The famous American romance publishers’ Mills & Boons had a contest to identify writers for their series on Indian love stories. Along with lots of other aspiring authors I too sat down to try and write a romance tale of the mills and boons type. But to my surprise I discovered that although I could so easily have written yet another clichéd romantic tale of the boy glancing meaningfully into the girls eyes and the girl swooning into a faint into his arms, I was appalled at the ease with which all these clichés were rolling out one after another in my story till the whole story was a caricature of every other romance tale. When I had started, I had set out to write an honest love story. But the one I ended up writing was anything but honest. Which made me think over why it is so hard to write about love.
If you have read any famous love story, you can see that the writer has deliberately mythologized the story and its characters are often caricatures of real life persons. Take Romeo and Juliet. Take Salim and Anarkali. Take Devdas and Paro. Can you honestly say they are real life characters? Aren’t they caricatures written to tug on our hearts sympathy and draw a few sighs and tears? Or to take the modern version of the same classic tales, the Dev D version so to say, where love ends up being an alternate term for sex. It is easy to write about people’s physical characteristics rather than emotional make up. Likewise it is easy to write about two people having erotic thoughts about each other than about writing their romantic thoughts. You can describe how they loved such and such a body part (using readymade slang terms), far more easily than why they were attracted to such and such a personality trait.
But that is mistaking sex for love. The romantic experience in its purest form just cannot be put into words. Oh!! A lot of authors have tried over the years. They have used everything from religious allegories (like devotional ecstasies) to cultural tropisms (the point of death/white light experience) to describe the unfulfilled yearning in us for love. But to reach for it in writing is almost never successful. It’s because love is such a fleeting emotion. We are all born alone, we live alone all our lives and we die alone. Its only those brief moments of love which make us connect with another person and escape the otherwise profound loneliness of existence. When we actually feel alive and one with the universe in all its glory. And this cannot be explained in mere words. Like joy, like sadness, like pain and fear, love is an emotion which has to be felt and cannot be told about. We cannot talk about it dispassionately or describe it in a socially acceptable way. Because the real experience is far, far beyond description, it thrills it chills, it’s ecstatic and when we reach out to grasp it, it disappears like water.
So what is love? Can you explain it, I can hear you ask. No I can’t . I don’t have an answer too. But I can give you a reference to check for yourself. From one of my favorite novels. If you have heard of the famous American author Louis L’Amour, you must also know that he wrote many westerns, filled with gunslingers and cowboys and Indians battling it out in the old west. But the book I am talking about is an historical novel he wrote- about a traveling warrior wandering all over medieval Europe and it’s called “The Walking Drum”. In it the protagonist Kerbouchard, who keeps getting entangled in romantic affairs, compares love to being momentarily under a waterfall, where you get wet and enjoy the sensation of the cool drenching water, but you cannot stay on forever under the waterfall. You have to move on and get out of it. This concept of love has resonated with me often and I find more and more that the insight was true.
Love or falling in love is blazingly blissful; it drenches you, enervates you and washes away all dirt and care from you. Bathed in the stream of pure love, all the hidden noble characteristics of our self emerge out of the layers of muck which surround us. They show us up as bright and beautiful and full of selfless motives, ennobling us and our lives for that instant. But however cooling the water is, you cannot stay hidden under the waterfall forever, you have to come out and face the hot burning sun. And likewise love cannot shelter you from the realities of life. You cannot stay drenched in love; however much you would like to, for life must go on. And life is all about getting out of the water and walking on to the next field, the next village, the next town, the next city. You cannot stay rooted at one spot all your life claiming I was born here and I will die here. And as you travel the hard dry lands, throat parched with thirst and skin burning from the heat you will look back in wonder at the cool water which once cocooned you and which you so willingly forsook to travel again.
And that’s love in a nutshell. A series of montages of the best times you had. A panorama of happy moments. A bunch of memories colored by nostalgia. And a burning desire to reclaim that bliss again and to stay there the next time you get to a waterfall. The cycle repeats itself.
P.S. And I find that I too can write about love, however imperfectly. And maybe I can have a real crack at that mills and boons contest soon.