An idiot who pretended to have read To My Daughter once asked ‘Why isn’t there a chapter on love?’ But the whole book is about love! I do now realize that my interlocutor was simply not sufficiently endowed to figure that out. Be that as it may, I have been asked for too long by too many people to write down my ideas of love. So here’s a (most certainly incomplete -) attempt.
It might be a good thing to start off by listing what love is not. It is not the kind of loyalty that stems from mere biological connection and/or financial dependence: no son or daughter is competent to declare that s/he loves their parents before turning forty, and before the parents are retired and infirm (and even there should be a caveat: they might honestly think they love their parents, but all they are actually doing is executing socially-expected filial duty, with an eye on the inheritance). Yes, go ahead, call me a cynic. I like to think I am a man of the world, who stopped being dewy-eyed when he was fifteen.
It is not mere carnal desire – as with teenagers in hot pants – though I laugh in the face of any man or woman who thinks everybody can be ‘just friends’, and good, true friends at that. That’s one average sized sentence, but I have found hardly ten people in all my life who understand it, and agree on the basis of understanding. Something to do with deficient or unbalanced hormones, and a sadly common condition, I incline to think.
It is not trying to possess another person, and yet if both parties make ‘freedom’ their fundamental priority, let them spare me the lie that they also love. No more pathetic rubbish has ever been spoken. They may sleep together and make babies and have joint bank accounts and accompany each other to parties or malls, work as colleagues and even depend on each other in emergencies, but they have never cared to know what love is. And indeed, hundreds of millions manage to get through life without knowing, or feeling the need to know.
It is not preventing children from ever growing up in the name of caring for them, it is not imposing one’s dreams on them. By that token, very few parents, at least in this country, have ever loved.
It is not pretending that I am a better person than I can be in the hope that the other person will be duped, and give me the attention and affection and care that I crave, for a while at least: then I’ll simply move on in search of fresh prey.
So what is love, then?
Well, to mention just a few essential things, love is first and foremost something that just does not obey the dictates of convention: one does not fall in love only after checking that daddy and mummy approve, and that one’s love belongs to the right age-, income-, caste-, religious-, community- or national bracket, or the right ‘crowd’. That sort of thing is simply too pat and too easy not to arouse the strongest suspicion. I know of far too many who will sagely agree, yet never dream of rocking the boat in their own lives. They always find their ‘loves’ from among the ‘right’ groups by nothing but sheer happy coincidence!
Next, love is a question of being happy doing things for the loved one, even if it ‘inconveniences’ one, even rather badly sometimes.
Love is sharing. And I don’t mean silly things like towels and toothbrushes and email passwords.
Love is belonging. If one loves someone truly, one does not hanker for hordes of ‘friends’, nor for going out all the time.
Love is admiring each other for a lot of things. It may be for something as humble as how well she can cook or console people in distress, as much as for how learned or clever or influential s/he is. And the fastest, least painful way of falling out of love is acknowledging to oneself, after trying very hard to find out, that there is simply nothing to admire about him or her.
Love is being a comfort, and doing all one can not to be a tormentor instead.
Love is wanting to improve oneself in the other’s eyes, and trying to improve the other at the same time. Opinions vary very greatly on this, but I know exactly where I stand, and that I am right, whether the ‘other’ is my daughter or my pupil or my wife. As Shakespeare writes, when Brutus says ‘I do not like your faults’, and Cassius retorts that ‘A friendly eye could never see such faults’, Brutus tells him of a crucial difference, ‘A flatterer’s would not, though they appear as huge as high Olympus’. I shall always be a teacher, and proud to be. That has lost me a lot of friends, and I shall probably die sad and lonely, but I shall be remembered with respect, gratitude and perchance even longing by a great many long after I am gone, and that is all I care for. For I have loved.
There are other things. Lots. But I don’t like repeating myself, and there’s To My Daughter waiting to be read. Only, I hope you read it better than the idiot I mentioned at the start. I tried to teach so many of you to read, and it hurts to see that you couldn’t learn…