By Nandini Sarkar
He who expands his heart to reach out to others receives love in good measure, perhaps from unconventional sources, says Nandini Sarkar
In youth, I dreamt of fame and money. In middle age, rarely do I forget to thank a benevolent Providence for the abundant love I have received from my love trinity, my mother, my spiritual master, and my husband, in the order they appeared in my life. When I look back, I see the innumerable mistakes I made, as daughter, disciple, and spouse. However, God, in his tenderness, placed three role models in my life that I might learn by their selfless example. We cannot escape the fact that love will be tested for its promise to be unconditional, to be nurturing, to be patient, to be compassionate, to be able to forgive, and to be generous.
My love is in my DNA
I would risk brickbats to say that love is grossly misunderstood, and its connotations are confused in the human psyche. The great love stories in mythology, cinema, and literature, are largely about sacrifice, unrequited love, and unrelenting passion. Thrilling to read but what about the sequel? True love must stand the test of time, forbearance and living together. When passion wanes and youth disappears, are we still truly in love? When money and social position are lost, are we still in love? Can the fervor associated with new-found love ever supersede the gentle sunshine of true love, which makes you comfortable, no matter what? Hence, I am inclined to think that the great love stories are actually to be discovered in everyday life, rather than in some magnum opus, because such real life stories have passed the test of time, and difficult circumstances. If someone truly loves us they will endure with us because their very DNA is imprinted with love for us. Such love does exist for those who seek it. Those who equate love with the package of looks, money, glib talk, social position or social approval, seem to run around in circles, looking for elusive love.
Never having to say you are sorry
I know an exemplary couple and I learnt more by observing them over 18 years, than from any book I ever read on love. The woman was attractive, articulate, and bright, and always had a line of admirers at her door, including a famous cricketer and a Polish diplomat. To everyone’s surprise and disappointment, the man she ultimately chose was short, pleasant, but not handsome, with a slight stammer and from a regular middle class family. To be fair, he was ‘Mr Nice Guy,’ and highly educated, but he just did not seem her type. Later, we realized she had married him because she intuitively knew he was her true love. When she was chosen among thousands of applicants for a plum UN posting in New York, he encouraged her to go even though it meant that for two years he was left alone at home with two very young daughters. They spoke to each other every single day and he never grudged her the happiness. Some of the money she brought back from New York was generously spent in buying an apartment for her in-laws, and in the marriage of a sister-in-law. She did all of this spontaneously, without being coaxed. Later, when she was diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder, and had to undergo several painful treatments, he bought her two adorable dogs, to take her mind off the illness. He never seemed to mind the added responsibility of looking after a perennially sick wife, two dogs, and two children. His love, never declared in flowery prose or through public displays of affection, flowed quietly in every service to her. I was reminded of Erich Segal’s iconic Love Story. Oliver Barrett was wealthy and Jennifer Cavilleri, his classmate at college, the quick-witted daughter of a baker. The two married against the wishes of Oliver’s father, who severed all ties with his son. Without his father’s financial support, the couple struggled to pay Oliver’s way through Harvard Law School, with Jenny working as a private school teacher. After graduating, Oliver secured a position at a major law firm, and the pair decided to have a child. At this juncture, they discover that Jenny will soon die as she is suffering from leukemia. Oliver attempts to live a ‘normal life,’ and begins a costly cancer therapy, When Mr. Barrett realizes that Jenny is terminally ill he immediately sets out for the hospital, but Jenny is already dead. Mr. Barrett apologises to his son, who replies with something Jenny had once told him: “Love means never having to say you are sorry,” and breaks down in his arms. When we find true love we are so comfortable with each other that we can be ourselves, warts and all. Those who choose wisely, attracted by endearing human qualities rather than looks, money, position or other wordly considerations, bask in the sunshine of true love, whereas those who have other priorities or are overpowered by what others think, tend to suffer heartbreak.
