Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day celebrations in India

It was Valentine's yesterday. Phew! Every year this phirang festival comes with a unique set of problems for indians. The indian junta gets divided over whether or not the day should be given its share of celebrations.

Every year, for the last 20 years the indian newspapers have been carrying articles on the origin of the festival. How the day is meant to be an innocent acknowledgement of love- love for your near and dear ones. But in India, up untill then, love was never innocent and acknowledgment of love more so. We indians believed in love being only of the legendary kind ( Shahjahan-Mumtaz Mahal, Heer-Ranjha etc), only of the earth-shaking kinds, not for all and sundry.It was a forbidden fruit not meant to be tasted by all, just a few lucky ones got a taste of it in their lifetimes.The others found a definition for love within the confines of their marriage. Acknowledgement of love happened i.e. if at all it did, only within the 4 walls of the house. In public places most couples got by using subtle symbolic gestures of love.

In this veiled scenario of love, "Valentine's Day" entered with it's ideas of PDA( public displays of affection), turning the indian notion of love on it's head. The "Youngistan" generation suddenly found itself liberated from the chains of undemonstrable love. They now felt free to practise on the streets, if only for a day, all that they had been watching in their beloved Hollywood movies. And that is when the "Bujurgs" in the indian population saw red (pun unintended!). Whoever had heard of or seen such blatant expression of love- gifts, flowers, teddies, dinners, kisses and what not. Was this really love- the enduring kind that they had seen in their day? Or was it just a generation revolting against it's tradition of unexpressive love? Or was it just some card/gift seller making a quick buck at our youngistan's expense?

In this milieu there were some youngsters who took to Valentine's in defiance of everything traditional, some others who took to it under peer pressure- hurriedly finding a valentine to gift a card to, some looked at it as an opportunity to win pleasurable favours from the opposite sex, some others were drawn to it because it made them feel very western celebrating a phirang festival. Whatever their reasons, the ultimate winner turned out to be the card/flower/gift seller/hotelier.In short the festival became a huge commercial success in India. Over time not only the young generation but even the middle-aged happily-married-for-ever-couples fell to its spell, vainly trying to a add a red spark to their dull grey married lives.

Well, does that mean there is more love in the air, in the streets, in the malls, in the houses, in the hearts of the indian people now? Whoever said that? From the looks of it, all that has happened is that there are fewer fights between couples on the 14th of February(it's definitely not cool to fight with your beau when he has just splurged his entire pocket money mid-month on gifts for you. The bickering can wait for the next day). The indian populace has fallen to the commercial spell of Valentine's lock, stock and barrel.

We indians celebrate festivals with a lot of fervour. We have festivals to celebrate every mood, every religion as well as state has its own calendar of festivals for the year. No other country takes as many public holidays to celebrate festivals as we indians do. It definitely says something about our vivacious nature that we take to a phirang festival and celebrate it with more gusto than them.

This cynic would like to pose a few questions though- (1) What is so unique about Valentine's, are not all our festivals about love? (2) If Valentine's is about celebrating love between a couple, how is it different from an anniversary? (3) I agree, the entire world is one and festivals need not be limited by borders, but are we really getting the essence of the festival? (4) Are we not just falling prey to the commercialisation of the festival, is'nt it just about spending money? (5) Is'nt Valentine's one of those festivals that lends itself better to a private celebration rather than a public one?

We can definitely discern and decide how we wish to celebrate our love or for that matter any of our festivals. We can either celebrate them in the proper manner that they were meant to be celebrated in or we can choose to eat off the hands of the commercial enterprises and make our celebrations a show of our money power. Jai Ho!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Do actions speak louder than thoughts?

I read an article today that weighed a person's actions against his thoughts. Do a person's actions alone decide his goodness or should the genuinity of his thoughts and feelings count. To elaborate, is it okay if we perform "good" deeds however disgruntled we may be while doing so; whatever ulterior motives we may have while doing so; whatever thoughts and feelings may motivate the act? For ultimately the world only concerns itself with acknowledging a good deed. You are good and honourable for the world because "actions speak louder than words". Does it then become okay when the page3 types indulge in some "social work" to be in their coveted p3 space? For they are doing a good deed whatever the motivation. Then what is the difference between them and a Mother Teresa or a Baba Amte? Why are they then not spoken of in the same exalted tones as the highly awarded Mother Teresa and Baba Amte? I am in no way pushing the cause of the p3 people but there has to be something amiss somewhere. If actions are all that count then the acts of these differently-motivated people should be at par. But they are most definitely not. So does not then the thought or motivation behind the act become prime. Should not then the thoughts or feelings leading to an act be given weightage? For these two great social workers acted on what they felt and felt with their heart what they chose to act on. And that is what made them great. So can we then conclude that genuineness of thought behind an act leads to a higher state of being.

I was part of a course recently that spoke of completing with the people in your life for healthy relationships. Completions involve a complete owning up of all past hurts, negative feelings, disappointments etc vis-a-vis the same people. Is it really possible to live a life of such high integrity? Apart from the high risk of losing the love of your loved ones after owning up to all the negative thoughts that crossed your mind regarding them i think there lies the practical problem of mouthing completionns 24x7. So does it then not make us all hypocrites where we are mouthing platitudes of love but at the same time thinking negatively of our loved ones. Not a high state of being at all.

I have a healthy relationship with my mother-in-law, we don't get into each other's hair a lot, respect each other's privacy so to say. But if i were to admit to her that in the initial years of my marriage i found her a "Lalita Pawar", dreading her totally, i think it could be the end of our happily working relationship.I may be playing it safe by not completing with her on this count, but i think the philosophy to follow here should be "let sleeping dogs be". There has to be a limit to the extent to which you wish to complete with people, YOU have to draw a line on that. A very convenient state of being.

Purity of thought and feeling is a highly admirable quality, something that all of us should strive for. Once you attain control over your thoughts and feelings you come close to being a "Mahapurush". Noble thoughts will lead to noble deeds and that is when the dilemma ends for you. Jai Ho to that!