By Debraj Mookerjee
Those familiar with the cult author Ayn Rand (she of The Fountainhead fame) will possibly remember her somewhat sobering thoughts on love: “After a point, YOUR LOVE for a person becomes more important than the object of love” (Capitalisation mine). What is love, or the easier poser: What do we make of the idea of love? That love is a compelling emotion, which is perfectly democratic and non-discriminating in affecting the bright and the otherwise, the poor and the rich, the old and the young and so on is an incontrovertible fact. Its universality does, ipso facto, predicate on some common streak that runs through humanity. Is it the innate desire, an almost mammalian need, to copulate and propagate that stirs us into “loving” another, as a prelude as it were to pairing, and therefore mating and procreating and so on? Or is it some deep insecurity within, of a feeling of incompleteness till we have loved or are loved? Or is it just a reflection of the great human propensity to possess; more precisely to call things our own, to be comfortable only when what we desire, that is what we consider of worth, is ours for keeps, like the valuables we stash in our bank lockers?
To begin with, we ought to take a look at the popular rhetoric encountered in our representational sphere of reference to understand how love, though imagined as something special, is as much a commodity as anything else. Why do we say, for example, things like “he (or she) belongs to me”, “I wish to belong to her”, “I could not belong to anyone”, “I want her bad”, “Gosh, I can’t live if I can’t have her”, and so on and so forth? If love were so noble, or even selfless as it is often made out to be, why should it make us want to own the object of love unless it be to serve as a perpetual reminder of the great feeling of love that we have experienced for that object? It is as though our love would crumble to dust should the one we love not be ours forever. And we thought love was an abstract idea!
So let’s test the proposition with a hypothetical (though perfectly credible) situation. You say you love somebody. Now that somebody loves you well, after a manner, you know; loves you but is not in love with you, whatever. Here the balance is delicate. You can’t stop loving that person because you know her (or his) love could grow with time. Unless you keep professing your love, how can you fuel whatever spark she (or he) has for you, right?
Over a period in time, she may not progress beyond her incipient leanings. At some critical juncture, you have to take the decision on whether to let go of your love for her (or him) or push just that little bit more. What is this game, ask yourself? If this is love, fine, so it is, but let’s not pretend and suggest it is some elevated concept that can only be experienced at a heightened level of consciousness. The processes that it goes through is no different from the ones you adopt before deciding to buy a pair of pyjamas – is it good, is it worth the price, how much can I beat the price down to, and of course, how long will it last?
Love therefore, is not an abstract idea. QED. It is an idea though because we don’t know what it is. Probably it is nothing really, at least nothing tangible. But that does not make it abstract. The only way to know it is to register all the things we build around it and what we do with it. It is somewhat like the honour pupils earn in a boy’s school for pissing highest against a wall. The honour means little. It does not guarantee against urinary problems in later life, no does it confirm sexual prowess, but the effort to earn that honour is tangible.
To return to Ayn Rand, and the big question: Is most of what has to do with love merely a role? An assertion of what we can or must or should do to express our love. And what do you think would remain imprinted on the mind – our efforts or the object of love? Come on be honest; of course, we’d value our love more than the loved one.
But all these theories pertain to love that has to do with the desire to own. Love that does not demand, love that is not fixated on one person, love that is not possessive or centred on one’s singular desires comprise another kettle of fish. This is the sort of love that you can shower on so many people at the same time. Where you remain a free agent, and so does the person you love. And each of these loves can have sanctity. Because there is no sense of possession tied to such love it seldom unwinds, unlike the other type that tends to come apart when the tangible grounds for its existence seem to come unstuck.
The Czechoslovak writer Milan Kundera once spoke of two types of love – lyrical and epical – with reference to men. In the former, you see all women in one woman, and in the latter, you see one woman in all women. One liked the concept when one was young (that’s why the quote is remembered). Not anymore. Real love is ‘topical’ love, as it were, where you see all women (or men really) in every woman (or man). Anyway, the more you love, the more love there is that goes around. Philosophically, that sounds better than ‘winning’ somebody in love, as though the person were some prize catch!
And no, this piece has nothing to do with the virus. Of course, it’s possible that thoughts of mortality urge the mind to come clean on vexed conundrums, none more twisted than the subject of love. It circles the context of the writer’s consciousness because everybody is thinking corona, but it does not (in his opinion) contaminate his thoughts. Except to the extent that he could not help adding it to the title, unapologetically, and admittedly gratuitously!
Debraj Mookerjee has taught in Ramjas College at the University of Delhi for close to three decades, with specialised interests in Literary Theory, cultural studies, and popular fiction, especially SF. He is also a columnist, writing on culture politics and society, apart from food history. Mookerjee likes to travel and curate life and its myriad complexities. He is deeply interested in exploring alternative pedagogies, because he feels higher education should unleash academic creativity and not constrain scholarship through enforced regimentation.