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The Seven Stages Of Love In Literature

A chance to re-visit Dedh Ishquiya through these epic books

From the first hint of attraction to the ambiguity of love and the inevitability of death, these books recreate the seven stages of love.

Abhishek Choubey’s Dedh Ishquiya is one of the best films to come out of Bollywood this year. Amongst its many irreverent and poetic dialogues, the most memorable is the one where Khaalu Jaan ( Naseeruddin Shah) explains ishq ke saat makaam to Babban (Arshad Warsi).

My Big Red Bag thinks of a book that reminds us of each of the seven stages of love : Warning, don’t expect a gentle ride as you read these tomes!

1. Hub or Attraction: The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s second novel, The Shadow Lines, celebrated its 25th birthday last year. It is a tale of memories, for the writer drew his inspiration from the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In the author’s words, it is “a book that led me backward in time to earlier memories of riots, ones witnessed in childhood. It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of such events and their effects on the individuals who live through them.”

In a surprisingly trim 250 pages, Ghosh gives us a peek into the lives of three generations of characters scattered across the globe. Amongst the several “love stories” that populate the book, the most endearing is the narrator’s unrequited love for Ira, his distant cousin. Theirs is the classic case of opposites attract – while the narrator, “a boy who had never been more than a few hundred miles from Calcutta”, is constantly inventing places in his head; Ira is constantly moving from one country to another but had “never really travelled at all”.  But is this feeling really love, or just attraction that the narrator inadvertently displays when Ira is changing clothes in front of him?

[T]hat state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings — the idea of justice

2. Uns or Infatuation: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is the Alfred Hitchcock of Literature – through a series of seemingly common place occurrences, he sets off a gentle drumbeat of foreboding that gradually builds up into a crescendo of menace and inescapable collapse. Briony Tallis is a young girl in pre-World War II England with a vivid imagination and a penchant for drama. When she stumbles upon her older sister Cecilia flirting with Robbie Turner, the gardener’s son, she sets off a chain of events whose echo will persist through World War II, and beyond.

Atonement is an account of how a 13 year’s infatuation with her elder sister’s lover leads to a monstrous tragedy. It is also a fine example of McEwan’s craft, of how a seemingly small event can lead to gigantic consequences.

And though you think the world is at your feet, it can rise up and tread on you.

3. Ishq or Love: An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

My only piece of advice for reading An Equal Music - don’t read it if you are trying to mend a broken heart. Michael & Julia’s is a love so achingly romantic, so heartbreakingly sentimental and so seemingly perfect that you instinctively know it cannot last forever. From the choice of location (Vienna & Venice) to the musical milieu (there are long passages devoted to the craft of classical music) and his lead characters (Michael is a violinist with the Maggiore Quartet and Julia is a pianist), Seth is unsparing in his depiction of music, love and loss. You can smell the crisp air of Vienna, hear Bach’s symphony in your head and taste the tears of Michael & Julia as they waltz to the tunes of passion and parting.

Is it not love that knows how to make smooth things rough and rough things smooth?

4. Aqeedat or Reverence: Blindness by Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago’s tale of a city hit by an endemic of “white blindness” that spares no one except one woman is an allegory for the frailties and power of human character, in the spirit of Lord Of The Flies. As the disease spreads from the newly blind to the alarmed seeing, societal norms of humanity and civility disintegrate and the hospital where the blind are quarantined turns into a stage for Darwin’s notion of evolution.

But Blindness is not just a tale of humans and humanity; it is also a tale of one woman’s love for her husband that makes her accompany him to a mental asylum – the wife of the ophthalmologist who was one of the first people to go blind. Read the book for the vivid beauty of Saramago’s compact prose.

If I’m sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow?

5. Ibaadat or Worship: Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Forever Love”: these words have been whispered by numerous star crossed lovers below a certain age. But how many times does this love survive the first sign of boredom or betrayal?

There is nothing new about a young boy falling in love with a girl he has just met , or about a romance that flourishes through letters and telegrams. There is no surprise when the girl rejects the boy for a more “equal” match, or when the boy tackles his rejection by embarking upon a successful career and 622 affairs . But there is one difference in Love In The Time Of Cholera -  Florentino Ariza never stops loving Fermina Daza, and he never stops waiting for her. 50 years, 9 months and 4 days after he first declared his love, Florentino reasserts “eternal fidelity and everlasting love” to Fermina upon the death of her husband.

She knew that he loved her above all else, more than anything in the world, but only for his own sake.

6. Junoon or Obsession: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

When a story starts off with a handsome wealthy man (Kemal) about to get engaged to a beautiful rich girl (Sibel), you know it’s not going to lead to “happily ever after”. Especially when the young man encounters a beautiful shop girl (Füsun) who is also a distant cousin. It’s no surprise when Kemal & Füsun become lovers, or that Füsun marries someone else to spite Kemal when he fails to call off his engagement with Sibel.

What follows is an outbreak of obsession of such might that Sting’s “I’ll Be Watching You” sounds like a lullaby for kids. As Kemal follows Füsun all over Istanbul, he starts collecting objects that chronicle the varied contours of his love : 4,213 cigarette butts that ” had touched her rosy lips and entered her mouth”, matchboxes, coffee cups, ashtrays, hairpins…all to build his Taj Mahal, The Museum Of Innocence.

If you think Kemal was a pervert or a lunatic, he feels it too, for he admits that “I never paused to wonder what might be going on in the mind of the woman with whom I was madly in love, and what her dreams might be; I only fantasized about her.”

 What is love?
I don’t know.
Love is the name given to the bond Kemal feels with Füsun whenever they travel along highways or sidewalks; visit houses, gardens, or rooms; or whenever he watches her sitting in tea gardens and restaurants, and at dinner tables.
Hmmm … that’s a lovely answer,~ But isn’t love what you feel when you can’t see me?
Under those circumstances, it becomes a terrible obsession, an illness.

7. Maut or Death: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert are wealthy, successful, good looking and ordinary – if by ordinary you mean any middle aged couple who have their virtues and transgressions, but who fundamentally believe that “things will go on indefinitely in their imperfect yet entirely acceptable way”. Jodi knows about Todd’s brief flings but is adept at turning a blind eye; as long as Todd returns home and participates in the daily rituals of her perfect home, life is all right.

Until the moment when Todd develops something stronger for a girl old enough to be his daughter, and walks out on her. Jodi’s iron leash on life slips, and as she plunges into a well of despair and possible penury, The Silent Wife agrees to a dangerous proposal.

Curiously, it’s not so much his physical absence that causes her pain….What bothers her most is the blow to her routine.

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4 Comments on The Seven Stages Of Love In Literature

  1. This is a superbly written article. I enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed reading the books. In a terrible day, this was surely a good release.

  2. not to sound pedantic.. but the film references Dilkashi as the first muqaam, and Mohabbat as the third. Terminology aside, I presume your book connections remain valid. Thanks for the guide!

    • You are right, thanks for the correction! And yes the connections remain, since the words have the same meaning.

  3. Came here searching for seven stages of love, but taking a lot more than that, thanks for the wonderful article….

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