“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love” the public proclamation by King Edward VIII on December 11, 1936 before abdicating his throne in the face of opposition to his marriage to American divorcee Wallis Simpson remains one of the most enduring statements made in deference to love.
King Edward had been in power for a year after the death of King George V when he decided to tie the knot with the “love of his life”. The undying romance of the couple regarded as one of the greatest love stories of our time only strengthens the belief that true love endures, empowers and makes temporal power, position and wealth seem minuscule in comparison.
So compelling and strong is its reach, love requited or unrequited casts a spell on every pulsating heart that treads the earth. “Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is.
It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable the quote from Victor Hugo’s famous “Hunchback of Notre Dame” explains the fact that love is beyond reason and defined frontiers both enriching and tormenting those engulfed by its flames.
The uncompromising stance of true lovers pitted against an unrelenting world has been the focus of film and fiction the world over with true love triumphing each time. Stories with tragic endings and their haunting sadness have, however, found greater acceptance than the “they lived happily ever after” variety. The reason may stem from the fact that love here is never smothered, hidden or compromised, living on through defiance of life and death. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Laila and Majnu’ and the Sharat Chandra classic ‘Devdas’ successful in all languages and remakes only reinforce this argument.
“Death cannot do us apart” tales have a lingering quality enhanced by unexplored possibilities. Not experiencing this emotion can leave a void as Alfred Tennyson opined through his definitive statement “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Celebrated poet Mirza Ghalib’s enchanting couplets dwell on this emotion and its pathos to perfection. “Ishq par zor nahin hai ye who aatish ‘Ghalib’, jo lagaye na lage aur bujhaye na bane” (Love is a fire beyond control oh ‘Ghalib’, it is a fire that you can neither kindle nor extinguish).
We live in a world of emails and texting today but the beauty of letters with outpourings of love in the days when technology was a distant dream captured the emotion in detail with no shortcuts for either words or emotion. Mark Twain’s letter to his future wife Olivia Langdon beautifully illustrates this point. Twain wrote:
“Out of the depths of my happy heart wells a great tide of love and prayer for this priceless treasure that is confined to my life-long keeping. You cannot see its intangible waves as they flow towards you, darling, but in these lines, you will hear, as it were, the distant beating of the surf.”
Clearly differentiating between the normal men that inhabit our world and the rich rakish, tall, dark and handsome heroes of romance novels, the Mills & Boon company, which started as a general publisher in 1908 switched to romance realising that these books outsold all else continuing its trend into the next century. Synonymous with saccharine sentiments these books are written by women writers catering to women readers continue their stylised category romances.
Apart from their regular authors, they encourage new writers reflecting current trends without deviating from the theme of romance. Despite relentless attacks by literary snobs these novels that are not great pieces of literature seem to be cherished for their escape from reality through characters that are “too good to be true” and love that “triumphs”. Literary merit and patriarchal attitudes apart these works are mentioned to reiterate the supremacy of love as an emotion and romance as bestseller through the great changes that time brings with it.
Our epics, history and fiction have all celebrated love and its different hues with a flourish. The romantic love between Radha and Krishna and the “Raas Lila” with the gopis of Brindavan have deeper spiritual purport as do the “Narada Bhakti Sutras” or aphorisms of love that state that “love is the way to salvation”. Looking at the world through eyes of love transforms life.
It makes ordinary things look extraordinary and places a positive lens on many disturbing events outside our control. A song called “Like Lovers Do” by Heather Nova describes this different way of seeing the world through a lover's eyes.
“There is a paradise that can be found A better life, to bring us round
And all we really need to do
I see the world like lovers do”
Looking beyond “hearts and flowers” and expensive gifts that reek of commercialism one can discover the impact that a positive emotion like love can have in helping people rise above negativity. To take love to a higher state one has to shift the focus from lovers to love. Mother Teresa’s words quoted below truly define this shift. “I have found the perfect paradox that if you love until it hurts, then there can be no more hurt, only more love”. A heart that wells up with love will surely find resonance in another.