Some Thoughts on Romance/Romanticism

If we were to make a list of themes that have dominated the realm of human creative output, romance/romanticism might be a strong contender for the top spot. There seems to be a prolonged debate about the definition of this word or feeling. This confusion over its understanding points to the universal nature of the emotion, a certain mystical aspect of our existence. In other words, romance means different things to the same person in different situations or different people feel ‘romantic’ in different ways.

The most popular portrayal of romance is that of the relationship between a man and a woman. Reams of literature have been hammered out over it. Miles of cinema reel have been spun on it. Countless poems, published or private, have made a sincere effort to unravel or express this emotion to the other person/world. The romantic in a human being has produced hundreds of  beautiful works of poetry, art, literature and music.

Romance can be the precursor to or aftermath of a love affair. ‘Romance’, the term, can be used interchangeably with ‘love’ on many occasions. It is widely agreed among people that this tendency of putting oneself in the middle of an imaginary vortex of euphoric excitation has made us more ‘human’. It has made us courageous as well as vulnerable; chivalrous as well as notorious; compassionate as well as merciless on different occasions. In many ways, romantic (mis)adventures have helped us understand ourselves better.

I have great respect for those who can write a romantic story or a novel out of their own imagination/experience. It is very hard to conceive and describe a romantic encounter with another individual. An experience like that can’t be adequately described in words. It is an equivalent of a very abstract painting. In my opinion, an author trying to write about romance is similar to a kid trying to carry water with his bare hands.
                                                            I  stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
~ Edgar Allan Poe

The lines quoted above are from the poem “A dream within a dream” written by Edgar Allan Poe. He was one of the prominent poets of the romantic movement . People like Poe, as he was known, saw the concept of ‘romance’ as an adventurous journey in pursuit of self-discovery. There was also a streak of rebellion against the established norms of society among their creed.  This zeal for conquering unmarked territories of art made these sculptors, painters, poets, musicians and writers embark on selfish, and often lonely journeys. They derived immense joy from the work they did. They were seekers of knowledge and enlightenment in their areas of interest.

A lighter version of same idea/spirit exists in every normal person. We find a certain kind of solace and joy in enjoying the nature’s beauty, and its wonders. It lies in the sight of a beautiful sunset, a roaring waterfall or a cool breeze at the top of a mountain. We need not be lonely in such pursuits. The stakes are low. None of us will go down in history like the romantics of Europe. But still, these things are attainable and enjoyable.

Sometimes, individuals tend to prefer the role of a pillion rider, a non-striker, a mere observer.  Don’t we all enjoy a hot a cup of coffee on a rainy day? Don’t we savour the taste of our favourite dish with a certain extra joy? Can anybody replace the fun in eating roadside chaat? These things are not great or commendable as such. Such small things are unrelated to any philosophical or thought provoking subjects. Such momentary pleasures are as trivial (and beautiful)  as a drop of morning dew sitting on the tip of a leaf.

“When Alexander the Great was camping on the banks of the Indus, he met a naked ascetic, whom he called a gymnosophist. It probably was a Jain Digambar muni. Digambar, meaning the sky-clad, a euphemism for naked. Finding him seated, at peace, on a rock, staring at the sky, Alexander asked him, “What are you doing?” The gymnosophist replied, “Experiencing nothingness. What about you?” Alexander declared, “I am conquering the world.” Both laughed. Alexander laughed because he thought the gymnosophist was a fool for not travelling, for not having ambition, for living a life without a destination. The gymnosophist laughed because there are no destinations in the world. Seated or moving, we are always travelling. And when we keep travelling, we end up returning to the place from where we started, hopefully a little wiser.”

I read this snippet here . It reminded of my visit to Marine Drive in Mumbai, considered to be one of the most ‘romantic’ places in the city. I was with a bunch of friends. It was a really beautiful place. The seaside boulevard was lit up. My friends told me about the golden necklace, the expensive suites and the exorbitant apartments that litter Marine Drive. We ate chaat, sat there for awhile and enjoyed the view. 

For a few moments , my mind was calm, peaceful and blank . My eyes were wide open.  I felt like an empty sheet of paper. It might have been similar to the “nothingness” that this monk was talking about. That moment is perhaps my closest rendezvous with the word ‘romance’.

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