Vindicated by faith
True love exists for each of us, if only we keep faith. Love cannot be compartmentalized, though, in the Romeo-Juliet mould. It could manifest in parental relationships, friendships, relationships with children and at the workplace. A woman I know, let us say Sukanya, was disappointed when a relationship did not lead to marriage because she was manglik. The couple split following strong objections from the man’s parents. Deciding to get away from sad memories, Sukanya quit her job, and joined a full-time MBA course in Bangalore. There she met Bala. They became good friends, discovered that both were mangliks but her heartbreak was still fresh and love was not a priority. In their second year, Sukanya could not control a desire to get closer to Bala. Looking for divine intervention, she dug out Paramahansa Yogananda’s, Lesson on How to Attract a True Life Partner. In the lesson, he suggested that when we feel ready for marriage, we should pray fervently to the Divine in this manner, “Not my will but thy will be done; Lord, may you choose for me because you know what is best for me.” Sukanya was astonished when one day, after she had prayed deeply, repeating these lines over and over again, Bala proposed that very evening. She gladly, readily, accepted. We met the couple recently over dinner and found them completely at ease with other, laughing and pulling each other’s leg; the undercurrent of love was very visible.
In Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler, the hero, is a macho man with a poet’s heart. He admires the heroine, Scarlett, for her fiery and independent spirit. His love endures over her several marriages and misadventures. Rhett’s love is magnanimous, patient, and compassionate, not something one would ordinarily expect from a virile man. When she finally marries him on the rebound, he seeks to rediscover her lost innocence in their daughter, Bonnie. However, after Bonnie’s accidental death, Rhett leaves her, no longer able to tolerate her infidelity and fickleness. With death and devastation all around her, Scarlett’s character finally evolves. She knows that she must bring Rhett back and she asserts to herself, in a famous ending line, after all, tomorrow is another day. Scarlett is a tempestuous, difficult character, riding roughshod over someone who truly loved her but fortunately for her, Rhett’s love endured long enough to teach her what she needed to learn.
Love is tender
When I think of tender love, three images come to mind, the Taj Mahal, proclaiming the love of an emperor for his dearly missed wife, Krishna’s Raas Lila with the devoted gopis, and Mira’s love for Krishna that led her away from the king’s palace to the lonely streets, singing her love for Krishna. Tenderness creates loyalty and commitment; two much needed qualities for abiding love. Swami Vivekananda said the gopis’ love for Krishna had been grossly misinterpreted. It was divine love of the highest order, called ‘madhura bhava’ by the scriptures, wherein the devotee sees the Lord as a beloved. Ordinary minds misinterpret this as human passion. God’s love manifests in the drama of life in myriad, sometimes unexpected or unconventional relationships. Love manifests itself when we can stop moaning over unhappy circumstances, and trust that sorrowful experiences are just a passing phase.
Even when Mother Teresa experienced the ‘dark night of the soul,’ periods of doubt, despair and uncertainty, she clung to the thought, “I am a little pencil, in the hand of Jesus.” This thought gave her the freedom and the amazing outpourings of love and devoted service, her life attracted from across the globe!
Rabindranath Tagore’s brilliant novel, Farewell, My Friend (Shesher Kabita) became a rage in its time, and continues to woo young readers with its tale of unrequited love. But there are deeper shades expressed by the two central characters, Amit and Labanya, as they discover love. Amit is a social butterfly albeit with a razor sharp mind and erudition, Labanya is a scholar and a private tutor. Amit finally meets his match in Labanya, and is completely besotted by her. However, after an idyllic affair, emotionally and intellectually satisfying, the lovers decide to marry other suitors, without an air of tragedy. Labanya feels that the daily drudgery of living together will kill the purity of their romance. Amit reluctantly accepts her view and says, “Labanya’s love is like a vast lake, not to be brought home, but into which my mind can immerse itself.”
Undoubtedly, the redeeming power of love is its ability to let go when needed, to allow space for the other person and to view the shortcomings of the other compassionately. However, I have always thought that Labanya and Amit did not have enough confidence in their love to take it to the next level – that of building comfort. When you love someone, you work on each other and you work with each other, till you are secure. This needs sustained effort and patience. There are several interesting episodes of how people deepen their love over lifetimes of living, in Dr Brian Weiss’ book, Only Love is Real.
Hence, when we speak of lessons in love, we discover that love cannot be typecast into the Laila-Majnu mould, it is much more expansive and can manifest in myriad relationships. One thing is clear, he who expands his heart to reach out to others, receives love in good measure, perhaps from unconventional sources. In the final analysis, it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
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