Shops these days are festooned with blood-red heart-shaped objects, sickeningly cute teddy bears, vastly over-priced love mementos and chocolate of all shapes and sizes. Offers of special Valentine Discounts from online shops inundate the email inbox. Try buying flowers tomorrow – they will be so hideously expensive that we all will wish to be footloose and fancy free again.
We are encouraged, nay harangued to make purchases of all types – all because it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. Why is this? And why are Indians buying into this – a day observed for the birthday of some obscure saint who lived during roman times?
How Valentine Day Caught on in India
It was the early 1990’s before any one in India had even heard about this so called ‘Celebration of Love’. Suddenly cable TV, particularly Star TV and MTV were telling us how cool Valentine’s Day was and that was the first we saw of that skimpily clad, fat curly haired kid with the bow and arrow (to my mind Cupid is the most singularly unromantic personage) and the bleeding hearts and the mushy cards and the heart shaped chocolate boxes.
It seemed like a great idea to young couples, long repressed by our innate Indian prudishness – Valentine’s Day became a legit excuse for young people to declare their love for each other with the help of overt demonstrations consisting of flowers and gifts. It even became OK to show a little bit of PDA (public display of affection) – some handholding and walking around arm in arm by members of opposite genders.
The Response to Valentine Day Celebrations
The celebration of Valentine’s Day with such gusto of course stirred the ire of the traditionalists who rose up in arms against such displays of “un-Indianness”; decrying such “cultural contamination”. Whether it was goons trashing card shops or roughing up young couples in parks – or more recently Asaram Babu offering the alternative suggestion of “Matri Pitri Pujan Diwas” (Parents Worship Day) – there was much evidence of people being less than happy with such practices; practices that are so “alien to Indian culture”. Groups such as the Bajrang Dal have also been known to issue threats against couples, issuing diktats such as “They cannot kiss or hug in public places. Our activists will beat them up.”
To be sure there are many among us who feel uncomfortable at people expressing love for each other; indeed any kind of public display of affection. Quite simply we Indians are not used to seeing people kissing and cuddling, so many people feel that such moral policing is quite OK.
There is also a significant portion of the population that dismisses Valentine’s Day celebrations as nothing but a marketing gimmick from Archie’s and other merchandise manufacturers. Those that scorn such celebratory events look with a jaundiced eye at the amount of money spent wasted on all these overt gestures; gestures which, according to them, hold little meaning or value. The argument frequently advanced by the disapprovers is that there doesn’t need to be a day to express love – if you love someone surely you should be expressing your love each day? Well, there is something to that after all…
Why the popularity of Valentine’s Day Continues to Grow
However a very significant percentage of the population buys into the idea of Valentine’s Day with a lot of enthusiasm. This is the young, aspirational portion of the population, who wants to be perceived trendy or as modern and in charge of their own destiny. These are people who are eager to sample the goodies of globalisation; of doing what their counterparts are doing in other countries. These are the people that revel in what they perceive as the loosening of the shackles of an older, narrower moral compass – in a sense they are celebrating freedom of expression. So they don’t see any reason why they should not make elaborate gestures for those that matter.
It isn’t just the desire to appear ‘with it’ or modern – there is also the desire to fly in the face of parental shackles. Young men and women want to feel that they are in charge of their own destinies; and want to make their own choice of whom they want to love and whom they want to spend their lives with. Possibly it is to send home the message that they are no longer content to submit quietly to a suitable, arranged marriage? This is not so much defiance as simple self assertion.
Indians have also embraced the idea that Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to express any and all kinds of love; not just romantic love – whether it is for a dear friend, parents, children, siblings or whatever.
Over the years, many of the traditionalists have made their peace with these “vulgar displays” and these days we don’t really hear of much except some minor episodes of sabre rattling from conservatives – even the lunatic fringe is not making too much ‘hulla’. So lovers feel reasonably safe making their romantic gestures – whether over the top or subtle – Valentine’s Day isn’t going away from India anytime soon – meanwhile Archie’s and FashionAndYou are taking advantage of the most lucrative time of year.
By – Reena Daruwalla
Image Source: Original Photos by Author