I was speaking to my father the day after Valentine’s Day. Since I am single, the conversation was about St Valentine. The man apparently went against church orders and married soldiers who were forbidden from entering into wedlock. He was then executed on command of the emperor of Rome, Claudius II, for his beliefs and actions, by getting publicly beaten to death at the Piazza del Popolo on the 14th of February 269 AD.
I never understood saints, and this whole passion for belief that they espouse. It is not easy for a child (or even a young man) to come to terms with this. I suppose, in Asian countries with a lingering culture of tightly-knit joint families, obedience is something that is instilled in us at an early age. As is propriety, in public affairs as well as in our private lives.
I grew up like this. I remember coming across pornography for the first time in middle school, when I was around 14 years old. Pornography, along with Hollywood movies, was the only domain till then that exposed me to pleasurable and intimate relations between people in private spaces.
This is not to say that I didn’t have friends who were girls while growing up. I was lucky to know a few, but I guess puberty, as it is imagined today, was a phenomenon that an average Indian middle class child growing up in the ’90s, such as myself, was exposed to via very select media and domains.
To be explicit, selection according to secondary sexual characteristics was a terrain that didn’t appear to me until television and AXN. The first language I spoke growing up is Hindi. But the language I matured into is English. And Hollywood as well as thriller novels by Ken Follet and Dan Brown probably have a lot to do with this.
It is no secret that the RSS in particular and the Sangh parivar in general have a problem with the public celebration of erotic love. And Valentine’s day is seen as another means through which the perverted influence of the West creeps into the religious spirituality of India. Every year, squads of goons are formed to act as moral police who curtail public expression of love, the latest of them being this.
The harassing of couples and the burning of Valentine’s Day cards and flowers has unfortunately become the ritual with which this day in honoured in this part of the world.
Happy #ValentinesDay. If any Sangh Parivar trolls try to threaten you for being out with a friend, tell them you are celebrating the ancient Indian tradition of #KamadevaDivas ! https://t.co/US9D1unBwz
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) February 14, 2019
This is not to suggest that there hasn’t been resistance. Much in the same spirit as St. Valentine himself, who died for his practice and belief in declaring forbidden marriages as a sacrament – the Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK) performed inter-caste marriages on 14th February 2013. In the same year, the Democratic Youth Federation felicitated those entering into inter-caste marriages.
This, I believe, is an effective institutional response to the street thuggery employed by Hindutva mobs. A radical progressive may say that this still enshrines the institution of marriage itself, and that one should be able to step out and to take their significant other on a comfortable evening out on Valentine’s Day – a position I completely endorse. I would, yet, maintain that in regions affected by the politics of caste, celebrating nuptials between such stratification ought to be upheld as a good example.
In such debates, it is easy to get sucked into pure ideological shit-slinging, and forget the circumstances that facilitate a culture of dating. For a lad to take a lady out, he’d need to have some disposable income. A day off from work that is shared with the significant other would also facilitate such endeavors. No one needs reminders that such forms of consumption are, in fact, good for the business of culinary establishments competing for a share of the pie.
The other, warmer, and cosier option of inviting a date home involves all the careful treading around parents or landlords, as it is rare for a young person to own their own home. In fact, the average age of first time homebuyers in India is between 37-38 years, according to the CEO of HDFC bank ( an institution who would certainly know a thing or two about handing out home loans).
I personally, for example, have had run-ins with resident welfare associations in Delhi for bringing a date home while I was living in Kamala Nagar in the North Campus of Delhi University. And granted, while it may not all be because of the logistics, it certainly does make any sort of chemistry easier.
So, what are the ways around such predicaments?
Well, the digital age and social media have certainly helped bring people closer together, though, I confess, I have personally not utilised it to the most of its capabilities. WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are remarkable mediums to keep in touch and stay abreast of the times. The feature of video calling allows the comfort of face-to-face interactions, which were not possible earlier. And yet, despite all of these things working for us, for two people to come together – the oldest mystery and quest of mankind – doesn’t seem to have gotten easier.