersed in the bhakti of one’s idol…

In polar contrast to this is ‘sexual love’ which, as the name very obviously suggests, is completely carnal, having only to do with all those desires and urges which fascinated Freud-and which fascinate all of us at some point of our life-so much. Even though an amateur, I feel no hesitation whatsoever in claiming that all religion would tell one that this is one of the greatest weakness of this race, that this indeed was, is and will always be the cause of its downfall. While the theological and mythological aspects of such a statement are debatable, it is undeniable that the type of love based completely on physical (or sexual) attraction does more often than not culminate in that now open characteristic of this race- casual sexual intercourse. By the very virtue of being ‘casual’, this is devoid of not just long term commitment but also of any sort of feeling/emotion in the participating couple(s) (except, of course, raw desire and lust)…


However, the analysis does not end at this. As for life, so for its upholder love- reality is often a complex mixture of such extremities.


“The mark of a true crush is that you fall in love first and grope for reasons afterwards”

-Shana Alexander

“Deceiving others. This is what the world calls romance”

-Oscar Wilde

The typical love story is about the handsome young man falling [notice here the defining role of religion- this type of love, which is physical and human to human, is described as a ‘fall’] for the beautiful woman or vice versa. This is love at first sight- the couple meets accidentally, falls for each other immediately, pines for each other in separation and in general acts in a manner oft described as ‘bewitched’ (so to highlight the so called ‘magic’ of this state). All time spent in the absence of the beloved seems dull; all routine tasks seem dreary and monotonous- in general, life seems impossible without that one person of one’s hearts desire…

Though cloaked since antiquity under the pleasantly familiar epithet of romance by umpteen creative writers (poets, playwrights, novelists…), this is nought but another nuance of that extreme type of sexual love which borders on lust. This is not to say that love here is replaced by love. No, in spite of its possessive undertones, this does not usually happen in this type, the thin line demarcating love and lust is hardly ever crossed here.

Nevertheless, it really is unquestionable that this sort of love-‘love at first sight’-is, when it happens, i.e. initially, entirely physical. There are variations to this, but it is more or less certain that the desire for sexual relationship(s) is/are often the catalytical motives for this type of love.

The confidence with which I make this claim is founded on the observation that initially in this type of love, one hardly ever knows anything about one’s person of desire except for his/her physical characteristic which strike him/her as attractive and desirable. Emotional (by this I mean intellectual) compatibility-which may (leading to fairy tale romances) or may not (ending in bitter divorces or hellish conjugal lives) be discovered later-is always a secondary consideration, often so much so that it does not figure in in the beginning at all. Furthermore, the archetypical adjectives used in this umbrella type–fair, handsome, beautiful, smart, blonde, gorgeous, dusky, cool, buxom, hot, healthy, sexy, rosy, slim, lovely, petite…-refer not to the intellectual or ‘inner qualities’ of the beloved but essentially (as if by default) to his/her physical characteristics (all of which are in turn determined by the social make up of the person concerned and hence, are different for different societies). Love at first sight doesn’t necessarily mean that one gets blatantly amorous like the heroes of Terence-the romantic poetry of the Victorian ‘Lady’ writers as well as the oh-so-romantic sensibilities of filmi, read Bollywood (and to an extent, Hollywood also), scriptwriters does as well…


It can be argued that there are shades of sexual/physical love in some cases of spiritual love as well. We may hesitatingly exempt from this all those who never actually see their idol of worship but where human interface occurs, i.e. where the devotee sees his Lord, then the physical aspect of his/her love becomes significant. Rare indeed is the ugly God- Shabari was old and wrinkled, not her dear Lord Ram!


“True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked.”
-Erich Segal

The sort to which I now come may or may not find its beginning in love at first sight. The beginning is more often than not in indifference, or in friendly cordiality- certainly not in the head over heels situation of love at first sight. Physical attraction gets superseded by emotional and intellectual compatibility- it now becomes a secondary consideration. This sort can better be described by words like ‘liking’ or ‘affinity’-words which, though synonymous, do not mean exactly the same as love. The couple fully knows each other by the time it realises it has fallen-no, why fallen?- risen in love- sexual attraction leading to desire is the culmination, and not the kick starting agent, of this type of love.

