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.

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