At their most basic, our survival needs have at least three components: food, shelter and love. The first and second are physical necessities. The third appears almost as a technical error – in no medical book will you find a prescription for causing or curing love. Yet, we know it is possible to die of heartbreak, even literally. It is the alchemy that makes the distinction between a life lived and one that is merely survived.
If Love is God, as some like to say, then it is equally contentious. Whose business is love? If recent reports are anything to go by, it is strictly under the jurisdiction of state and society. Consider two incidents in Tamil Nadu that made headlines in late May. An eloping couple in their 20s were forcibly separated with no less than the intervention of political parties. Two women, both around 40, committed suicide out of shame over their “unnatural” relationship; in an ironic twist, their families chose to cremate them together, giving them in death what was so mercilessly denied them in life.
This preoccupation with telling people how to conduct their most intimate relationships is deeply unhealthy. To enforce discipline on teenagers is one thing. To persecute adults for following their hearts is another, a malaise that reveals deep prejudices against fundamental freedoms. We live in a version of democracy which allows adults to vote for their leaders, but not for their lovers.
Race, age, gender, religion, caste, location, affluence and incompatible horoscopes have served to keep people apart not for their own good, but for the good of a system that refuses to evolve. What disturbs me is how many people continue to adhere to these codes willingly. I see shades of this mental servility even among the most intelligent people I know.
That onlookers fear love is disheartening and challenging; that those in love fear their own love is downright disillusioning.
Those who raise, erroneously, the flags of tradition and culture should consider this 2000 year old poem by Cempulappeyanirar, brought from the Sangam age to our Anglicized ears by the genius of A.K. Ramanujan. Way back in the glory days of Tamil culture, this is what was seen, sung about, surrendered to:
What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain.
There, in a nutshell, is all I think I will ever need to know about life, and love. You love who you love. The end.
The most enduring romance I know of is between a beautiful artist in her 30s and someone twice her age, whose son she had gone to school with. When he dies, she does not know whether she will be permitted to go to his funeral. Theirs is a portmanteau love, patched together between countries and children from other marriages and the steadying force that has kept them together through years. It is a relationship that inspires me, one that shows courage. It is a relationship that sees the daggers, feels the fear, and takes the leap anyway.
Not all of us are so lucky as to find the ones who are made for us, cut from the same cloth of the soul. But those who do, do. It’s as simple as that. You love who you love. And the rest be damned, then? But here’s the thing: there is no rest, not really. No social construct, legal diktat or political enemy that cannot be dismantled. As cheesy as it sounds, love is all there is, and the rest is just window dressing.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.