Posted by: gdevi | February 12, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day

When I was growing up, there were some lovely love stories around that had completely captured my imagination. One was the story of Kunti from the Mahabharata. As a young girl, Kunti had apparently looked at the Sun one day, radiant shining in the sky, and said, gee, I wish the Sun was my husband. Apparently, Sun was just waiting to hear the beautiful young girl say this, because, he immediately came down to earth and married Kunti in secret, giving her a son, Karna, whose life ended in horrific tragedy in the epic war. My mother told us that the miraculous births in all these myths and stories and gods etc as husbands etc were all standard narrative devices to disguise some sort of socially unsanctioned liaison between a man and a woman. (This is how we understood the virgin birth of Jesus as well. Mary had a human lover who did not want to make himself known, according to some sources.) Rather than say that the child has no father–because all children have fathers whether they are there or not–though fathering and mothering are behaviors, not identities–in the old texts, the paternity or maternity is attributed to some sort of supernatural being. Years later, I read a poem by some North American poet — I forget who now– about a girl lying in the Sun–sunbathing as it were — and imagining Sun making love to her — and it struck me that the Kunti-Sun story is an archetypal story. Because that is what Sun does; it envelops you. You can think of it as the embrace of love. I think I like the Bengali novel Parineeta because somewhere in there it reminds me of this subtle selection that you can see in the original story of Kunti and Sun.

The other love story that I absolutely loved when I was young–and I still do–is Dr. Zhivago. I had a copy of the English translation that I got from the House of Soviet Culture at Vanross Junction in Trivandrum — a Prabhat Book House publication — and I had read it numerous times. I absolutely loved the vastness and depth of this epic novel, a society in transition, and a beautifully evolving gradual and inevitable love story between Yuri and Lara. It also helped that we all loved Julie Christie as Lara in the movie version. Julie Christie was immensely popular in India when I was growing up, both as a screen sex symbol, and as an unforgettable actress. Nobody could understand what she was doing with Warren Beatty at the time; he looked weak beside Julie Christie, who had this incredible presence. I loved Omar Sharif as Yuri in the movie version; he really matched up with Julie Christie. So did the young Tom Courtney as Strelnikov/ Pasha Antipov. And Rod Steiger as Komarovsky. It is an incredible story with all kinds of terrible misfortunes befalling Yuri and Lara,  but the sweetness of their love is very tender and beautiful both in the novel and in Lean’s movie. Later on, one of my uncles had gone to Berlin for something, and he brought me back this beautiful Signet edition of Dr. Zhivago, a proper translation, this time, not the House of Soviet Culture thing. It even had a section of “Yuri’s poems” that Pasternak wrote. “A Candle Burned” was my favorite poem. This scene from the movie is rightfully regarded by many as one of the saddest scenes in the romance genre.

In recent years, the love stories in movie version that have made sense to me are few and far between. I have always loved Marguerite Duras’s The Lover — the book I really love–I absolutely love Marguerite Duras’s writing — and the movie is not bad either. The book is very good. In recent years, I found Lust, Caution to be a really good, nineteenth century sort of romance (the only Ang Lee movie that I am able to watch), and I really liked Kar Wai Wong’s In the Mood for Love as well.  My really favorite favorite love story in the movie format though has got to be Elia Suleiman’s Palestinian movie Divine Intervention. I wish I had made this movie, really.

Remember Caravaggio’s painting of Cupid with all the musical instruments? There are so many beautiful love songs. We have so many beautiful love songs in Indian popular music. I had a big crush on Raaj Kumar when I was growing up, and this is one of my favorite songs, bar none. I cannot listen to hindi songs anymore; they are really crass. But in the seventies, eighties and nineties the songs were incredibly beautiful. I absolutely love Mohammad Rafi’s voice and his songs. This is one of my favorite songs. And so many more; I know hundreds thousands of Indian songs, so it is hard to pick. But here is a beautiful Arabic song.  I love all kinds of songs by the Beatles, too numerous to note here, so I have to say that one of the most romantic songs that I have ever heard is the Rolling Stones’s version of Mona. If I knew how to set this to the church organ, I would turn this song into the wedding march, instead of the Here comes the Bride or the Mendelssohn wedding march etc. It is really like a wedding processional. It is a beautiful, beautiful song. So is Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell; it has forever been sanctified in my mind because of its use in Pulp Fiction. What a scene!
I also love many instrumental compositions by the Allman Brothers–they are all very beautiful, respectful and gentle love songs to women–In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Little Martha–they are very beautiful compositions. So is the shimmering brilliance of Jessica.  And it is sort of like with the Beatles for me for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Atkins and Bill Evans. So many lovely lovely songs. Oy!

And lest we forget the true meaning of Valentine’s Day all over the world, we must always remember Led Zeppelin and Whole Lotta Love. Wah wah pedal, reverse echo who knows what, but Jimmy Page’s feedback snarl tells you what Valentine’s Day really is about. You know, every creepy song that you hear that packages f****** as “love” is instantly decimated by Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. To me, this song is like the Quentin Tarantino Grind House Horror movie commentary on sex songs masquerading as love songs. It is an incredible song; sort of like a stampede in a cemetery. It comes from some primordial place, like Freud’s Id, perhaps. You have to have incredible power to sing and play a song like this. I was listening the other day to an incredibly bad song on the local radio station — it is like a commercial for a telephone company or maybe for phone sex — it is called “Call Me Maybe” by someone called Carly Rae something I am too fatigued to even look it up — so anyway, it is an incredibly bad song. And I instantly thought of Led Zeppelin and Whole Lotta Love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!



  1. Useful. I agree.

    • Thanks. GD.

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