In our country, Valentine’s Day is as much about love and mush, as it is about moral policing and vandalism. Year after year, self-appointed guardians of our culture, who I highly doubt would pass a trivia test on Indian history, take it upon themselves to harass couples, shave heads, shame and even forcibly marry off unwitting participants. Today should be no different. They would be out there in the public parks, and college grounds, in their western jeans, mouthing English slogans, to keep the Indian youth sanskaari! The irony! With Hindutva sweeping the nation recently, the madness has reached the authorities as well. Lucknow University declared a holiday today, to keep students from participating in the corrupting celebration of love. No matter how much they resist though, it is hard to police Valentine’s Day out of India for good.
In the Beginning
Much of our imagination, in India, is molded by the pervasive Bollywood. We eat, live, and dream Bollywood. We are inspired and provoked, triggered and avenged on the silver screen. So, it was not surprising that when in the early ’90s, Bollywood took a turn from being ‘angry and young’, to ‘cheesy and madly in love’, the entire generation followed suit.
The credit of importing Valentine’s Day must be given to Yash Chopra. It took him a dreamy Madhuri Dixit, a sheer, pastel dress, and a ten-minute segment in a gift shop, back in 1997, to introduce a new celebration in the country. Thanks to that one sequence, a whole generation of Indians dreamt of a serendipitous rendezvous with their ‘chosen’ Valentine. The gift exchange followed soon, promoted vigorously by Hallmark and ilk. The Chopra house packaged Valentine’s Day in an easy-to-digest, ready-to-eat consumer packet – and the country gobbled up.
In the India of 2018
The extreme right-wing activists, especially the Hindu Mahasabha, has always been vocal and aggressive against the celebration. Unlike small groups in Japan, who protest against Valentine’s Day because of its devastating carbon footprint, the Indian activists are against the Western influence. They believe Valentine’s Day promotes ‘lust’ and fuels practices like ‘love jihad’. In the early millennium, under a centrist Government, these sentiments met with open derision from celebrities like Mr. Shahrukh Khan himself, who stood up for the celebration of love. But, the India of 2018 is a completely different world. While the current Government hasn’t yet openly supported any vandalism, they are party to the nuisance in their marked silence and lack of action.
What do the Vandals have to gain?
Not much, beyond cheap political mileage. Hindutva is not a religion, it is a political ideology being propagated by a group of militants in the country. In their exalted opinion, commercialization of love in the form of a celebration is sinful. They are the merchants of hatred, using the capitalist expression of love to their advantage. This is far from the ancient Hindu philosophy of celebration of love and sex both, as is depicted in many of India’s venerable temples. In fact, the Hindu handbook of sex, Vatsayana’s Kamasutra, is still considered the best commentary on sex in the world. As I said, I doubt if the protestors really understand Indian culture and heritage.
Valentine’s Day is here to Stay!
However, Shahrukh Khan is too deep in the veins of the romantic Indian for her to give up on Valentine’s Day. It is possible that the continued aggression demonstrated by the activists has furthered the resolve of the Indian youth. But, whatever the reason, Valentine’s Day is now an integral part of the urban Indian festival machinery. The consumer/gift market, entertainment, and media market all have high stakes and would want to keep the tradition alive. Instead of the Western obsession with a ‘romantic date’ on Valentine’s Day, India has a more ‘married’ response to the day. We are satisfied with the lot we have and spread Valentine cheer among anyone we love – from our parents to our puppy dog!
So, let the haters burn. Here is a very Happy Valentine’s Day to you, readers.
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