The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on Feb 7, 2015
It is sometimes said that “Analysis is the death of sentiment”, but I disagree. As with all things in life, balance here is required as well. The truly fulfilling life is the one which is equidistant to the two. It uses reason to determine the correct course of action based on duty to others, and uses sentiment to experience the splendid possibilities and experiences and rasas life has to offer, with romance and true love being the most prized.
However, in our era of “hookups”, one-night stands, and office relationships, has the so-called “sophistication” of modernity killed off true love? Has the rise of prurience uber alles resulted in destroying the very bonds that once raised armies of rescue and launched a thousand ships? Is The Death of Romance upon us?
Real romance is not a function of skill in the bedroom or the frequency of neurotransmitter release, despite what people today may read in cosmo, playboy, huffpo, jezebel or whatever other intellectual cul de sac they rely on to educate themselves. Real romance is about putting the other person’s needs above our own–even thinking about their interests before our own. It is not about convenience, but constancy. It is not about hopelessness, but hoping against hope. But do materialism, fancy shoes, and “Mr. Right now” instead of “Mr. Right” ultimately lead to happiness? Whatever the latest push to downgrade monogamy as boring and marriage as “obsolete”, the end result of the lives of these fictional characters below (and their real life imitators–male and female) is instructive.
Indeed a poster for the movie Nymphomaniac features a series of men and women in various states of tumescence featuring the caption “Forget About Love”. This isn’t just limited to Hollywood, but rather, the state of Bollywood, and now increasingly Tollywood, is testament to this.
Somewhere along the lines of the mid-2000s, the soulful sentiment that once pervaded mainstream Hindi filmdom ( I am purposely avoiding the word cinema here) from screenplay to song, diluted, and then vanished.
Hits steeped in sentiment like “humko humise churalo” have been replaced by chart toppers like “char bottle vodka”…Even the romantic songs once riveting with equal parts longing and mourning and charm and rapture now pass off romance as de riguer, easily substitutable in the buffet table of modern hedonism. A timepass or recreational commodity, on demand courtesy of tinder, snapchat, okcupid or whatever else the kids are using these days, that separates the desired product (romance, sex, etc), from the person. These of course are punctuated with nice club dance beats and other assorted chart toppers.
Even the word “beloved” has been cheapened beyond the point of recognition. What was once deemed a word worthy of our spiritual other half, our second heart, is merely a detachable moniker for the infatuation of the moment or the source and recipient of a serial concupiscence. The reality however is that love without sincerity is mere simulacra.
Men, you may now have been taught by the media to think that all girls are wannabe Sunny Leones who want bad boys, and Ladies, you may think all men are the same or only run after “insincere” girls. The truth, however, is most men either want a good woman to settle down with or after wasting 20 year of their lives, realize the value of a good woman. And most women may often confuse arrogance with confidence, but they too dream of a gentlemen. Yes there are bad man and bad women, who are only “about that thing”, but the majority are in the middle. The question is whether catastrophic loss of culture will cause them to gravitate to promiscuity over Prema.
Given all this, the Death of Romance is invariably upon us. And this is not an East vs West commentary, but a Modern vs Traditional one, as it is only circumstance that has resulted in the western world first being infected by this plague of insincerity—rapidly affecting “Modern India”. Nowhere was this more obviously seen than in the TV series How I Met Your Mother.
In our era of global satellite television, many of you in both hemispheres may be familiar with How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). While the 2005-2014 production was hailed for its creativity and crisp writing/performances, it was above all the story of a young man, Ted Mosby, in his 20s/30s seeking his one true love over the casanova lifestyle. In fact, while one friend openly embraces it, and another escapes it by sheer good fortune of meeting his future wife at a young age, Ted consciously chooses to pursue it–and over the course of 8 years, is punished for it, repeatedly. Despite all this, he nevertheless soldiers on.
If the story of Ross & Rachel were about how true love is possible, but is frequently complicated by other romances, Ted & Tracy was about choosing real romance in a distinctly unromantic time. What was originally hailed as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of the 2000s decade, and arguably the TV show for all hopeless romantics, had all the potential to be one of the great small screen romances of our time.
Flat panel had accomplished what today’s film was increasingly failing to do–capturing and communicating real sentiment of longing for love.
