Monday, March 9, 2009

What is LOVE?

October 7, 2008

“The truly unbreakable, eternal, unconditional attachment alone can be called Love.”
- JK Rowling (The Tales of Beedle the Bard)

Some say love is the purest form of friendship (a lady poet said this). Some say real love is something absolutely unselfish. Some say it is someone or something you give everything in your life to, with devotion and without a word of complaint, without any expectations in return. Mother Teresa said: “We cannot do great things; only small things with great love.” She also said, “You may give the poor all you have, but if you give them without a smile, you give them nothing.” May be a smile is the simplest thing that shows you can love. Love can be tested by time and the greatest sacrifices in life can be made for love. People sacrifice their lives daily for people they love dearly since times immemorial.

Love has many forms. A mother loves her child. A child loves his/ her parents. A father loves his kids. A good friend loves his/ her friend. Brothers and sisters love each other. We love our grandparents and they too love us. We have aunts and uncles to pamper us with affection when sometimes our parents don’t. Lovers and married husbands and wives love each other. There is platonic love and physical love. Some people love their country. Some people love the whole world and do a lot of good to many people and leave their footprints in the annals of history. Some people sacrifice their lives doing good to people around them or for their country. All these are love in different forms. There are also deeply religious people. They love God.

Someone anonymous wrote, "Love is like a butterfly. It goes where it pleases and it pleases where it goes." Kahlil Gibran wrote, “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don't, they never were.” Rabindranath Tagore wrote, "Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom." Shinichi Suzuki said, "When love is deep, much can be accomplished." Love poems and stories have been written all over the world in diverse cultures in all different languages. Immortal songs have been composed and people sing or hum them for generations, over and over again without getting tired of them. Love can make you feel on Top of the World (Carpenters).

If you read about the great lives of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Norman Bethune or Florence Nightingale, to name just a few, you will know how great their love was. Or you can learn about love and selflessness by watching movies like Life is Beautiful, Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, The Sound of Music, Patch Adams, Sunset on Third Street ALWAYS, or, The Apu Trilogy. There are thousands of books and movies that epitomize love, and most of all, so many human beings great and small, are doing the same in their own definite ways every day. Dictionaries definite love but can the boundless infinite feeling called love be confined to certain definitions? I wonder!

Edmond Rostand's famous character Cyrano makes up the following lines for his beloved Roxane. 'All those, all those, all those that blossom in my heart, I’ll fling to you—Armfuls of loose bloom! Love, I love beyond breath, beyond reason, beyond love’s own power of loving! Your name is like a golden bell hung in my heart; and when I think of you, I tremble, and the bell swings and rings—“Roxane!” ... '

These days many people talk about liberty, about the freedom to love anyone of their choice. They think that people around the world who still practice arranged marriages are barbarians. But people forget some things very easily. They forget that freedom means responsibility. And are all the people in liberal countries that practice free love happy? In stark contrast, many people in the so called backward countries practicing arranged marriages may be blissfully happy. I have never respected the idea of romantic love as it exists in present society. This form does not simply fit any definition as we have seen above. You can look at it in two ways. It is such a ‘unique’ form of love that it defies logic and definition. Or, if you realize that this concept is a relatively new one, yet untested by the majority in the world, selfish and disrespects all the great women and men in history, who have loved before in ways we would find hard to emulate, let alone outdo.

Psychologists are yet to explore the Amazonian depths of the dangerous domain that is created by people who preach that there is a special someone for everyone somewhere. It is good in part, but in this age when we do not have time to give, there could be a possibility that while we chase that someone special s/he could well be the person whom we meet everyday but just did not have the time to know them well enough. Even The Alchemist could not predict where his treasure lay (courtesy Paulo Coelho).

Allow me to tell you a little story.

