Spring is in the air. The blink and you missed it Kolkata winter is perhaps gone by now. Where I live, one still gets a fleeting whiff of cold air till it is chased away by the sun. My plants have grown new leaves and buds, the koels are making their appearance slowly, and everywhere, it seems, there is a certain happiness before the onslaught of summer.
What does this have to do with books?
There is the matter of Valentine’s Day around the corner. And is there a better gift than a book? Consider the advantages. You get to look endearingly geeky to your girlfriend/boyfriend (okay let’s just say partner). The only weight they will add, unlike those chocolates, will be on your bookshelf. They are easy to wrap. And at the same cost of an evening out to the multiplex, a dinner, throw in the taxi ride, you get to buy a good half dozen of those and yet look so generous. Long after the dinner is consumed and digested the books will sit around on the bookshelf as reminders of your thoughtfulness. Besides, after gifting them one can just settle in cosily and bask in the glory of being seen as the most extravagant and attentive ‘partner’ ever!
But gifting books is also a bit of a minefield. You need to not only know what the other person has read lately as well as years back, and what books get the adrenalin pumping and the heart singing, you also need to get the pitch just right—somewhere between books that he would not touch with a bargepole and those that might just frighten him off. (I am using ‘he’ here just for convenience. Book buying and gifting is very much for both genders of the species.)
So, in this atmosphere of lovingness, why not look at some of the best and eternally popular books on romantic love and take your pick from those? From a completely random and wholly unscientific dipstick poll, I gathered that the top romance novel that people recollect and put at number one on the list of books that turn them into a puddle is Gone with the Wind. A multitude of characters, the background of war, a strong heroine and the gorgeous Rhett Butler—there’s no reason not to love this Civil War romance. However, some may argue against it saying the love here remained unrequited, and what is a good romance novel without the final conclusive denouement. To those diehard romantics, why not present Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre? But then you may want to pad up the classics with the works of writers from more recent times. One of my all-time favourites here would be The Diary of Bridget Jones. Why not? It is funny, quirky, has many love angles to it, a dreamy hero and perhaps the most endearing heroine in popular culture after Elizabeth Bennett.
There are of course plenty of other titles to choose from. In no particular order Bridges of Madison County, Love Story, Thorn Birds, the works of Georgette Heyer. If all this is getting a tad too sentimental, why not Possession by A.S. Byatt or the deeply conflicted and some may even argue is not at all a novel about romance, The Sea The Sea by Iris Murdoch. These are as much about the power of love which can be destructive and not redemptive and in its most dangerous forms or the rituals of love that have come about in society.
And read them in the original or in translations, how can one miss out Shesher Kobita, Devdas, Noshtoneer and Saheb Bibi Gholam. Each one a powerful meditation on love—love that wounds, kills, tears you apart and cures too.
Yet how can there not be poetry in that love bundle of books that we are putting together? Go back in time, pick up Meghdoot—what can be more romantic than love messages conveyed by the monsoon clouds. Or lose yourself in Shakespeare’s sonnets, melt in the passion of Keats, and stop and listen awhile to Tagore.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death..
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This poem leaps out at me from an old book presented years back by a friend. When I wander by my bookshelf, I sometimes pull out the volume, browse, and invariably stop at this. The friend is long gone but this gift bought on a student’s limited budget and inscribed to what seemed then to be the most wonderful person, makes me smile before I tuck it back—a little container of memories and warmth.
So write to me, what is your favourite romantic read and what was the first book you ever received from that special person?
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