Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire

“Why, I wondered, while watching the leaves change colour in the fall, were there very few serious yet engaging books on love, its many moods and multiple meanings?”

From book’s Preface by Debotri Dhar

Featuring essays from prominent writers like Makarand Paranjpe, Alka Pande, Malashri Lal, Rakshanda Jalil, Mehr Farooqi and Zafar Anjum, this collection of essays on love is a much-needed read at this time when the definition of love, is being challenged.

Published by Speaking Tiger, this book gives historical and cultural perspectives on Indian love (swayamvara, arranged marriages, and desi romance); the immortal love of Radha and Krishna that transcends theology; the story of a powerful, sexually desiring and desired courtesan/nagarvadhu. The essays explore various themes like inter-religious love, love-jihad, same-sex love, a Dalit’s journey to finding love in times of dating apps etc.

Yet, love can be as much about passion as about power, about politics.”

Debotri Dhar

The politics of love is also discussed and debated from a variety of angles:  from the love jihad campaign against inter-religious marriage, to a critique of the savarna gaze in Indian cultural iconography and its meaning for Dalit women’s bodies and inter-caste love, to India’s legal battle to decriminalize same-sex love, to the subversive threat in single women’s self-love. The book includes intriguing and exquisite portrayals of love in literature, from Urdu shayari and bhasha writing, to the city fictions of love through Rome, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and back to Delhi, the ancient echoing through the modern.

In the introduction to the book, Dhar highlights various nuances of all the essays sharing her insights and observations in each one of them. It goes unsaid that the book can be read in any sequence and yet the beauty of the essays would remain as is, exemplary. Interestingly, she also suggests grouping them in different categories while pondering upon the possibility of what more could have been explored in this book.

Given the political chaos the world is gripped with, a discussion on the changing forms of love and the newer meanings behind it is extremely important. An exploration of this kind, is a good way to tease a reader, pique their interest and lead them to a journey of self-discovery.

As the review in Tribune India says, “Love is not a simple emotion. It carries with it centuries of cultural habits, changing philosophies, shifting gender identities, patriarchy, differing politics emerging from religion, race and gender. Probably it is the most complex of emotions and motivations. Well, her compilation certainly tries to fill the gaps.”

Author Bio : Debotri Dhar teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. Her books, scholarly as well as fiction, include Postcards from Oxford: Stories of  Women and Travel (London), the novel The Courtesans of Karim Street (New Delhi), The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 (Singapore; selected and edited with introduction), Education and Gender (Bloomsbury: New York, London; edited with introduction), and others. Her shorter fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies worldwide. Debotri is the founder of the Hummingbird Global Writers’ Circle, a transnational travelling literary initiative to foster a love of books, cultural exchange, and global understanding.

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