Thursday, January 21, 2010
Vine Can Grow On Any Tree
In God of Small Things, Ammu’s father beats her mother almost every day. Helplessly, she suffers it. She has bruises on her body. She goes through all the bullying for years. Yet, when he dies one day, she cries uncontrollably. Ammu, on seeing this, tells her eight year old daughter that Mammachi is crying not because she loves Pappachi, but because she is used to him. He is a habit. Now that he is gone, her routine is going to be upset, it’s going to change. And it is this change that she is resenting.
Somerset Maugham in ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ expresses the phenomenon vividly, completely & beautifully.
“What I had taken for love was no more than the feminine response to caresses and comfort which in the minds of most women passes for it. It is a passive feeling capable of being roused for any object, as the vine can grow on any tree; and the wisdom of the world recognizes it’s strength when it urges a girl to marry the man who wants her with the assurance that love will follow. It’s an emotion made up of the satisfaction in security, pride of property, the pleasure of being desired, the gratification of a household, and it is only by an amiable vanity that women ascribe to it, spiritual value. It is an emotion which is defenseless against passion…”
Like Maugham says, in most relationships, there is at work, a passive feeling capable of being roused for any object, as the vine can grow on any tree. This feeling is initially disguised as love and eventually comes to be believed by two people as love.
Sometimes, this feeling is sympathy. There is no particular reason but generally, its sympathy that any two people knowing each other for a long time feel for one other.
Sometimes its necessity. Mutual. Women need security, social status. Men need someone to cook, wash and look after the household.
In some cases, women unconsciously appeal to the protective instincts of men. Men like playing protector. It pampers their ego. And of course, women like to be taken care of. To have someone to lean on. And this works for both.
And then there is habit. Over a period of time, two people get used to each other, adapt to one another’s ways, moods, thoughts, feelings, schedule, demands, differences – to an extent that they become indispensable to each other. Only they don’t know it’s not love, but tenacity to the existing conditions, an inclination to perpetuate the existing and a refusal to doubt, for fear of change.
My aunt was married for 50 years to a man 17 years older, a fellow too meek to support a family and who earned her contempt and rebuff, every day of his life. When he died, she cried like her heart would burst. I did not understand. Now I do.
In most other cases, people get busy in the struggle of subsistence, or caught in the rat race and have no time to ask if they love each other.
And that’s how life goes on. Love, or no love.
Most marriages can function without love. They do, in fact, function without love.
I heave a sigh as I think these thoughts, reclining on a stone bench, with the calm waters of Karanji lake before me, in my tranquil hometown of Mysore.
Its weekend. The middle of January.
The weather is strange. Uncertain. It’s sunny but cold.
There is water in the lake. But there used to be more a few months ago.
The grass is green. The foliage of trees on my side of the bank is thick enough to provide shade. But I can see many trees on the other shore that have shed all leaves.
The atmosphere is pretty much the reflection of my own mind in its present state. Not sure of itself.
I am thinking about love. Once again. This time, and for the first time, I am thinking beyond love. The absence of love. The question of the necessity of love.
Love. The highest purpose of human life. Poetry, love songs, togetherness…what else is there in life? That’s what I thought.
“Do not marry someone you can live with. Marry someone you can’t live without”. That was my advice to all.
One by one, my friends tied the knot before my eyes. With men or women they were not head over heels in love with. Not the one they could not live without, but someone they could just live with.
When I ask them anxiously what it is like, they say ‘going on’. They are not in raptures, not soaked in marital bliss, but they are ‘getting along’. And they are not complaining. They seem content.
I seem to be among that last few that are still worshipping love at her altar. But today, there is a doubt in mind, a trembling shaking feeling that had never once disturbed my cocksure conviction. That love is at the center stage of life. That love SHOULD occupy the center stage of life.
For today as I look around, I see that most people walking on, moving on along the path of life haven’t really found ‘true love’ and they are not complaining.
But the ones that care for ‘love’ and seek it aren’t really moving. They are the ones that are standing still, waiting and lingering. Like me.
I leave the altar for a while. I stand and stare at those moving on. I see that life can function without love. Life does in fact function without love. There are many emotions that make a relationship work and pass for love. Perhaps it is good for everyone that it is so. Or there would be too many people standing. waiting, lingering…
I find myself re-evaluating my beliefs and my conviction of years.
Do I know what I am waiting for? Is there something called true love at all?
…the kind of love that inspires poetry in you, that makes you burn in separation, that makes you think it was worth coming into this world, worth the trouble and struggle of 20 years of living – this one moment of togetherness with the beloved. And makes you want to come here again – for one more moment. Just one more…
Yes. That’s true love. I know the smell of that house that I have never lived in.
But does it exist in reality? Or is it an ideal thing that exists only in imagination? Is it worth the long wait of precious years? Is it too much to ask for?
What should I now advise friends to do? Wait until they find true love or be pragmatic and just settle for a workable relationship and then let the vine grow? On whatever tree it finds?
As I stand staring, the elusiveness of love becomes more close, more stark, more personal……..
Most of them go through life without building a dynasty, without ruling an empire, without owning million dollar industries, without making groundbreaking inventions & discoveries, without composing a poem, without landing on the moon.
Most people go through life without ever finding love.
Someone heard my thoughts and said in a whisper. “Yes. What did you think? Love was a pebble that you would find crunching under your feet as you walked to some place and you would pick it up?”
It’s getting dark. The cold breeze is beginning to hurt. The water in the lake has turned grey.
It’s time to return.
I walk back to the altar to continue my worship.
And the voice asks in a wshisper, "Do you worship love? Or do you love worship?"