Thursday, July 26, 2012


When the man’s mighty shoulders pushed against the collapsed axle of the cart and day light peeped through between the broken but still breathing body of a man and the underside of the cart, Jean Valjean became a hero in my head and heart. That moment epitomised the strength of sinew and character that Victor Hugo’s miserable hero would need to mine, to get through that epic life and that thick tome. Strength, both of the spirit and of the body seemed so essential for becoming a hero.. And why does a little boy want to be a hero? Is it because he wants to be loved, or is it because he wants to be remembered, or perhaps to be remembered by those he loves…

Speaking of love, it’s not like I go back to that book every day, so my memory’s a little fuzzy on that front but as much as I can remember, the venerable Kamasutra mentions the bull man – a man known for his muscular build, steadfastness of spirit and projecting a general aura of indomitable strength – as the most desirable of men. Here, I must make clear that the bull man isn’t a mere man of strength in the way a power-lift er or a bodybuilder might be, but more in the mould of a battle scarred soldier.. A man who acquired his strength not in pursuit of vanity, but valour. Such is the strength, that makes a bull of a man.

And make no mistake, strength, even in this age of nuclear weapons and satellite phones, is still the most desirable of virtues. Not necessarily physical strength, but the idea of cultivating strength, as a virtue, to be sought, acquired and honoured. But as we catch the tail end of the last few rules of love, the moment begs the question, do we need to be strong to be in love? More significantly, do we need to be strong to live up to love and all its demands?

If you’ve been following the flight path of the rules of love, and I’m honestly flattered giddy if you have been, you’d remember that we took off the runway with the declaration that love, true love, would make you want to strive hard to become a better person. That is a case of the seeker needing to be strong to earn love and attention but we’re now talking about the giver needing strength, to be able to give without falling weak and to be able to hold when the beloved falls weak…

Let me explain that with an illustration…

Your vegetarian wife and your fish-loving mother have a little tiffin the kitchen about mixing up the utensils. They aren’t talking through the day. That evening, you see your parents digging into a pile of fried cutlets and sweetmeats that some well meaning but thoughtless relative brought over as a gift . They are both diabetic and one of them has is battling a stubborn blood pressure condition. Upset, you lose your cool and say a few angry things. Your parents remind you that you are their child and you should watch your mouth. Livid at the idea of them hiding their guilty sweet tooth behind your soaked diapers, you explode and say a few more things. You’re angry, you were rude. But you know you were right. They were wrong… so wrong. You walk into the bedroom fuming… Your wife knows you are hurt and angry. Your parents were wrong to have hurt their own health by eating what they shouldn’t… just as they were wrong to mix up the utensils that morning. But she also knows that you were wrong to speak to them thus. You know that they must be hurting too… Besides the anger, they must also be hurting because that moment reminded them that they were ageing, perhaps even that they were now dependent in many ways, even if not financially… Does your wife have the strength to risk your ire and tell you that all said and done, you were wrong to have spoken to them thus? That if you let this moment pass, they would keep the scars and so you should turn back and tell them why you were upset but before that you must tell them that you were sorry to have spoken thus. Does she have the strength to keep you good?

He gambles, she smokes, he binges, she’s profane… Do you have the strength to keep them strong to fight their demons and shed their shells and selves that make them weak, push them to gamble, smoke, binge and abuse…? More importantly, do you have the strength to take on and tide over the initial resistance, the defiance, the justifications and then the repeated broken promises, the defensive overreactions and counter accusations, for they all shall follow.

Strength, of every sort, defines a loving relationship. Yesterday, while discussing the premise of the piece, I went so far as to say that one just can’t love if one isn’t strong. It raised eyebrows and hackles, but I insisted and maintained that there could be no love without strength. Love has to have the strength to keep me from going down the wrong path. If the resolve to rectify capitulates in the face of a possibly violent or aggressive reaction, it isn’t love but opportunism that defines the relationship. So, when you want to know if what you feel is love or less, look up and look in and ask yourself, is it an eagle or a vulture that flies over your romantic skies..


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