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!