The intoxicating perfume of the Jasmines assails my senses as I walk across the market square in my small hometown in Southern India. The flower sellers are sitting yoga fashion in a long row, about fifteen of them, with baskets filled to the brim with white Jasmines. These flowers symbolize love and are auspiciously used on any day that is remotely connected to love, deities and weddings. And oh yes, funerals too!
Across the road from me is the ‘Archie’s Gallery’ where I stop to buy a birthday card for a friend. The little shop is full of an artistically arranged Valentine Day display – cards, coffee mugs and mementoes with red hearts and romantic messages.
St. Valentine has reached the nooks and corners of the world, including the small towns in India, riding on the unbeatable – and sometimes mystifying – power of love, rather than his saintly virtues, as he may have preferred.
It’s all a bit unfair to poor Cupid who works 24/7, 365 days without a break. Plus, he uses ammunition and flies around stark naked in all kinds of weather. Perhaps we don’t have an exclusive Cupids day because Cupid has been known to shoot in the dark and miss his mark, dishing out some serious amount of misery in the process.
Every year on February 14th, the self-appointed moral brigade in certain parts of India – including my small town – spring into action and try to nip all ‘romantic action’ in the bud, completely disregarding the fact that the bud of love has flowered a long time ago in the ancient temples of Khajuraho and not from western culture as they claim. They fervently hope these tactics will drive the ghost of St. Valentine back to his grave or to Italy, whichever is closer.
But the Indian public, especially the youth, is openly defiant and definitely not in favor of saying goodbye to Valentine’s day. They may not care that the Kohinoor left India but they are not going to let romance get away so easily.
As I sift through the cards on the rack, I wonder if the moral brigade understands what they are fighting against. How can anyone fight love? And how can one forget that romance has always existed in India since ancient times? Ours is the land of the Kama Sutra, there’s no getting away from the glaring evidence that is literally etched in stone.
The writing on the wall…uh…I mean the etchings on the pillars, indicate that St. Valentine’s trimmings of love are very saintly indeed in comparison, and exist only for a day. On February 15th (or 16th) the cards lie forgotten in a drawer and the red helium hearts look sad and deflated.
I purchase my birthday card and walk out. As I hail an auto-rickshaw, and head home, I reflect how the concept of love has changed over generations.
For my parents, love has always meant standing by each other in sickness and in health, until death will rear its ugly head to part them. Pretty old fashioned when compared to ‘modern love’ (especially the kind that you read about in the The New York Times), but they have fortitude, fidelity and a strong devotion to each other that will last a lifetime and beyond, making them great role models for us.
As for me, I had an arranged marriage and because ours was a fairly modern family, my parents gave me the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for which I will be eternally grateful. Or perhaps they simply knew I would voice my opinion anyway.
Besides, thanks to Ayn Rand’s ‘Howard Roark,’ my notion about love was vaguely revolutionary in nature. Even at that age, I considered ‘falling’ in love to be a foolish pursuit.
Soon after marriage, I followed my husband to the Middle East. As young expatriates in a foreign country, we lived such hectic lives that we had no time to notice Valentine’s day when it came around. Even if we did, I doubt it would have made much difference to us.
Did love follow us there? Not immediately. But we did discover it later and learnt to nurture it over the years.
And like most other boomers of our generation, we shared everything…
From housework to shopping, from childcare to earning.
We held our new born babies and basked in the pride of creating something so beautiful.
We sat up at night to hold a sick child so the other could sleep soundly.
We took time out from our busy schedules to make ten second calls to each other (later it was whatsapp too).
Yes, we looked for love and found it in tedious jobs like scrubbing the kitchen floor or waking up in the middle of the night to change our baby’s diapers. In a country where we were unable to afford domestic help, the gender roles were reversed so many times, that they blurred permanently. We shared the monotony, the exhaustion, the joys, the hopes, the dreams…oh yes, most of all the dreams.
Amidst all this, we had serious spats, after which we thankfully made up. Truthfully, along with the kids we also did our fair share of ‘growing up.’
And we have done this for 30 long years. It was a lot of hard work and we had no help at all from either Cupid or St. Valentine.
Sometime back, with the thought of experimenting with vague notions of romanticism, we went for a fancy candlelight dinner, but discovered it didn’t add much to our already enriched love lives. Moreover, in the dim light, even with our glasses on, it was a bummer to read the menu.
So even if the flowers and gifts don’t come on a particular day, we don’t miss them, as curling up on the couch with a glass of wine beats everything else.
As for romance, it has knocked on our hearts at the most unlikely moments possible. We didn’t hear bells ringing or spot red hearts floating around, but we did feel warmth and shared joy and if that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is.
Btw a bunch of us old friends are meeting on Valentine’s Day. Just so you know, we also meet on Mother’s day, Women’s day, Father’s day, Teacher’s day, every other weekend and many other random days that are not designated to anyone. Designations are irrelevant when it comes to celebrating love, laughter and friendship.