Oh yes, this type cannot be described as a fall. It has elements of both the extremes and its ideal is a perfect amalgam of the two- neither absolute renunciation nor unbridled lust. Emotion here is tempered with reason, service and devotion are a part, but a token is required in the end.


In fact, this which I discuss now is a feature common to almost all sorts of love, except, of course, the extremes. Once again, the idea of token of love is highly subjective and even though it is shaped by one’s background, one’s social construction, it does vary from person to person. Many hold children as the foremost token of a couple’s affection for each other, yet there are those whose views vary. More often than not, there is a degree of reciprocacity and sensitivity involved in this- love for love, care for care…

One’s ability to adjust, to compromise and to change is also seen in the light of the wide-ranging idea of ‘tokens of love’. Indeed, considering that changing one’s habit’s and tastes-which very nearly accounts for changing oneself-is one of the most difficult things, be the person concerned be fifteen or fifty-five. Changing oneself for one’s beloved-as long as it does not infringe upon other human beings’ rights and fundamental privileges-my be considered as an exemplary token of love, a instance of sacrifice sans renunciation. Since intellectual (discussed above) and familial love establish emotional bonds beforehand, it can be argued that people who ‘rise’ (and not fall!) in this are better off than their counterparts.


“Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile”
- Franklin P. Jones
As far as familial love, especially parental and sibling love, is concerned, the most significant remark which can be given after due observation is that they are ‘there’ from the very beginning of life (i.e. in a considerably significant number of cases). Freud has given it hidden, yet sufficiently strong sexual connotations and motives and the Romantics have ascribed to it a (divinely) pre-ordained reason, but fact still remains that where and when ever it happens, this is the first experience that one has of love. A parent’s love for his/her child as also a child’s love for his/her parent(s) has a considerable number of reasons, all of which are discussed by theorists of the mind. Amongst these, duty and responsibility figure in as factors not devoid of importance.

Insane love is yet another type of love, a type under whose umbrella can be included unnatural (read uncustomary) possessiveness as well as fetish-ness and quirky-ness. This sort is usually force upon one or more persons by one or more individuals- this is the type which fascinates (as also horrifies) the psychologist and the sociologist, experts who study aberrations in society.

Even though an attempt at classification, and so, simplification has been made here, it would be foolhardy to even suggest it as either absolute or a success. The range of emotions experienced by the human animal is as vast as it is diverse and when it comes to love, the greatest of them all, no attempt at definite categorization can be judiciously claimed as comprehensive.

20 May 2008

Punjabi Not By Nature

“That’s krarrat! We’re like that by nature!”

Some people are totally incorrigible, entirely beyond the light of reason, closed to all logical analysis.

One such person is my very good friend S.K.

Well, not exactly. This I not to say that he’s fully this sort of an obnoxious person- no, he is in fact quite a good chap with many of the uncommon virtues and few of the common vices. He is reasonable, sensible, sound and, in general, a pleasure to talk to. No, he rally cannot be put down as that sort of a blockhead who’s not ready to listen to another’s point of view

Yet, that is exactly what I found him to be on that fine morning when I chanced to ask him why the Punjabis are the way they are.

What a discussion it was!

Wait! Did I just say discussion? Oh no! It was more of a monologue- and a dramatic one at that!

For three quarters of an hour he declaimed upon the subject. For three quarters he talked with the air of a pro, a master who has been asked to elaborate his/her pet subject. From dish to dress, from dance to dread, for three whole quarters did he expound the virtue of all things popular and Punjabi.

Yet, my question remained unanswered.

For what I got was a lecture on not why but what. Though interesting and insightful, it was nevertheless beside the point.

So later on I started thinking about it myself. What was-is-it that makes the Punjabi community and the Punjabi culture so uniquely distinct? It’s not as if other Indian communities are lacking in their unique divine sparks, but still, why is the Punjabi culture so popular not just here in Delhi which is close to the state itself but all over this conglomeration of different cultures and communities called India? More importantly, what are the socio-politico-historical reasons which make the community what it is?


Unlike popular conceptions of the same, the history of Punjab, instead of beginning with the Sikhs, is the oldest, and perhaps the most colourful, in all of the distinct cultural provinces of the subcontinent.

