Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

In my first year of college, I used to travel from Thane to VT. On one such trip, I happened to sit across a woman. She looked very old to my 16-year-old eyes, but she must have been only in her 50s. She had silver–grey hair and she was clad in a simple cotton sari.

It was her reading material that caught my eye. The coach was crowded with all the women making the sort of noises that people always do, but she couldn’t care less. She was lost in the book. Now I love books as you must know if you have been with me thus far, but a Mills & Boon romance was not something that I would be caught dead reading, as the phrase goes. And she was totally engrossed in it.

The cover showed the regulation nubile young thing caught in a passionate embrace with the brash, arrogant hero. As she read, the M&B devotee reddened, blushed and seemed to tingle all over. Whatever the brash, arrogant millionaire, pilot or business tycoon was doing to the beautiful and innocent secretary, piano teacher or governess, it was as if it was being done to her. You could actually imagine what she was reading by the expression on her face.

Whatever her life must have been, the paperback in her hand had transformed it. With the paperback in her hand, and she held it with care as if she were holding molten lava, she was free to imagine the hero as pursuing and wooing her.

By and by, those sitting around me caught sight of her, and we all, sufficiently smug, I am ashamed to admit, began to sit back and enjoy the entertainment. We sniggered quietly, totally amused by the spectacle of an elderly woman making a fool of herself.

She was completely taken up by the romance of love. A thought at once shocking and sobering for me, a teenager fresh out of school, and those around me, working women, caught up in the nasty hustle and bustle of life.

Those were the days when stores selling love cards/teddy bears/novelties/chocolates/jewellery etc made a killing every Valentine’s day (V-day). I don’t see that kind of aggressive selling anymore. Then again, maybe I am not the target consumer anymore.

Back then, a couple of weeks before V-day, these stores would unleash a blitzkrieg of advertising. Nobody who was even half in love could escape the relentless and ruthless hard sell of love.

For singles who happened to stroll into such stores during pre-V-day times, the immediate impression was of being in the wrong place entirely. The whole ambience was so cheesy, it became increasingly difficult for people like me to see anything but red. And I mean that in more ways than one. Shops would stock red balloons, red ribbons, red teddies, chocolates in red wrapping, the works.

Poor Doordarshan of course never marked the day, but the few English satellite TV channels would proceed to unleash every soppy, mushy flick in their collections upon our already ravaged senses.

It seemed like war was being waged on singles, who were not worthy of contributing to the coffers of these hawkers of love merchandise.

Who even knew who the real so-called St Valentine was? Just some ordinary bloke whose big day was marked all over the world. A chap who had managed the rare feat of being able to go viral in pre-Facebook and Twitter days.

But, of course, the offensive worked. Suddenly we would be greeted with the sight of apparently sane and level-headed people being transformed, without any warning, into moony-eyed idiots, hooking up with the most unlikely candidates just to live up to the pressure of being a couple on V-day.

No wonder that a certain coloured ideology went ballistic in its opposition of V-day. I opposed their methods wholeheartedly and still do, but at that time I remember thinking that if there were a way of going underground and lying low while the V-day carnival played itself out, it might not be such a bad thing.

My three closest friends in college and I, with no love life to speak of, remained staunchly on the outskirts of this circus. We would watch in dismay as everywhere, college canteen, cinema hall and shopping bazaars included (this was pre-shopping mall era in Bombay), became playing fields for V-day celebrations, with public displays of affection in full swing. Thankfully the classroom was spared.

It was only after V-day was over that the madness would slowly be shed like a hangover and sanity would return. A lot of provisional couples would be seen to part ways amicably. Many would shake their heads in disbelief, wondering what on earth it was, temporary insanity or hay fever, that had taken possession of their minds.

After all, what was love in the context of V-day? Merely romance. In other words, the smallest hint of love multiplied by a whole lot of unreal expectations. Classic setting for a piece of fiction. Maybe the M&B devotee from the train had it right after all when she let an imaginary hero become too real for her.

A part of me would insist that if this day were truly dedicated to love, it should not be appropriated by lovers alone. After all, there are so many different types of love.

Not everybody is privileged enough to hear violins or guitars or harpsichords go off as a prelude to falling in love. There are first-time fathers who hear their child’s first feeble cry, and know that they will be forever wrapped around that little finger.

