I got married more than five decades ago and at a time when romantic love was expected to succeed rather than precede the event. I had grown up in a nurturing and loving atmosphere. The education I received was a liberal one and, at quite a young age, was armed with an Honours degree in Literature. When the question of matrimony came up however, tradition took an upper hand. The groom chosen for me had also received an education on lines similar to mine and we seemed suited to each other. A surprise awaited me though and not a pleasant one at that.
My in-laws were rooted in orthodoxy. My education and degree were merely glitz on the wedding invitation. My husband placed his parents’ wishes above everything else and catered to all their whims. My mother-in-law was a possessive, vindictive woman and took every opportunity to ’keep me in check’ and humiliate me. I became a household drudge, my talents and hopes completely crushed. My husband, an only child, though not callous by nature, was completely subservient to his parents. My parents, who gradually came to know of my situation, advised me to have patience and ‘adjust’. Placed far away from home and with no money of my own, there was little I could do but pay heed to their advice.
Time passed and my daughter was born. She was a beautiful baby, perfect it seemed to me in every way. I believed her presence would bring a sea change in my life, but I was wrong. My in-laws monopolised her, having their say in all matters concerning her. I fell ill too and became unable to pay enough attention to her. This brought me to the end of my tether. One day, gathering her in my arms, I walked up to the terrace. One jump, I had decided, would put an end to all my miseries. As I stood at the edge gathering courage, my little one pointed to a passing taxicab below and lisped, ‘taski, taski’. She had just begun to talk a few words. Her exclamation jolted me to a standstill. My thoughts made a complete turnabout. What right did I have to submit her to cruelty? A beautiful life would be snuffed out because of my selfishness and cowardice.
I turned back with a new determination in my heart. I would fight back, make the best of a bad situation and carve a new life for myself. The taunts and ill treatment continued but I faced them with a new equanimity. Another daughter was born and now I had two to love and live for. They made my life worthwhile by returning that love in equal measure.
The years have taught me that love has many faces and countless facets. My husband and I have in the space of years shared happy times. My daughters are good, mature individuals serving society, each in their own way.
What then, is romantic love? In the movie, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, Tevye goes up to the roof and asks his wife, Golde, again and again, “Do you love me?” She replies, “For twenty five years I have washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, borne your children and milked your cows. If all this is not love, then what is?” Contrast this with a love-letter written by a young man to his ladylove. “I love you with all my heart and soul. I will climb the highest mountain, dive into the deepest ocean, even walk through a raging fire to keep you by my side.” As a post script, he adds, “Darling, if it is raining this evening, I may not come to see you.”
We are now in an age where arranged marriages are fewer and considered passé. However many love marriages are seen to end in heartache and in a parting of ways. The sensitive individual cannot help asking, “Where or what is love?” The answer perhaps lies in what the eminent psychologist and writer, Erich Fromm, has pointed out, “There is no ‘falling in love’. There is, in reality, only ‘standing in love’.”