I finished the novel Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, a handful of days ago. While I enjoyed it, I suspect I’m still too close to my immersion to give it an even-handed estimation of quality. That said, there were particular elements that I wouldn’t mind commenting on while they are still fresh in mind, foremost amongst them the handling of the emotion of love. Actually, this post is likely to become more or less a meditation on love, with only tangential reference to the novel. Be warned.
I’ve been current with the idea of the tyranny of unconditional love for some time, and tend to agree with it. I’ve forgotten where I first came across it, but it was likely some protest against the legitimacy of Christianity I read years ago. The argument runs, near as I can recall, on the basis that it is lunacy to compel us to love those that we do not, and cannot. It is an action beyond the scope of human-kind, and, after not merely compelling it, but holding it’s pre-determined failure as a morally culpable choice, we begin to see the preposterousness of the whole enterprise. Whatever. This isn’t meant to be an anti-Christian screed. Room enough for that elsewhere. The argument for the impossibility of an assumption of unconditional love does set our scene, however, by beginning to delimit the concept.
Returning to the novel, there are quite a few neat descriptions of the emotion and the ways it gets its claws into us, some of which I’d not encountered before. Within the first few pages, there is an instance of “love at first sight,” which I’d always thought to be a rather silly, overly-precious concept. However, given the way it was later fleshed out, I suspect I’ve experienced it in my own life, more than once. The most rewarding find was the frankness with which the author approached love-between-friends. As a Caucasian, culturally Anglo, North American, love of a non-romantic type, especially amongst two hetero men, is not something that I have had an easy time articulating or admitting to. I feel more comfortable doing so now, given that I have some well-rounded examples to think of. Maybe this is merely a product of growing more mature and sure of myself, and would have happened with or without the novel. Who knows what sort of catalysts we need to do so? Either way, if you subjects of this love are reading this, you likely know who you are already. If you don’t, you’ll find out soon enough.
More than a few times in the novel, there are descriptions of “the start” of someone loving another, elicited by some action or expression, which, while there isn’t anything really that strange about it in principle, struck for its stark abruptness. Reflecting on it, and I allow that it may simply be some sort of bias, I think I can recall instances where this was the case for myself as well. The story did a good job at integrating a number of disparate events and ideas from my own life. I’d recommend it on those grounds alone.
While it keeps to our earlier restriction of non-forced love, the last element from the novel regarding love worthy of discussion today is that of its unending quality, at least insofar as a twu wuv is considered.
The protagonist, for much of the novel, is in the grip of a strong, a nearly over-powering, romantic love for another character. As the story proceeds, the raw, carnal elements are shriven, sloughed off like so much dross. And yet, the love remains, even as it no longer drives and consumes him. Roberts, insofar as the protagonist speaks for him, has it that this enduring love, an unending love, comes from the soul, or, at least, what is intrinsically human about us. I’m not sure if this is the case – I’m not really old enough, nor experienced enough, to say. Keeping away from any redoubts of evo-psych or the like, it would be a comforting truth, to know that we have such a thing within us, an over-arching Eros element, an Agape, to balance out our decidedly present Thanatos.