Ted Mosby, a Manhattan Manmatha had committed to finding his Rati, and after e ^ 1000 embarrassments, heartbreaks, bad advice, and wrong-turns over the course of a decade, he finally did.
One would think the finale and story would have ended there…but nooo. 9 years of character development and story-telling were ruthlessly destroyed in a mere five minutes with this abomination from network-approved naraka:
As you can see, the final scene is emblematic of how the show’s internal logic was destroyed, and also why it contributes in general to the Death of Romance…real romance. While it was fittingly panned as one of the worst finales in small screen history, it had nevertheless done its work. In the process, it led to such pearls of wisdom from pan-hellenic Platos and other assorted tequila fueled supporters as “omg! it makes perfect sense, you have many one true loves!!“, “yeah, i completely get it, you don’t stop loving after your lover leaves“, “i totally want that–true love and a back up relationship!“…”i want to have my cake, and i’ll eat it too!”
Now don’t get me wrong. Life most assuredly isn’t simple. There is indeed an element of bittersweet in romance as all lovers are doomed to be parted on this Earth. Indeed some die far too soon. But what this show, and celluloid in general, is today advocating is that lovers are indeed replaceable. Thus from the Ayodhyan heights of Ram refusing to marry again and having a gold statue fashioned in Sita’s image, we have fallen to widowers deluding themselves into thinking old casual relationship exes (who never themselves were really interested in romance) can fill the void left behind by the woman they claimed to have dreamt of for the better part of an era. It is almost as though the very nature of romance had been mutilated, convoluted and turned into a consumer good.
“Why this tangent“–you ask? Well, admittedly in our fast-paced world where professionals don’t necessarily have arranged marriages, or have relationships prior to having one, Pehla Pyaar may not be an option for everyone. Indeed, divorce/remarriage may be appropriate for some and romantic pasts are never simple. Nevertheless, simply because we end up falling short of the ideal, or need a Dusra or Teesra , doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire towards it in the first place. It is certainly better for us in the long run than Sau or Sahasra. Waiting is not weak. Principles are not prudishness.
Now, I’ve always been part of the camp that was always fine with Valentine’s Day. Whatever the actual history behind it, in theory, it’s a rather lovely way to celebrate and connect with the one whom we love. The problem however is what it has become in practice. Rather than a day of soulfully cherishing love for one’s spouse (or soon-to-be spouse), it has become a mere veneer of romance to legitimize mechanical debauchery, with unseemly displays of public affection. Those left alone due to circumstance are mocked or seen as curiosities, while the elect happily trot about adducing their rent-a-date or fling-of-the-moment as evidence of their possession (consumption?) of “love”.
This much is made additionally clear from friends with benefits and serial monogamy substituting for real relationships to pornography’s psychologically and sociologically harmful effects to laws that destroy incentive for trust in marriages.
What’s more, the rise of the PDA is feted as somehow as a sign of liberation rather than indecency. Blatant disregard to civic decorum and respect for elders is not romance. While I certainly don’t support the institution of a “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”, those young people feeling prohibitively passionate should keep personal acts for the private sphere. True, Classical Indic society was not repressive in these matters, but it wasn’t libertine either. It merely stressed that there was a time, place, and manner for such things. There was and is no “right of way for ribaldry”. Rati-bhava divorced from Sringara-rasa is not love at all, but lust seeking pretext.
It has become part of common parlance to say chivalry is dead, and feminism killed it. A corollary of that of course is that romance is dead, and lust killed it. The moment a society exults in the divorcing of sensuality and marriage, is the moment romance truly dies. Because when marriage itself is no longer looked forward to by the majority of society for having children or moving in together, let alone maithuna, that is the moment when it becomes a mere formality. Rather than the fulcrum of one’s life, it becomes merely a trophy or label.
When “Love” is commoditised, the consumers themselves become replaceable and interchangeable.Living for the moment, treating lovers as disposable, and lust as an assortment of flavors may be fun and fashionable, but this lifestyle more often than not leads to this result.
Real romance is not a mere veneer for licentiousness, but has an element of sacrifice. “The Beloved” is not merely the flavor-of-the-month object of prurience, but a person willing to sacrifice for us and for whom we are willing to sacrifice. It is reciprocal.
Marriage is not the end of romance, rather it is the celebration of it. And true love is the highest form of romance. It recognises the inherent oneness of the male and female halves of an individual soul to the exclusion of all others. It is why a Sati could voluntarily commit sati or an Aja (grandfather of Rama) could climb on to Indumati’s (his wife) funeral pyre in inconsolable grief.
