Our Valentineji


Our Valentineji

St Valentine has now acquired an all-consuming Indian alter-ego

Some time in the last decade, Indians fell head over heels for a tangible expression of love. We were openly courted by market strategists who convinced us that our romance was reluctant unless it had the sparkle of diamonds and the froth of champagne. A fatal attraction began to simmer between the insanely successful gimmicks of Valentine’s Day and Indian consumers.

Heady on market optimism, we were anyway looking for new me-too ways to join global consumer herds. Valentine’s Day became that reason: a pictionary of cards, cakes and chocolates; roses that looked plumped by Botox, pubs with longer happy hours and Cupid in red — the showstopper of this road show. Mushy messages became spokespersons for tongue-tied lovers, some of us even got enslaved by the freedom to become private in public.

Liberation has always needed a language, in this case, it also got a body language. As the business of love zoomed, mofussil towns too buzzed with love discounts and the red heart no longer beat only in English.

Now, the love affair has morphed into a consummation carnival. Translated into Hinglish and Tamlish, Bengalee and Bhojpurie. A study by the Insights Team on Google points out that Assam is ahead of all other states searching for love quotes, lyrics and messages, while Kerala tops the search for Valentine’s Day gifts. The colour red has a vermillion temper and a Big Bazaar largesse. Instead of getting colonised by St Valentine, we have localised him into Valentineji.

But Valentineji is no caring lover, he is a possessive monster. Woe betide you if you ask for space in this relationship. There is none. There is a Valentine tip lurking everywhere, on flights, in fights, even on the lapel of the biryani delivery boy. If you don’t like red roses, try blue frogs.

If you are tired of quoting John Donne, take inspiration from Faiz Ahmed Faiz on radio. If you are emotionally tender, get a Teddy to talk to you in the voice of your partner (or Shah Rukh Khan if you wish). You can send a love proposal with a voice link; buy an anti-bug plant if your lover doesn’t like insects (seriously); get free beer and cheer with two tickets to the zoo on February 14.

Archies has brought out love cards for gay couples, while the Leviathan love industry has conspiratorially roped in singles. Like a therapist, it tells you of the dozen uplifting things to do if you are single on Valentine’s Day. Learn to cook pasta, listen to Lady Gaga while staring at the setting sun in Odisha; get forty per cent off on a gym membership (called a Singles Valentine’s discount).

A problem arises if you are an inconspicuous but intense romantic with little use for rosy red and baby Ted. You say what you mean and mean what you say, but how do you confess to love and longing without sounding like an Archies idiot? With so many romantic nuances controlled by this commercial campaign of love managed by professional emoters, there is a crisis of meaning, imagination and expression. Valentine-disinclined adults now cringe when harangued by Teddy Day, Rose Day, Proposal Day and Sacrifice Day. It is a jarring assault on love as an evolving realisation, an all-consuming distraction. Lovers are bumbling poets and bathroom singers not ace lyricists reading from Javed Akhtar scripts in Sonu Nigam’s voice. Simplifying romance has robbed it of its compelling unpredictability. Now to say I Love You without using these three fatigued words minus a soft toy, cake, chocolate and a personalised ghazal is going to pose a challenge. Who knows, it might, like memorable love stories provoke a new rebellion.

That would be a just gift for Valentineji.