Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue - Dr Suchitra Dalvie
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
It is 2020 and most people on this planet now associate the rainbow with the LGBTQIA symbol rather than the old Judy Garland song from the Wizard of Oz, which is great!
But as Valentine’s Day comes around and in a frenzy of ‘celebrating’ ‘love’ as the media starts filling up with everything in shades of red, it is interesting to reflect on the origins of it all.
All our cultures have been celebrating and analysing a whole spectrum of love over the ages
but in recent centuries has been narrowed down to the celebration of mainly (or only)
romantic/sexual love being projected as the ultimate goal in life. Finding one’s soulmate,
married till death do us part and all that jazz.
How many of us know that the cute heart symbol we use wildly and widely has nothing at all
to do with the organ that sits in your chest and pumps blood and is probably a simple
outline of a vulva or perhaps the silphium seed pod, used as a form of birth control in the
ancient days! A well-known herb back then, even coins were minted in the city-state of
Cyrene that depicted the plant’s seed pod.
St. Valentine who died in the 3rd century, is the patron saint not only of lovers but also of epileptics and bees. Besides being a great multitasker he was also a subversive if stories are true that he defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war.
The holiday has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia held in mid-February which celebrated the coming of spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery. That does not sound very romantic at all honestly!
A visitor from another planet might think that we earthlings are obsessed with chasing love and finding The One. If you asked the sages of ancient India , however, they’d probably say that love is not what we’re actually chasing. Instead, we pursue the intense but fleeting emotional high of “falling in love,” which generally doesn’t last very long.
Love itself comes in so many more flavors than we are led to believe. The Greek in fact categorized love and identified six categories . These range from the Eros or erotic love (which they defined as the most dangerous!) to childhood loves. They define self- love as the healthiest form of love which is also the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” in order to provide love to others.
All these also sound very worthy of celebration too!
Love, intimacy, wooing, sexuality, commitment, heartbreak all are very universal expressions of desires and feelings whether one is living in a high rise in Manila or a family home in Tehran or a hutment in Agra close to the Taj Mahal or a labor hostel in China.
But the navigation of relationships based on any of these are negotiated so differently in all cultures. ‘Acceptable’ love is usually confined to the heterosexual- same religion- same tribe- same caste- same class- same everything category because patriarchy and capitalist and religious control depends on it!
Not only that but the belief that only a certain ‘kind’ of hegemonic expression of love is respectable and appropriate makes for people believing that every deeply affectionate relationship must have a label.
“What do mean you are just friends?”
“Men and women can never just be friends.”
“Are they gay or is it a bromance?”
Many people know the truth that breaking up with a friend is sometimes far worse than a divorce. But when the image of happy families and loving couples is constantly being paraded everywhere as the ultimate goal then those who are not quite there yet or are questioning themselves start to think they are somehow failing.
You need to have a Significant Other, your ‘other half’ or ‘better half’ or you are made to feel as though your life is incomplete or something is missing. And then Keanu Reeves goes and wins the internet by taking his mom as his date to the Oscars! (Those of us in Asia would totally understand that because we have always valued our parents and children as our Significant Others!)
I saw this interesting Korean drama called Love Alarm recently which is about a phone app that rings when someone within a certain radius loves you. Absolute soap opera script but then one episode showed us mass suicides taking place because for those people the ‘love alarm’ had not rung even once in months. They could certainly have been saved if they had self- love!
The reality is, as always, somewhere in between Keanu Reeves’ life, the story line of K-dramas and your own life! Many people are fortunate enough to marry their best friend and love each other till death does them part. But there are as many, if not more, who suffer a loveless or even violent marriage because society and family told them that that was the final goal and the only way they would be allowed to leave would be for their funeral. Which is often what happens.
While Romeo (who was 17 when he fell in love with Juliet who was 13) is seen as a symbol of romantic love, in one of the states in India the government has set up ‘Anti-Romeo’ Squads to deal with ‘eve-teasing’ and also for moral policing. Talk about mixed signals.
(As an aside, Eve was created from Adam’s ribs because Lilith who was created by God as Adam’s equal refused to ‘lie beneath him’ but wanted to be treated as an equal and was cursed for her disobedience and exiled and became the first Witch. Yay Lilith!) Interesting phenomena are being recorded now as many societies and groups are questioning these age old norms and practices. There was an article recently about women in South Korea who have taken to protesting against the patriarchy by refusing to cooperate with it. No sex, no marriage, no children. In fact the phrase ‘sex strike’ has its own Wikipedia page--the earliest example being from a play written in 386 BC!
After all the most powerful thing one can do is to not let’s body be used as a tool in systemic
True love may come in any shape and form and sex and gender and age and language and race. Or it may not come at all in this lifetime. And that’s ok too!
There are also those who have found true love but it has not quite been a happily ever after.
Women and girls continue to be told who they can and cannot love and the consequence of breaking the rules can sometimes be fatal . The so-called ‘honor’ killings are still taking place in our part of the world on a regular basis. This is why V day celebrations are now also symbolic of anti-violence protest.
As our world literally explodes with new ideas and inventions and social change on a daily basis ‘love’ could come in the shape of a custom built sex robot , or in the form of a cyberchat room. It could be an asexual romantic love or a sexual Tinder relationship with no strings attached or it could be through Ashley Madison whose tagline is ‘life is short have an affair.’ People with pets will confess that the love they feel for their cat or dog may often transcend anything they can rustle up for human family members and friends! For some people the divine love and mystic love is what they seek.
When our human colony settles in on Mars and eventually beyond, they may well negotiate love and romance and relationships in ways which we cannot even imagine now.
Here and now, you may love someone you have never met or you may fall in love with someone who died many years ago. You may in one lifetime experience true love, unrequited love, tragic love, lost love, gone love, un-defined love and so many more avatars!
Despite all the suffering and darkness the fact that we as human beings are still capable of love is itself a cause of celebration !!
In the words of the poet Tenessee Williams:
“The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love-love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being
a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning
building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”