Few today know that the Rig Veda, the first, and perhaps the most important, of the four Vedas, was written in Punjab. Historians have ascertained that Vedic society was tribal in nature, with each tribe or ‘Jana’ being led by a Rajan. Inter-tribal warfare being constant in this familiar scenario of multiple principalities struggling for existence as well as striving for one greater and glorious (the definition of these two being subjective) than their neighbours, a "philosophy of heroism” emerged in the land. Characteristic attributes like ‘manliness’, ‘heroism’, ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ were re-defined in light of this philosophy which stressed upon the absolute need of fulfilling all of one’s duties and responsibilities. Action was given marked importance over thought; the fulfilment of one’s “karma”, the proving of one’s “paurush” (manliness) in the battlefield of life- these came to shape up the notions of one’s “dharma” (duty) in life.

In his work the Ashthadhyayi, Panini tells his readers that the people of Greater Punjab lived prominently by the ‘profession of arms’, further informing them that the same was made up of "Ayudhajivin Samghas" or "Republics (oligarchies) that live by force of arms". Commenting upon Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Dr Arthur Coke Burnell too remarks that the Punjabi tribes discussed by him were indeed “the most…warlike of the Indian nations of the days”. This very ‘warlike’ attribute of the Punjabis is attested by almost all those who invaded the subcontinent, be the Cyprus and Darius I, the Achaemenid rulers of Persia or Alexander, the greatest conqueror known to antiquity, for Punjab has always been a sort of a ‘dehliz’ or ‘darwaza’ for anybody wishing to enter the Indian subcontinent from either over the Hindukush or along the Arabian Sea coast and almost all those who have invaded into the same have first come into and conquered Punjab and from there spread out into the subcontinent.

The collapse of the Mauryan Empire once again saw Punjab fall prey to invaders till it became a sort of a continuum, for right through the first millennium C.E. one sees a series of invasions by different peoples from different parts of the world. This reached its climax in the twelfth century when the second invasion of Muhammad Ghori heralded the coming of a new order in the subcontinent. These invasions, however, did not stop with the formation of the Delhi Sultanate, for the same was for over two long centuries sore beset by the Mongolians who came in from time to time and inspired such fear that successive Sultans quaked in their sandals at as much as even a mention of their name. Later on, more incursions from Central Asia and Persia, like those of Babur and Nadir Shah, invasion wrecked the province.


One of the most remarkable characteristic of the Punjabi is his/her openness. While the term in itself is to a very high degree ambiguous and subjective, a generalised definition of the same may be made as a readiness to mingle and/or to accept as well as a certain frankness and (comparative) unreservedness of manner. In this very few will find him/her to be lacking, for the class is notoriously famous for its extravagant hospitality, so much so that it often exceeds the limits of decency into sheer vulgarity (both of these, of course, being subjective). This ‘openness’ is also apparent in their speech and their dance, more so in the latter for a popularised version of the same-the ‘bhangra’-has been widely accepted as the easiest medium of expressing delight and joy- indeed, nobody today breaks off into the Kuchipudi or the Oriya when some sudden blast of unexpected joy hits her/him.

Even as s/he is well known for her/his (comparative) ability to welcome outsiders in her/his fold, s/he is also famed for her/his capability to speedily adjust in new, altered scenarios- indeed, the community is perhaps the most flexible and most open-to-change amongst all the great many cultural entities in the subcontinent.

Nevertheless, even though the Punjabi mingles, s/he seldom, if ever, forgets her/his roots for Nature has instilled in her/him a slightly inordinate amount of pride in her/his culture and s/he is vigorous to an extremity in promoting and protecting the same. Since antiquity the Punjabis have given outsiders their first glimpse of India and its culture and even now it is through them and through their agencies-for they have spread out all over the world just like the stalwarts of yore who would spread out into the subcontinent-that others see this land: so much so that the Punjabi culture is often mistaken for an entire Indian culture and not as just a tiny part of it.

Furthermore, of all the distinct cultural communities in the subcontinent, only the Punjabis are well known for their readiness for action, for their high spirits and for their determination to make it to their chosen goal by hook or crook. Time and again has the community proven its mettle in face of seemingly insurmountable adversities- it has, as is apparent from the above discussion, an illustrious history of doing so.


It will not be too difficult now to link the above two discussions, to find the connections between them and to complete the chain of reasoning.

