Almonds are sweet,
but walnut-bitterness is sweeter.
Men are sweet
but his anger is sweeter.
All in a circle
beats for one
at the center.
© 8 Mar 2009, Heather Quinn, all rights reserved
Harb, my Nani was Finnish. Some who lived in the south-east of Finland migrated from the subcontinent centuries ago. Many place-names in that region of Finland look roughly like transliterated Sanskrit words. My Nani’s skin was dark. She insisted we call her Nana, though at the time it was an unusual word to use for a maternal grandmother in the USA. As a girl, I was teased by my family for loving, in ways that amounted to passion: walnuts, apples, stone fruits, dried fruits, bare feet, the fragrance of sandalwood, roses, irises, pomegranates, brinjals (eggplants in the US, aubergines in the UK and Europe), sweet spices, dark wooden floors, Indian carpets, anything containing turmeric, windows and doors open to the weather, long walks in rain with nothing to shield me. I’ve always felt I could live on fruit, milk, curd and a few vegetables, and wheat, and if meat had to be eaten, lamb. Of the cuisines cooked in my extended family, the one I love best is Syrian. I’ve dreamt with extraordinary vividness of riding over high steppes within a bowl of mountains, similar to those found in Tajikistan. I think I’ve told some of this before.
Kate, until I met the man I call the man I love, I had been in love a few times. This is different. It’s almost tangible, it’s always inescapable, there’s no dreaming to wake up from. I knew it was different after about six weeks, but it took me half a year to understand what it really was. The word love is a conventional label for a connection that seems fixed in me, and perhaps was always there, though its object was only recently found. If I had a more accurate word for this, I’d use it. We need more words for love, like Eskimos have dozens of words for snow. If my life were like a long sentence that told a story, other loves were commas — important and bridging. This love is my full stop.
About love in general, east and west… I have a theory, which fits into a personal understanding of paleoanthropology. Here’s how it goes:
Those who left cradles of civilization were edgy people, people who weren’t making a go of it in their cradle environments. They’d suffered as a result of natural disasters, human violence, or innate disharmonies. When they left and settled elsewhere, they carried their trauma experiences with them, and their hyper-reactivity became part of the new cultures that grew where they settled. Peoples who’ve lived in the same regions for a thousand or more years have developed social and cultural constructs, and selected for individual adaptations, that make for strong social harmony. Those who migrated, who live on the fluctuating edges of cultures, or outside them, are less harmonic, socially. They are less likely to trust their emotions, and more likely to act aggressively as a proto-defensive mechanism. Much of this behavior is, I believe, culturally transmitted, not innate. My reasoning on this point is this: if a family were traumatized, and it fled from the place where the trauma were experienced, those who experienced the bad situation would have been marked, emotionally and biologically, for their lifetime. So would the offspring for the first generation, because of in-utero exposure to higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and exposure to the older generations’ hyper-reactivity. But each succeeding generation would be less and less marked by trauma. Innate harmony would lie dormant and undamaged in many individuals. However, with little conscious cultural support for harmony, collective harmony would be subdued in its expression, running like a bass drone playing under the music of that culture. Only when harmony is recognized and lauded consciously, does it become a culture’s main beat. I believe western cultures are beginning to develop conscious recognition for and appreciation of social harmony, to a much greater degree than before.
A few years ago, my encounter with the open expression of love, and strong and long-running cultural support for harmony, in India’s entertainment arts, was like finding a home. Whether my Nani’s blood came from the subcontinent or not, my natural humanity and love of love was strong enough to be essentially undamaged by whatever I experienced in my life. What I was missing — and the rest of my family is still missing, except for my son, who’s found some of what was missing in his wife’s emotional ethos — was a place in a culture that supported harmony in a way that paralleled how I felt about it. The lack of cultural support was missing to such an extreme extent that the first time I saw a Hindi film, I was literally shocked to the core at the open expression of non-romantic love.
I think we all have yin and yang in us — a place in an undifferentiated all-of-us, and an individual identity. However, I believe that due to singular events in paleo- and more recent history, pools of humans ran off and later collected together in ways that supported one or the other side of social connection — collective or individual — rather than both, as a reaction to the singular events they experienced. With fast digital communications and air travel, the pools’ boundaries are breaking and their waters are merging back into something like our original humanity. I can feel a universal pressure, which is new and growing, an expectation by everyone of everyone else, to live more humanely and lovingly.
One reason I love Indian films and popular music is they are transmitters of socio-harmonic values. I try to share my enthusiasm for these art forms whenever I can. India’s arts, entertainment and other, are high on my list of the subcontinental things I love with a passion. They are part of my walnut-love.