Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (X)

From his description of her, Chetan’s aunt seemed to be a born mother. She was not only nurturing, warm and loving; she also knew how to create spontaneously structured boundaries and inspire discipline. To be able to create such strong bonds among children coming from different homes- living out their unique family scripts- was no mean task. I was eager to hear what this beautiful soul could have said to heal a man walking on the edge of disaster- as Chetan was just before he left for his holiday. Chetan began to speak. I listened with complete absorption.

“My aunt told me that the bond between the children at the community centre was that of love. She was not talking of love in the sense of conventional, obligatory and compulsive familial affections. She talked about the love that exists between friends, between those who were once strangers. According to her, such bonds of affection need a particular atmosphere to develop and grow. She told me that there are things whose absence can fray and weaken the strongest bond between people. Shall I tell you what she told me?”

“You know you don’t have to ask,” she said with mock annoyance. He grinned.

“Here goes then,” he continued. “According to her, love is a delicate plant that needs to be nurtured tenderly. It needs the soil of trust to spread its roots. Trust in another person develops naturally and spontaneously if he is a person of integrity, for whom objectivity and fairness are incorruptible foundation stones of personal behaviour. The tree of love can be granted stability in the face of the worst storms only when its roots are deep and strong.

“Love needs to be nourished with respect. Respect, not only for the one you love but also for your own person. When you respect yourself, you would not permit anyone to be unfair to you. To protect yourself from the potential disrespect of your loved one is actually favour you are doing – to them and to your relationship. A lack of respect kills love faster than anything else. When you permit another person to walk all over you, not only will they lose respect for you, but you too will lose respect for yourself. Eventually, you will consider yourself unworthy of being loved. Yet in your heart, you would know that you ARE worthy and that it is your loved one’s callous behaviour that’s giving you an unjustified feeling of unworthiness. A feeling of resentment is the only natural consequence of such acquiescence. It can certainly not breed or sustain love.

“And lastly, love needs the sunshine of a benevolent heart. A malevolent or vindictive person cannot contain love in his heart. Love needs room to spread its wings. It cannot do that in the constricted confines of a narrow, mean little soul. Petty emotions like a desire to exert power over another for the sake of feeding an insecure and empty inner world are like the blackest clouds blocking out life-giving sunshine. Such second-hand emotions, which need the presence of a victim in order to survive, cannot permit love to flourish or survive. These are the things she told me.

“By those standards, the love I for my wife was doomed. It had to wither away and die. No living thing can survive in an atmosphere so hostile to its life – and love IS a living, breathing thing. To some extent, the error was also mine. To pander to the vices of the weak, to allow them their unreasonableness in a desperate desire to nurture love, is surely a costly error on the part of the strong. In all fairness, I could not wish away my part in the aiding of a despot. The errors I made might have been made in innocence but a universe governed by objective law will never allow you to escape the consequences of your mistakes – no matter how innocently made.

“I have paid a hefty price for this lesson. My only consolation is that I am a good student – I don’t need to be taught the same lesson twice. After all, why repeat a mistake when there are plenty of new ones you could make..?”

He grinned at her disarmingly.

“Are you saying that a love nurtured in an environment of benevolence, trust and respect will last forever?” wisps of scepticism flitted across her face.

“Yes, I think this is what my aunt was trying to tell me. Given the right environment, nourishment and climate, love can be made to last a lifetime, or seven births, or two millennia, or an eternity. If not, we can always go back to Naini and ask my aunt to straighten things out, can’t we?” He was teasing her, trying to provoke her into an admission.

“Hmmm. Somehow eternity sounds fine to me. That way you don’t have to keep counting and looking over your shoulder wondering when your time is going to be up.” The devil danced in her dimples.

“Funny. Eternity sounds fine to me too. I think we share a taste for eternity. Isn’t that amazing?”

“Absolutely amazing! What I find even more amazing is that my fingers are still intact and haven’t been crushed to a pulp!” She looked at him from under her eyelashes. He wasn’t taking that and held her hand even more firmly.

“Er, before I forget… about that hostel… you aren’t staying there.”

“No..?!” the minx was the picture of innocent perplexity.

“No,” he declared. “You’ll stay home and I’ll be your chauffeur. I will also allow you to push me around occasionally. And we are going to Naini every year for our annual holiday, and I want no arguments about that!”

“Ok Chetan”, she replied demurely. Even her dimples seemed abashed and tamed for a minute. But then she grinned.

The rest, as they say, is a story for another day.