The brouhaha surrounding Valentine’s Day

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Is there really a reason for setting aside a special day to honour romantic relationships. If a romantic liaison is strong and loving, potentially every day is a Valentine’s Day
Syed Mehdi Momin

This writer is no fan of Valentine’s Day. In fact the day irritates me. Be that as it may let me tell the readers about my first introduction to it. I am not sure but most probably it was 1984. I was 13 (so you know I am a bit old but age has nothing to do with what I feel about the occasion) and a voracious reader of crime stories–both fiction and nonfiction.

I came across a rather long article on the true story of Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. On February 14, 1929, hit men belonging to Chicago’s infamous crime boss, Al Capone, gunned down seven members of a rival gang. Before that I didn’t even hear of Valentine’s Day. While my Christian friends must have known about the significance of the day, I guess most people of my age and even older only had vague idea about the day and what it meant.

After reading the article my curiosity was piqued and I decided to find out more about the day–believe me it was no easy task in those pre-Internet days. However, my persistence paid off and I learnt that the day was associated with romantic love in the time of poet Geoffrey Chaucer during the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which people expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering cakes or chocolates, and sending cards (known as “valentines”).

However, in Bangladesh I hardly saw anyone celebrating the day with any fervour until the early 1990s. However just about that time two famous gift/card shops opened their outlets here. Exchanging cards, small gifts (especially red panda dolls, and chocolates became popular among young couples in love, and of course, having romantic dinners at good restaurants. Soon the older married couples joined in the fun. There was this Bangla magazine–now defunct–decided to make the celebration of Valentine’s Day in a big way their mission, for reasons I have not yet been able to fathom. And it was with missionary zeal that the magazine published several issues dedicated to the hitherto little known occasion in Bangladesh.

However, Valentine’s Day really took off in a big way in this millennium. It is in the last 18 years that the popularity of the day became phenomenal.

Coming back to the question posed to me–well, I answered in the negative. Like some people–interestingly belonging to both the liberal and conservative circles– I do not consider celebrating Valentine’s Day as patronising ‘oposhonskriti’ or invasion of foreign culture. In a modern society people must have the right to adopt any culture they like–of course within reason. If someone prefers listening to the Material Girl rather than Runa Laila, it is their choice. If someone prefers reading Harold Robbins rather than Humayun Ahmed, he cannot be blamed.

And well, Bangladesh is supposed to be a free country. I simply can’t believe that celebrating this day represents a dire threat to traditional Bengali values and as I always look at conspiracy theories with some contempt I do not accept that the occasion represents part of a conspiracy by the West to destroy our culture. And in no way do I oppose Valentine’s Day simply because it is associated with Christian theology.

Yet I do have problems with the occasion. My big problem with “Days” like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Friend’s Day,– and so on and so forth is the very concept of dedicating a single day of the year to those in love. And I detest those maddeningly banal cards with espousing the corniest of emotions. Isn’t love something that ought to be cherished every day? And if for some reason one doesn’t feel like giving the partner plastic or even fresh flowers on February 14, is that person committing a crime?

And what about the countless single men and women? The whole Valentine’s Day paraphernalia is a disappointing reminder to them that they don’t have that “special someone” in their life. Then there are those drama queens. Yes, I mean those single people who use the day as an excuse to whine about their pathetic lives. It’s really painful listening to a single friend blabbering on about how they are never going to find true love.

For married people too the day can be a curse. Someone told me “I’ve been married for 15 years and I still feel the stress to “make something extravagant happen” on Valentine’s Day.

The pressure doesn’t come from my wife, but from everyone else who asks me (and my wife gets similar questions, too), “What big surprise are you planning for your wife this year?” “How many roses is she getting this year?” “You know girls love diamonds, are you giving her some?” And on and on. The second she or I hint at doing something “low-key” on Valentine’s Day, the eyes start to roll. It is said that the event started out as a special day intended to bring couples together.

Maybe, but it has been transformed into a commercial spectacle peddled to us by florists, greeting card companies, jewellery stores and makers of stuffed animals. Of course, I have nothing against being romantic or expressing feelings to the person one loves. However why someone should be required to do so on February 14? This date has absolutely zero connection to most of us. The hoopla around the day has become so big that each year on February 14 we are in essence commanded to be romantic. I am actually surprised that why more people don’t consider Valentine’s Day as artificial, contrived and absurdly overly commercialised.

And at times I am freaked out by the obsession with the colour red. There are red balloons, hearts and teddy bears everywhere. Just for your information in many parts of the world, blue is considered to be the colour of love. It symbolises trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven, technically everything you want from love.

Apparently all Bangladeshi entertainment channels will be showing marathons of romantic dramas on the big day. Why should everyone be forced to suffer through syrupy lovey dovey themes and mawkishly sentimental stale dialogues? For me I’d rather watch an action flick on another channel. And just by the way Valentine’s Day has a muddled history. Some historians claim it was created in 469 when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 a day to honour St. Valentine. One legend contends that Valentine was a Christian martyr executed for standing up to the Roman emperor who wanted to ban soldiers from getting married. Yet another tale claims he was executed because of his Christian beliefs and signed his farewell note to his beloved:

“From Your Valentine.” Personally speaking we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. We do give each other gifts any time of the year. If my wife goes to the mall to buy some household stuff and come upon an after shave I like she may buy it for me.

I may do a similar thing. Of course we celebrate our birthdays. Never too flashy though. We do celebrate our togetherness on our anniversary. We believe that a couple’s marriage day or the day the two met or some such significant days are the ones to observe.

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