Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How do I love thee?

For the February issue of Palki 6, I simply had to pen down my thoughts on the one of the most celebrated saints this part of the century: Valentine.

How do I love thee?

“Let me count the ways.”

The world will soon gear up to welcome spring. The little city of Loveland in Colorado, USA, will be flooded with cards which will be postmarked with the city's name. Your card will proclaim 'with love from Loveland'. Romance reigns. It is that time.

In reality it is the goods in the stores that tell you fairly accurately as to which part of the year you are in. As far as stores go, Christmas rules the roost ofcourse, but Valentine's must come in a close second. St. Nicholas and St. Valentine must be chin-wagging in heaven and sighing deeply at the merchandise sold in their names.

On the other side of the globe in my hometown, Bombay, it is the time of college insanity. Students prepare and save for Rose days and the like. It’s the season to spend your parents’ money and raise profits for Hallmark. It’s the time to load your dreamgirl with teddies carrying red hearts and trinkets with inscribed words designed to touch the hardest souls. All this will happen alongside demonstrations by folks claiming this to be the result of some kind of western vulgarism plague. But the style of celebration today may yet have its merits.

My friend Badrikedar a.k.a. Keds, in his younger days, totally besotted by a wonderful fairy of an English major, used to spend his waking hours under the college peepul tree composing poems for his lady love. All was going well, until he decided to gather enough courage to give her his poems and proclaim his love. The papers changed hands and she sashayed on to her next class. A harried Keds walked around nervously, smoking nearly ten cigarettes till he caught a glimpse of her strolling down with her giggling friends. When she reached him, she paused, handed him a sheaf of papers back, smiled and ran to catch up with the rest. Several minutes later, Keds, having recovered from the effect of her smile, opened the papers with trembling hands, to find the poems he had given her. This was accompanied by corrections in red ink, all over the pages. The only thing missing was a grade F- or some such at the top. It takes a lion heart to love again.

If Valentine’s day brouhaha was the norm at that time, he could have spared himself several hours of composing poems, and instead merely run out and bought her a stuffed toy. Granted, she may have still snuffed him out, but what girl can resist a plush soft toy? At some point, the toy may have worked its wonders on her, sitting on her bedroom dresser and she may have come around. Keds will never know.The immense pressure to buy gets stronger year by year. The strange thing is that after an exposure to the excessive pressure to confuse wants with needs, not only does one develop immunity to the disease but cultivate an overwhelming compulsion to participate as well. It is like gravity which takes over inevitably when one is pushed off a ledge. Nothing one can do about it.

As a ritual, a friend of mine curses this time of the year, every year. But cursing serves no good purpose for him. The bloke definitely loves his wife, and is probably romantic enough in his own way. That however does not suffice in February, when one has to be romantic in the manner decided by the advertisements. Well nigh seventy years of age, he is still compelled by the newly conjured social norms to forfeit huge sums of money on posies, chocolates and shiny gifts. Not to mention the humiliation of having to wear socks with shocking pink hearts on it. Some things have to be endured for peace around the house and social acceptance.

Meanwhile, the price of red roses continues to shoot up every year from $6 a dozen to $66 at the cheaper stores. TV commercials, not to be beat, join in the essential con game. The pathway to a girl’s heart is not through her stomach or any other part of her anatomy but through the doors of the jeweler, Jared. Do not buy a diamond and you stand the risk of your love not lasting forever. Or worse still, you would probably get the couch for the night. Then there are the innumerable adverts for the quintessential losers, urging them to get ready in time for this year's Valentine's day. Hoo boy, if you are going to get it this one day in the year, don’t let a cold sore spoil it. Prepare for the big V-day with Herpecin. After all you may not get the chance for a kiss for a long time to come.

Restaurants like a peculiar combination of the sexy hooker and the sweet grandma, are dressed in red and pink and dimmed lights. School cafeterias, not to be outdone, reserve makeshift corners for this event. You can order your daily burgers and fries and for a small price, a server will deliver it to your table, set in a darkened corner, and an accompanied song. The full enchilada. Then who cares if the singer cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Or if the flower on your table is drooping, embarrassed at the situation it finds itself in. The lights and bling around gives a new meaning to the phrase "blind date".

You are with the one who, you think, will stick around your lifetime.

“Apparently”, as Bertram Wooster puts it, in a Wodehouse classic, “there's something in the air, either the ozone or the phosphates or something, which makes you sit up and take notice.”

Wheee! Love is in the air.
(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)



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