Nothing more so propagates the illusions of free will and choice as love.
Love, that undefinable, indefatigable, incomprehensible feeling of pure beauty, that which makes the world go round, that which we consider to be the epitome of human emotion, was, until a few hundred years ago, a concept unimaginable.
Before democracy and individuality, before God as concept and faith instead of God as ruler, before the French Revolution and the Wars of the Roses, our positions in the world were ordained by the highest of powers who seemed to rule the land. Before we found ourselves equipped with the sudden freedom to escape our social strata, our ambitions and hopes were constricted to the four walls of our class and profession.
Interestingly, further into the past, while our names gave us the professions we belonged to, the Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam in the UK, filled up with patients with all sorts of mental illnesses. Suddenly, people, given the ability, move up in the social ladder, as aristocracy lay almost dead, their lives not dictated by the rules and regulations of some sort of divine master, found themselves singing a rather bittersweet symphony: An existential crisis.
A love defeating boundaries and social conventions, a love illogical and infallible, can be seen as being as recent as the 16th century and here, in Bangladesh, as recent as the 20th
What was that crisis borne out of? Could it be a result of being provided with the sudden freedom to go beyond one’s own circles, to be able to earn beyond one’s “means,” to go where no man (or woman) has gone before, to have the freedom to fall, irrevocably and stupidly, in love with someone previously deemed impossible?
One might wonder what connection British and French history have with the way love has come to develop in the small sub-continental country of Bangladesh, which was, at the time removed from by geography?
Love as we know it, the aggrandised Hollywood version, with grand statements of devotion, with irredeemable admiration for beauty, is perhaps the name we give to a similar sort of madness.
The love in Bangladesh, Westernised by television, framed in the language of English, celebrated on Valentine’s Day with much aplomb and traffic, is not privy to the nationalistic walls built up by arbitrary borders.
Love, in this day and age, of technology and hyper-sexualised hyper-individuality, is what you make of it.
The capitalisation of love is an interesting phenomenon. It is seen in the way love is marketed to the masses, in the way stores and shops and advertisements extort a made-up occasion of a made-up emotion.
That is not to say love wasn’t always capitalised. Love as we know it, popularised by two star-crossed lovers from the tip of a bard’s poetic pen, a love defeating boundaries and social conventions, a love illogical and infallible, a love intertwined with the very cores of our being, can be seen as being as recent as the 16th century and here, in Bangladesh, as recent as the 20th.
That is not to say love wasn’t capitalised before. That is not to say that people didn’t experience such grand emotions before.
But, given the opportunity to strive for more difficult yet seemingly plausible objects of affection, we have found ourselves being able, in theory, to achieve anything -- or anyone.
Love epitomises the concept of too much choice. It puts forth too many options to a generation that is overburdened by decisions to be made.
Before, though, love grew. Now, one falls in. The difference lies in the time taken, and time expelled. The effort, the take-take-take, the not-so-much-giving. The focus on the much more powerful “I” over the collective “we.”
The focus has shifted to the internal over the external. The problems with the concept of love, made up by Mad Men and poets, a name given to any act prioritising the emotional over the reasonable, the subjective over the objective, insofar as our generation is concerned at least, capture the root of all contemporary social movements. “I” am important, “I” matter, “I” wish to be heard, “I” wish to make an impact.
The connections may seem tenuous, flawed. But when one is taught to aim for the sky and capture the world in one’s hands, to have the potential to bring about real change as an individual, having heard the stories of the likes one-person wonders, one notices a sort of similarity: Remember when you were with the girl, and it made perfect sense, and objectively you could derive a reasonable life out of her that also included you, but you just, for the life of you, couldn’t settle?
Because you looked around, and you find yourself choking on options, possibilities, probabilities. In the era of love and technology, of individualised freedom, anything and everything impossible is, suddenly, improbable.
I suppose the star-crossed lovers, beautiful as they were, had a lesson to teach us: Madness and emotion, when indulged in so completely, result in our eventual demise. Emotion without reason is doomed to fail.
But also: That love, even when it feels like a word that is like sandpaper to our ears, even when there’s war and famine and death and hunger and reality, it’s still something that we, inevitably, fight for.
SN Rasul is Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.