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|February 15, 1997||
Why Valentine? Let us celebrate Manmadhan, the Hindu god of love!Once more, it is Valentine's Day. Last year, both my daughters scrambled after Valentine's Day cards. This time, the tradition is kept alive by the younger daughter, the elder one having gone abroad for her studies. As Valentine's Day approaches, there are more telephone calls, whispers and giggles.
Until recently, I did not know the 'importance' of this occasion. The only Valentines I was familiar with were the English batsman, B A Valentine, and the West Indian left-arm spinner, Alf Valentine who, along with his pal, Sonny Ramadhin, devastated the opposition during the 1950s and were immortalised in the Calypsos of that era. (If Sonny did not get you out, then our pal Al will...)
But the Valentine who inspired Valentine's Day was someone different, someone who had nothing to do with the glorious game of cricket. In fact, he was a saint. St Valentine was the bishop of Terni who was martyred in Rome around 270 AD. Unfortunately, his name is found missing from the calendar of saints. Valentine's Day falls on February 14 and the custom of exchanging cards with romantic messages seems to have more to do with the mid-February Roman festival of Lupercalia.
As a staunch believer in our ancient culture and tradition, I am not very happy that our young people exchange romantic greetings on an occasion associated with a Christian saint or a Roman festival. Whey shouldn't such an occasion be nationalised? For instance, our epics are full of stories about our own love god, Manmadhan and his consort, Radhi.
Manmadhan was in the habit of shooting arrows made of fragrant flowers at his victims, making them fall in love. Somewhat like Cupid of Greek legend. Unfortunately, Manmadhan once fooled around with Shiva, the Angry Young God, who was not known to be particularly romantic. On being struck by the romantic arrow, Shiva reacted strongly. He opened his third eye, discharged the requisite fire reducing poor Manmadhan to ashes.
I do not know when this exactly happened but it would be nice to celebrate the martyrdom of Manmadhan as our version of Valentine's Day. Young people could send postcards with romantic messages or publish messages in newspapers. Frankly speaking, I am in favour of the cards because there is something impersonal in newspaper messages which read, 'To Bittu, with all my love, remember me on this Valentine's Day, Bittu.' I do not see anything romantic in these messages, but newspapers make a lot of money carrying these messages in their ad columns.
I am told that senders of such cards are not supposed to sign their names. But my daughters blithely sign their names on the many cards they send their admirers. Reading Dickens's Pickwick Papers, I discovered that the irrepressible Sam Weller sent a love-lorn message to his girlfriend, the housemaid Mary, and signed the card 'Your love-sick, Pickwick'. Weller went for the rhyming effect too!
Of course, such communication was unheard of in my younger days. Both in school and college, boys seldom talked to girls, let alone sent romantic cards. We were not even aware of Valentine's Day. If any of us had dared to send a card with a romantic message to the girl of our dreams, 10 to one the girl would have turned it over to her parents and no amount of pleading that the message was an offshoot of an ancient, noble custom would have cut any ice with the elders. The issue would have been referred to the college principal who would have promptly rusticated the student from college.
Yet, occasionally, we did try to exchange notes with girls in college. But these had more to do with our studies and it was only the boldest and bravest amongst us who collected enough courage to ask for the chemistry or physics notes from a girl. What if the girl refused? What if she snapped, "What were you doing in class? Why don't you collect the notes from your male friends?" When that happened, the ribbing from friends increased.
Very, very rarely would one of the girls ask for your notes, particularly if you were a topper in class. Then, you were transported to seventh heaven and made sure all your friends knew about the transaction. When the notes came back from the girl, you searched the papers thoroughly, looking for messages like, "Meet me behind the Krishna temple at 6 pm." But nothing like that ever happened.
The only other occasion when messages were exchanged was at the end of term, when autograph books were used to convey and receive messages. Normally, the prettiest girl in the class received the highest number of autograph books from the boys. She returned them after writing in them the most bland messages like, 'A stitch in time saves nine'; 'Time and tide waits for no man' and so on.
I expected my autograph book to be returned with messages like, 'Heart to heart, though far apart, my love to you will never depart.' What I got instead was a cryptic message urging me to pray to God and help the poor.
I do not think that there is anything wrong with exchanging Valentine's Day cards. It is nothing but harmless fun. But there are agencies in India like the Rashtriya Jagran Manch or militant farmers groups in Karnataka which might view the cards as symbols of western economic and cultural imperialism like Coke, McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken. They would, no doubt, like to make a bonfire of these cards. The newspapers would report these developments on their front pages and the issue may even be discussed in Parliament, leading to Opposition walkouts. Love and romance are sensitive issues in India and, when linked to issues like western imperialism, could turn explosive.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier
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