There is an old joke that men need money for women, and women need men for money (though such equations have been changing). Now assuredly, however tempting money may be for women, so it is for sex and men. Thus, there are men and women who sacrifice the pursuit of romance for these mere commodities instead. But as with all material things, we need more and more only to feel less and less. In their waning years, such men then realise the value of a good woman (rather than many “hot” ones) and such women realise by serially pursuing Mr. Money Bags or Mr. Right Now, they lost the interest of Mr. Right. The greatest of lotharios from Don Giovanni to Sam Malone may be the envy of most men, but in the end, do the sheer notches on their bed posts fill their inevitable void of loneliness?
To get the woman or man we seek we must be the man or woman that person would want. Love that stands the test of time is not driven by superficial states or faddish fetishes. Looks fade, money comes and goes, but companionship and qualities are truly timeless.
In our topsy turvy age of polyamory and serial monogamy, such notions may seem quaint. After all, these gyaanis and gyaaninis ask, “isn’t restriction of our love to only one person (or gender) selfish, even primitive”? But as always, a little knowledge, in the hands of the foolish, is a dangerous thing. Setting aside the fact that monogamy comes naturally to us, the benefits are manifold as well.
First and foremost comes validation (real validation that one-night stands and serial lovers could never afford). The idea that someone out there is eager and willing to commit himself or herself to us to the exclusion of all others is not only validating but downright scintillating. It affirms not only our sense of self and self-worth, but adds to our esteem in a way that single-serving lovers never could. After all, if we are irreplaceable, there truly must be something to us. And if we’re not, well, we’re just emotion-less commodities driven by base pleasure.
Second, comes security. Not only the security in having someone you can trust no matter what, but the security in knowing that the connection isn’t temporary (as all superficial infatuation tends to be) like fads and fetishes. Ultimately, marriage forms the ideal environment needed to ensure that children from this union will securely have a mother and a father as a parenting unit, providing the steady love and care required in child rearing.
Fundamentally, marriage is about children, whatever our modernistas may say. That is because society then mandates that a man not only fulfills his responsibility to provide for the pregnant mother, but not abandon the children after birth and leave them without food and shelter. While it is true that there are those who marry and do not have children, since when is the exception the rule? Because of “except after ‘c’, does that mean ‘i’ shouldn’t be before ‘e’?”. Because the vast majority of marriages past and present have resulted in children, they must be the fulcrum of our consideration, not our passing fancies and whims.
Third, it gives us a sense of balance and stability. Life is full of ups and downs. Career success is fleeting, even friends fade in and out, but a true life partner provides us with both wind and ballast as needed. When we are sad, they cheer us up, when we are angry, they cool us down, when we are lonely, they give us companionship, and when we need a kick in the seat of our pants, they gladly give us one. After all, just as the meal that is shared is more delicious, so to is the life that is shared more fulfilling.
So if you want to rekindle romance (sringara) in society again, you must be the change you want to see. Without Juliet, there is no Romeo. Without Sita, there is no Ram. It is the virtues of women that ultimately inspire the virtues of men. That is why, in ancient civilizations, muses are personified as feminine. Even in our Indic civilization, it is Goddess Sarasvati who inspires. Indeed, it is Sarasvati’s knowledge that is the source of Brahma’s creative power, Lakshmi’s prosperity that is the source of Vishnu’s preservation power, and Parvati’s Shakti that is the source of Shiva’s destructive power. That is why our society does not stress being overly masculine or overly feminine—but advocates balance. Yin and Yang, Female and Male, Nari and Nara must exist in harmony. It is the synergy between that two that empowers society and rekindles real romance, just as Sita’s chastity adorned Ram’s nobility.
The point is not to advocate hypocrisy, but to educate that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. Actions have opportunity costs, and to seek what we really want, we ourselves must be worthy of it, for nothing in this world worth having comes easy. Many of you may be despondent about being alone a week from now, but fear not. It, or many such days, may come and go, but if you truly commit to true love, it commits to you.
So what then is the cornerstone of a good marriage and true love? Fidelity. This is because Fidelity breeds Trust, Trust breeds Friendship, and Friendship breeds Love. And that, dear reader, is what will result in the reincarnation of Romance.