A certain famous lawyer in India married his current wife when he was a young man. He is 82 years old at present and still married to the same person. When he got married, it was an arranged marriage, according to the choice of his parents as is the usual custom in India, to a person he did not even know. After getting married, it turned out that his wife was a physically weak and sickly person who often fell ill. She would remain bedridden for days or weeks or even months. As the years flew by, she was completely bedridden and paralyzed, she slowly lost her sense of hearing and later she even lost the ability to recognize people’s faces. She had to have an operation to get a defective lung removed as fluid was collecting in that lung. So now she is with one lung. All these years her husband, the lawyer, worked harder and harder to make enough money to cover his wife’s enormous medical expenses. He worked with a smile and never complained. And who could he complain to? His wife was bedridden and could neither hear him nor recognize him! At 82, he is still working hard, and almost flies everyday by plane to different parts of India to fight law suits. He has a case on his hand almost always. He does not have children to take up his profession and help him or inherit his accumulated monetary wealth. But every morning he gets up and carries on, his happiness that his wife is still alive and not dead. The great Sobel, pounding leather for the woman he loves (courtesy Bernard Malamud).

Love is like a rainbow that does not fade even when the sun comes out, and is visible in a thunder squall. Nature, unfortunately, has not blessed us with such rainbows. But She has endowed us with the colors to make some. We try to paint rainbows in the hearts of others. So we forcibly try to open their hearts that we may be allowed to use the seven colors. What of those who waited with a rainbow in their own hearts, leaving the door open for visitors who may just drop in?

1. The First Seven Years, a short story by Bernard Malamud, is one of my favorites. Sobel is the character who works for his master making shoes for a pittance. He loves his master’s daughter who knows of his love for her. Like all fathers, Sobel’s master dreams of giving his daughter away to a learned man who could potentially give her a ‘better’ life so he is shocked at the discovery. Finally he gives in, but his daughter is still not of age to get married. So Sobel continues to pound the leather for his love.
2. Author JK Rowling defined love with remarkable clarity in her book The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Brevity is the soul of this definition. And as Clive Bell wrote to Virginia Woolf (dedicating his book ‘Civilization’ to her), I am borrowing her (Ms. Rowling’s) name not only for those wonderful words but for the magical spell she creates to charm readers. Accio!

3. Here is a poem written on love:
Love is.....
listening to each other with the heart, hearing what is often unspoken.
Love is putting another's happiness and well-being ahead of our own, and doing so cheerfully.
Love is giving your best to someone else....
Love is a gift that never ends.


  1. "The First Seven Years," a short story by Bernard Malamud - isn't that the one we studied during +2? I remember that Sobel's master's daughter was just seven when he first saw her - since she was not of marriageable age yet - Sobel continued to work for his master - making shoes for a pittance.

    His master suspects nothing and finally gets to know once his daughter finishes school/college - he was trying to set her up with a tall, studious looking fellow with a serious then Sobel was well into his thirties.....

  2. Thank you for your comments. Yes, this is the same story that we had in our textbook. This story was part of the first short story collection by Malamud (1958) named The Magic Barrel, after one of the stories in the same collection. Seven years is an allusion to a biblical story. By marriageable age, Feld, Miriam's father, must be referring to 18 or 19 years. Since Sobel needs to work another two years to win Miriam's hand, it means he has worked for Feld for five years. That makes it clear that he did not see Miriam when she was seven. Sobel had only books in his small room. These he lent to Miriam who devoured them along with the hand written notes of Sobel. There are two things that come out of this.
    1. Feld suspects that Sobel is writing love notes in the books he lends Miriam. He denies it. Feld is flumoxed and asks him then how does she know? Sobel has quiet confidence that she does.
    2. It reflects the society of that age. Miriam does not seem to have had much of an education, and education in those days did not mean reading the type of books Sobel read. This is true even today because education does not teach us about so many things. Miriam is attracted to the education Sobel has been giving her. And she has an inkling that Sobel is staying there working for a pittance just waiting for her. This shows that she is a keen observer and a good learner. Sobel is her teacher in a sense and many women of that age have fallen in love quietly with their teachers. I am sure they still do. This part requires a much more detailed answer so I will stop here though it may be abrupt and incomplete.

    3. Both boys and girls often fall in love with some teacher of the opposite sex at some point of their life. It is a natural part of life. If it is a male teacher and a female student, there are many stories of successful marriages. I do not know of stories that happened the other way round.

    4. Sobel was in his early thirties. Even after Miriam was of age to marry him, the age gap would not have made any difference. There have been many successful marriages with that age difference. We have to only look at our grandparents era to get an answer that is good enough, isn't it?