There is the young mother’s love that will set aside a just-started meal to clean a child’s poop and having cleaned the little one and made it as good as new, proceed with the remainder of the meal without losing a shred of its appetite.

There is the love of the parents that will profess to have no special fondness for the only remaining treat that the child wants a second helping of.

There is the love between siblings which though played out within the confines of the home with slaps and pinches, hair pulling and name calling, and pillow fights stands out in loyal defence if another should attack one of its own.

There is the love between old friends, three-score-and-more years, in which nothing need be said, because everything can be understood without the aid of words.

There is the love that humans share with their four-legged friends, who remain unquestioning and loyal at all times, their tails ever wagging.

There is the love that begins as friendship and then grows into something more.

There is the love between husbands and wives that having traversed the gamut from excitement to monotony, seeks to renew itself, the love that does not stop holding hands, even when it disagrees.

There is the love between the very young, in which every look, every sigh, gets magnified in intensity, in which passionate lovers cannot imagine anyone else's love as being as pristine as theirs.

There is the love of the elderly which is stronger for having gone through a whole lifetime together, for having endured so much together. It is a love in which the passion may have abated, but the feelings re-arrange themselves into something infinitely soothing and calm.

There is the love that makes a plain woman beautiful and invests an ugly man with charm.

There is the love that grown children have for elderly parents, in which every infirmity of the parents is treated with patience and understanding.

There is the love that does not impose its own will upon the loved one and the love that is tinged with loss. There is the love that loves even when it receives nothing in return. There is the love that expects nothing in return.

Love such as this must be nurtured and honoured. It must be safeguarded against bitterness and betrayal, against weariness and insult, against neglect and scorn.

Love such as this manages to plod on day in and day out, thriving, surviving. It is not averse to enjoying candle-lit dinners and receiving expensive gifts but it does not always have time for them. It is far too busy cleaning runny noses, wiping tears, washing sores, and doing a thousand unpleasant chores that need to be done, long after the euphoria and exhilaration have fallen asleep on the job.

This V-day, after the excitement of the celebrations dies down, spare a few moments to think of all the loves of your life — romantic, maternal, paternal, childlike, platonic, spousal, passionate. And say a prayer of thanks for them.

Celebrate love by all means, but show it through some personal act of loving kindness. And not just on this one day of the year.


  1. A friend of mine shared this article on facebook. Its a beautiful article. Thank you Cynthia. Wish you a year filled with love and gratitude.

  2. Thank you, Sujatha. I wish you a great year too filled with love that endures.

  3. Its a pleasure to read your articles! Keep writing! :)

  4. Hi Nupur, I am very glad to know that you liked the article. Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment.

  5. Hi Cynthia...

    I might be new to your followers list.. but have already become your fan just by reading your last 2-3 blogs! To quote that you really write well will be an understatement! :) No really, Ur blogs are quite engaging and touching so far....
    Will also catch up on ur other posts too... soon.
    I also used to write.. but have written just 2 blogs and have given up... facing what they say 'writer's block' I guess...:)
    Do read it, if you have time (http://mamta4u.blogspot.in/)
    I started it just as a try and to experience what 'bloggong' is all about.. but then could not live upto it... Mebe I shud read more often to get inspired :)

  6. Hi Mamta,
    I always make time to read a fellow-blogger's posts and so I headed straight to your blog as soon as I read your post. I have left my comments on your blog. Now it is your turn to check it out when you have the time.
    Thanks for reading my posts and letting me have feedback on them. I look forward to having you around more often.

  7. Cynthia, I remember you narrating the train incident when we were at Netscribes. We were all collectively turning down our noses at the 'silly' M&B fans. The only one fiercely fighting the cause was Preethy Ann Kochummen, who had devoured every M&B ever written! That was when you said this story and it was as hilarious then, as it was now, reading it on your blog :) Of course you write very well. Keep up the good work of jogging these lovely memories. I'm proceeding directly to read your other articles.

  8. Hi Harsha,
    Thank YOU for jogging my memories. Your comment reminded me of the incident and how Preethy, my old discovery, stood up to defend M&Bs. How surprised the rest of us were to know that her kind existed, somebody willing to stand up and speak out in favour of M&Bs. We had some good times in Netscribes, didn't we?
    Thank you very much for your comment. Stick around and read some of the others and don't forget to tell me what memories they jogged up for you. Cheers!



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