The Punjabis, by the very virtue of their geographical position on the north-western and western frontier of the subcontinent, have been, as has been said, the first Indian community to time and again come face to face with foreigners. Indeed, the undeniable historical fact of these series of invasions seems to be the defining and determining factor behind much of the Punjabi culture, for it does seem that the long millenniums of incursions into the Indian mainland had accustomed the Punjabis to the same…

Cultural absorption and assimilation-those two things of which we Indians are so proud-must have occurred first in Punjab. For though it never completely dies out, resistance to the foreign other-the “mleecha” (barbaric)-does wear off over the years as different races with different cultural backgrounds mingle, never mind that political necessity and not altruistic notions of a homogeneous world compel them to do so.

Moreover, the presence of foreign culture that threatened the existence of their very own can be seen as another instance of cause and effect, for the Punjabi’s inherent pride in her/his culture and her/his ever-readiness in promoting the same in different surroundings seems to be naught but the end result of an old fear of cultural extermination by that of the foreign other in power.

Furthermore, the pressing and grim reality of war explains the supreme importance of action in this community as well as the ideologies which support the same. Not only that, they also provide formative reasons for umpteen notions prevalent-like those of ‘manliness’-in the community. The “philosophy of heroism” discussed above is a natural consequence of violence in a land sore beset by not just internal but also external exigencies. As Marx pointed out, every society needs ideas and belief systems to inspire the populace to do the ruling class’s bidding and in this scenario of incessant war such a philosophy was essential to inspire soldiers to fight and shed blood for causes often removed from their sphere of existence. Truly, those old days may be long gone but the ideologies which supported them still continue to exercise their often startling and spectacular influence on the people…


The origin of prevalent notions, ideas, ideologies, conventions-indeed, all that is considered done and natural today- can be traced back to the past. As J.S.Mill so acutely pointed out, what is natural today is naught but customary, the word ‘natural’ being commonly used for all those notions…conventions to which the populace has over a long period of time become so accustomed or attuned to that they consider them as things which have always been there in society. Everything has a beginning and as for organised organic life like that of humans, so for the ideas and ideologies which support it- “the material conditions of life determine social consciousness” and not vice versa.

No, my dear SK, you are not Punjabi by nature!

An Afterthought-

There are, I know, many inconsistencies and defects in this work, the biggest of them being that by portraying a stereotypical image of the Punjabi people, it seems to be enhancing and marking supposed their difference, their ‘otherness’ from others with slightly greater vigour than is necessary. Further, being no anthropologist or sociologist myself, all these conclusions about what might have led to what are to a great extent debatable!

16 May 2008


“Good news from the world of science!” announced the article; “Chinese researchers have successfully performed a path breaking experiment on brain control. With the help of a tiny chip, Dr. (something-something) and his colleagues attained success in controlling the movements of a common pigeon. They were able to make it fly, stop in mid air and turn back just with the press of a few buttons. According to Dr. (something-something), this "experiment holds ‘immense practical possibilities for the future’.”

Good news indeed! What ‘immense practical possibilities’ could such an experiment have?

Considering the People’s Republic of China’s dismal human rights record as well as its more than just worrisome military and economic ambitions, something that would hardly be cause enough for cheer.

Teeny weenie chips that can control pigeons? Must have been an exciting idea for the Communists.

Pigeons today, humans tomorrow?

Who knows? After all, science is progressing by leaps and bounds these days. Well, what would the good communists do with this impervious-curse like weapon?

For starters, things would become so simple for them.

Students protesting against state oppression? Never fear! Just put a chip in their head and convert them into loyal party workers.

And its not just silly little groups of college students that the comrades might control with this ‘immensely practical’ technology. What great difference, structurally, is there between a college student and, say, the Prime Minister of India, President of the United States of America, the President of Russia, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Secretary General of the United Nations? Not Much, eh? (though I've always imagined the Russians to be taller than the Chinese). It would not be beyond the good Doctor’s brilliant capabilities to replicate the success of his invention on a human guinea pig.

It is of course very likely that I have entered the realm of science fiction stories and Hollywood action thrillers (and I vaguely remember seeing one film where they implant something in people’s mouth to control their movements). If that be the case and the good doctor’s intentions be noble, then we might as well as hail the ‘good news’. If that not be the case, then, well, we better start hailing President Mao.

Why do scientists have to be so pigeon-headed?