03 Dec 2017 18:12 IST

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

It has to be the most talked about, written about, fantasised about emotion among human beings. We’re talking about love — the subject of so much expression and experience, overriding every other concern; an emotion that completely overwhelms yet is often misunderstood, misused and abused over the centuries.

Else, why would we shed copious tears over the star-crossed stories of Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet, Sohni-Mahiwal, Helen-Paris, Anarkali-Salim, Heloise-Abelard, Tristan-Iseult, Laila-Majnun, Shirin-Farhad, Yusuf-Zulaikha… it’s a long list.

The theme of unfulfilled or unrequited or thwarted love recurs in stories across time, distance and cultures. What makes it so compelling? To take the question further: How do we explain love that’s sometimes over-the-top enough to be a sickness? How do we exalt it? Should it be exalted? Or is the question itself an unfair moral judgment?

These and other questions come up every now and then, most recently in the wake of a long and twisting television serial in which a man and a woman love each other so desperately that nothing can stop them except death. Yes, after all those tortuous nights of staying awake, they die and the story ends. So, the question: What is it about such love?

Take the story of Devdas. The novel, Devdas, was written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay when he was 17 years old, although it was published when he was older, in 1917. Since 1928, it has been made and remade something like 15 or 16 times in different languages — Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu. According to a notation in Wikipedia, it is the most-filmed non-epic story in India. Wow!

The story basically is about the love that grows between Devdas and his neighbor Parvati, how that love is thwarted, how Devdas finds comfort in the arms of a courtesan Chandramukhi and takes recourse to the bottle, and how, in the end, he dies an alcoholic.

Tragic love appeals to the soul, for whatever reason, but I came to know only recently that the author was just 17 when he wrote Devdas. Obviously, Sarat Chandra was a genius; besides, the novel is set in a particular time and space when there was need for massive social reforms.


Today, I have little patience with the storyline because, rightly or wrongly, it seems like a pitch to justify heavy drinking because one has lost the girl. And in my book, drowning yourself in alcohol because you feel sorry for yourself has never passed muster. Devdas was okay for its time, but is unacceptable today.

Look at what’s happening: Young people all over the country think nothing of jumping off bridges or under trains or hanging from the fan or popping bottles of pills or glugging poisonous liquids at age 17, 18, 19, 20 — all because they think their grand love lies about their feet for whatever reason. Others — and it’s usually always men — hit the bottle. Ranged on the other side, of course, there are the courts of injustice comprising the likes of societal pressure, caste issues, class concerns, khap panchayats, honour killing, and a whole host of words with warped interpretations.

Seeking help

Of course, the reality is that some of us are simply wired this way. We can’t help ourselves, but we can seek help. We must, or we must help each other seek help. Yet no one can be given help if they don’t want it. There’s pride, there’s folly, there’s ignorance, there’s confusion, there’s lack of knowledge, there’s loneliness, there’s shame, there’s injustice, there’s silence. There are many reasons help cannot or does not reach.

Which brings me back to the point: How much would the author have experienced in the first 17 years of his life? How much of life do boys and girls, men and women before, say, the age of about 25 or 26, really have the chance to experience? True, many go through unimaginable privations because of the circumstances of their birth and the lack of opportunities. Their experiences impart lessons to them that few others can ever know or learn.

But generally speaking, do we have the wisdom to take the decision to deliberately die — at any age, let alone at a young age? And that too, for an emotion such as love which, even after a lifetime, only very few lucky ones mange to understand?

Take Romeo and Juliet. They were teenagers. Their families hated each other but they fell madly in love. Despite the odds, they decided they wanted to be together, so they married secretly. In the process, several people from their respective families clashed and died. Eventually, Juliet pretends to die to escape from her family: she takes a potion whose effect is expected to last about two hours.

Romeo does not know about this. He thinks she’s dead, so he swallows poison. When Juliet wakes up, she finds him dead, so she drives a dagger into her heart. At the end of the story, there are more people dead than alive.

The story’s not very different with Heer and Ranjha, a famous story from Punjab.

Ranjha leaves home after a quarrel with his brothers and lands up in Heer’s village, where the two fall in love. But Heer is forced to marry another man and Ranjha becomes a wandering mendicant. He comes back to Heer’s village but this time, the parents consent to their marriage. On the eve of the wedding, Heer is poisoned and upon seeing her dead, Ranjha also swallows poison.

They are heart-wrenching stories, and sometimes, a good cry is what you need to flush out the toxins in the body and in the mind. In the heart too. But sometimes they can grab your soul in an iron fist and not ever let go. That’s the scary part about stories that make love out to be grand in itself.

It’s not.

It has no life on its own. It exists only in the company of compassion, forgiveness, understanding, trust, respect, humour, acceptance, maturity... Love conquers all only when and because it is supported. Without those props, it’s a passing shower that only shows up the heat.

Does this mean that sometimes we have to make decisions that seem tough but really aren’t?