By Arastu Zakia:
Contrary to popular understanding, many things in life cannot be described as either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes, it helps to just look at things from an external perspective and try and understand all aspects of it.
Not much is known about the concept of ‘Valentine’s Day’ apart from the date on which it is supposed to be celebrated and the expectations of giving gifts or proposing to the person you love. Technically, Valentine’s Day was observed to honour one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, evidences of which can be traced back to as early as 496 AD. It is only after the 15th Century that the occasion started becoming associated with love, something that did not necessarily exist in its original conception.
There is also no doubt about the fact that increasingly, an entire industry revolves around Valentine’s Day, much like an Uttarayan or Diwali. According to estimates, approximately 15 crore Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged globally each year, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas. India started seeing the rise of Valentine’s Day in 1992, with special TV and radio programs, and even ‘love letter competitions’. The economic liberalization also helped the Valentine card industry. In fact, when you come to think of it, since it is not a part of our cultural or social inheritance, who would have known about the existence of this concept had the media and the shops and restaurants around us not put up boards about it! Leftists and liberal critics have also saidÂ that this celebration aids in the creation of a pseudo-westernized middle class and promotes income inequality.
There has also been a lot of opposition to the concept from the usual suspects. Stories about Hindu and Islamic fundamentalists organizing protests, sometimes violent ones, have been doing the rounds for years now. The ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign organized in 2009 as an answer to one such protest is still fresh in our minds. The reasons claimed by these protesters range from “the concept being alien to Indian culture”, “displays of love being against conventional Indian values”, “globalization destroying Indian history” and so on.
It is safe to assume that Valentine’s Day is known and practiced mainly amongst urban privileged Youth as compared to being a luxury for their faceless, distant counterparts slogging in villages or hunting for livelihood in cities. If we look at Valentine’s Day from the practicing Youth’s perspective, there are two distinct approaches. There are the ones who exchange gifts and cards, propose to the person they love, go out on dates, write poetries and shayaris (most of which are discreetly lifted through Google), visit couples-only places, wear red, consume ‘banned’ liquor and so on. The recently heard joke about “Valentine’s Day coming exactly 9 months before Children’s Day” also hints that Valentine’s Day is perhaps not looked just as a day for love but also as a day for making love. There is no doubt that the gifts made especially for this occasion certainly seem to be sweet and the thought of girls and boys celebrating love does appeal to our Yash-Raj-fantasy-love psyches.
The other branch of thought within the Youth questions the very need of having one particular day, that too defined by the world, to celebrate or express one’s feelings. The liberated lot also question whether the need to jump at particular occasions also implies a lack of happiness and interest in everyday life. Seeing everyone around them doing so or being expected to do so, such occasions also force Youth to practice it even if they may not want to. A trend of gifting a necessarily expensive gift as symbolic of a lover’s ‘status’ or measurement of the partner’s worth is also noticed at times. There is also the increasingly discussed concept of falling in love and getting into a relationship being seen as the ultimate destination while not paying any thought or not knowing how the feeling and the relationship will be sustained after a while.
Good or bad, right or wrong, from a personal perspective, as long as one is not too obsessed with loving or hating Valentine’s Day, one can treat it as just another day that some people celebrate, some people ape, some people hate and most people are unaware of.