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The untold story of desi Valentine’s Days that unceremoniously inspire love
Abhirup Dam  8th Feb 2014

Eid festivities in swing.

nother Valentine's Day knocks on the door. Liberal-economy-India is all set to celebrate it with much fanfare — read cards, gifts, heart-shaped cupcakes, special dinners — and, of course, lots of love. We all know the story, the hagiographic account of one saint who ministered forbidden marriages of lovers and his martyrdom which has transformed this once liturgical celebration out of many, to be the day for love. Yet metropolitan existence worldwide cannot imagine its calendar without this day. We have also been told the story of how it is a notorious exercise on the part of card and gift companies to boost their sales. Righto. As if urban individuals do not indulge in unmitigated corporate consumption on other days of the year. So what is it about Valentine's Day that perhaps goes beyond the material display of affection? I would like to think it is like the 100 days of Happiness thing that is now doing the rounds online and about which you will read in a following page — perhaps a modest (sarcasm intended) effort to quantify love? Let us say grace. But enough of this cynicism. You, dear reader will not be subjected to my disregard for St Valentine and his exploits. If it makes you genuinely happy, go ahead and buy the biggest teddy bear for your loved one.

But let me steal a march in trying to weave a narrative for you with stories culled from our everyday existence in Indian urbanity. Stories that are equally guilty of romanticised reminiscence, and yet are somehow grounded in our own childhoods, our own adolescences, our own stepping into adulthood. Asiya Islam, in an article in The Sunday Guardian, titled Eid in Aligarh: Memories of mehendi and teasing, fondly remembers the chand raat of Eid in the city of Aligarh. She apprises us of the almost ritualistic teasing that young women, with fresh heena still drying on their hands, were greeted with on the streets of Aligarh. Young men, dressed in their best would not miss the chance to brush against girls in the narrow gallis. Islam also writes that this banter was never innocent, but never did it constitute any sort of harmful infringement of privacy. Festivals in India have always been occasions on which young people take advantage of the suspension of daily protocols and often indulge in such romantic exchanges. Sadly, in a time that has witnessed some of the worst instances of gendered violence, such romanticisation hardly seems digestible. But can we eradicate misogyny with policing how young people interact? The answer is definitely not.Image 2nd

Every year on Janmashtami in Mumbai, there is a spectacular feat that takes place. Hoards of young men form a human ladder to reach an earthen pot filled with buttermilk, among cries of Govinda ala re (Here comes Govinda). According to mythology, the prolific and casanova Krishna had a strange obsession with bursting pots of water and buttermilk that women used to carry with a catapult. This myth forms the basis of this observance. Parul Khanna, a copywriter based out of Mumbai says, "While I was growing up in a Dadar locality, Janmashtami was a rather exciting day. A day when girls from the locality would gather to watch the guys pile up on each other, stumble, fall, and try again, finally managing to break the pot. It was like indulging in some sort of voyeurism, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a day when a certain amount of impish delight was sought in catching someone's eye or stealing a smile. But I cannot be sure that the festival retains that comportment today." In Bengal, the Ras and the Jhulan, two other festivals dedicated to the exploits of the paramour god not only occupy space in literature as instances when people find themselves in the throes of love, but also has passed into popular memory as festivals that allow this sociability. The festival of Holi has also come to represent, even in popular culture, a day which symbolises young love.

It seems there was no dearth of Valentine's Days in this country — the same country that spawns fascist elements who not only issue threatening and hate messages against women on 14 February, but also perpetrate heinous violence — so why not one more? At least that represents a semblance of a permissive and inclusive culture. But one needs to understand that to extricate the everydayness from the social interaction of men and women, marks it as an "event", rendering it into a pathological need rather than an emotional one. We can only hope that like my childhood in Kolkata, where on Saraswati Puja, young girls dressed in yellow saris and boys dressed in crisp kurta pajamas shared their first moment of intimacy, Valentine's Day succeeds in breaking the discursive barriers of love.

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