Monday, 30th October 2017

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Why are we so good at imitating the rubbish of the West?

They have other things too, such as strong verbs

  • Published 15.02.19, 9:42 AM
  • Updated 15.02.19, 9:42 AM
  • 2 mins read
Love has nothing to do with roses and hearts, often made of plastic iStock Photo

For years I felt quite offended by Valentine’s Day. I think my problem was primarily aesthetic. I hated the iconography of this festival that took root in India about two decades ago, quite suddenly, after the economic liberalisation of the country. I hated the red roses and throbbing hearts that appeared like rashes on every surface of reading matter and elsewhere that this day occasioned. They made my blood boil although they looked bloody enough themselves.

Roses and hearts make my blood boil also in the WhatsApp ‘Good Morning’ messages. They leap at me with such violence, these floral orgies. I delete them.

O Rose thou art sick.

But there being no keyboard to real life, I could not delete Valentine’s Day. My second problem with it was political and cultural. I seethed at the way an entire nation, with its own long history and tradition, jumped up at the arrival of the roses and hearts and greeting cards and heart-shaped diamond pendants and embraced them whole-heartedly. This was another flow of trash from the West in liberalised India.

Why are we so good at imitating the rubbish of the West? They have other things too, such as strong verbs. Why do we have to express our deepest emotion with symbols borrowed from an obviously consumerist American invention when we have had perfectly robust love lives through centuries without their aid? What’s our love got to do with roses and hearts, often made of plastic? This is identity and politics and postcolonialism (though I never understand whether the “post” in the word signifies a continuity or disruption with the “colonial”), and we are truly at the receiving end.

This was also somewhat the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh argument against Valentine’s Day. But let me put mine in perspective. I strongly believe women have a right to beer.

My feelings against V-Day were so strong that they interfered with my personal life. I refused every Valentine’s gift, arguing that it was the right postcolonial gesture on my part. I refused Valentine’s dinners, as I would not participate in a marketplace in the name of love. A man who liked me called me self-centred, intellectual and also stupid, and I did not know which was the greatest abuse.

But over the last few years, I feel a change creeping over me. I don’t mind Valentine’s Day so much anymore.

Am I old? Yes. Am I sillier? Yes. Am I more accepting? Umm, yes, but I still feel as belligerent as I ever did about being on Facebook and using emoticons.

I suspect that something more forceful is at work. I have — and here I use the American verb consciously for its emphasis — gotten over love. I am done with it.

It is a function of age too, yes, but now that I look back on romantic love, and all that it entails, I wonder if it did happen at all. At best it was a fleeting, insubstantial thing, good while it lasted, but gone. It is going away forever. What it may leave is a patina that acquires more details over time, or just some detritus, like broken bits of the plastic hearts, to be swept away off the floor.

Other kinds of love exist, which do not find a name, or a register, or a ritual. They stay. But not romantic love. Not for long. It only lives on in literature, art and music. If America invented Valentine’s Day, many more powers got together to create the fiction of love over a long period of time. It is a far greater industry built on a far greater illusion.

So if love does not exist, how does its little ceremony matter? How do the roses and hearts, its poor little instruments, matter either? Those who will make money will make money. I might as well order a heart-shaped red velvet cake for my daughter and celebrate Valentine’s Day with her.

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