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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thoughts about Valentine's Day

I think I can already visualise some eyebrows going up. :-)

Raja talking about Valentine's Day? Hmmm...

I am not even going to try to understand what people are making out of this but it is a fact that tomorrow IS 14th February.

In other words, Valentine’s Day.

Once again a certain section of the world’s population will be warming to the occasion.

And another, a vastly larger section, will go about its business, completely indifferent and, most likely, unaware of the occasion.

It is a fact that, though awareness about Valentine’s Day has, over the years, increased around the world, it still has a long way to go, to get anywhere close to even Easter, let alone Christmas, in terms of awareness and celebration.

I quite like Valentine's Day. There, I've said it! :-) Yes, I quite like it.

When I was growing up in India, all I knew about Valentine's Day was that it was on the 14th of February and it vaguely had something to do with love. That was it! I know it sounds hugely unromantic but that was the level of awareness for me in the 1970s and early 80s about this occasion. Maybe it would have been different if I'd been growing up in a city but I think, in general, India was not particularly valentined in those days. (Oh, what have I missed! ;-) ).

As with any other occasion, there is a history attached to Valentine’s Day too. But over the years – and certainly with the spread of the concept around the world – the history has taken a backseat and the symbolism of the day has taken centerstage in people’s minds.

I think it is safe to say that today, when one thinks of Valentine’s Day, it means one thing in most people’s minds. A day when their love for their nearest and dearest one(s) is supposed to overflow. Explicitly.

That explains the numerous manifestations of love that can be seen on Valentine’s Day. It could be as big a deal as a marriage proposal (often colloquially referred to as “popping the big question”). Or something less relationship-redefining as a box of chocolates or flowers or jewellery or cards or poetry. It could be just about anything that indicates a special bond of love or caring between two persons.

I may be wrong but I think that, in the past, Valentine’s Day was specifically meant to be about lovers or couples expressing their love for each other. Over the years, however, this seems to have been expanded to a broader, more “generic” concept of love and nowadays it is not at all uncommon to see Valentine’s Day greetings between persons who are just extremely close to each other, without having a lover or partner relationship.

To be honest, I quite like the broader concept although many critics of Valentine’s Day (and there are many out there) argue that this is entirely in keeping with commercialization of every occasion nowadays to make more people spend more money. The more people who get into the Valentine’s Day scheme of things, the better it is for commerce and business, they argue.

I personally see nothing wrong with this. Yes, so there could well be a commercial aspect to all this. But at the end of the day it is about feelings. About warm feelings towards another person. And that can never be a bad thing, in my opinion.

Let’s look at it this way. A lot of people struggle to express their feelings towards another person. Ironically, for most people, positive feelings seem to be even more difficult to bring across than negative feelings. Often the body language goes into overdrive in a negative setting, or, one just vents one’s feelings without holding back.

It is somehow different when you want to express love or affection towards another person. Not everybody is comfortable doing this. I tend to think a lot of misunderstandings arise between two persons, not because of their being negative towards each other, but purely because of their inability to communicate their positive feelings towards each other.

And that is a real pity because most people, deep down, love to be loved. Or at least liked. And they are. It is just that people haven’t worked out yet a method to work past their inhibitions. Besides, for a lot of people, especially men, this seems to be even more difficult because, for some reason, it is considered a weakness or even “unmanly” in some societies to show a softer side to your personality. Even hugging somebody (now better known as “jaadu ki jhappi” in many parts of India, thanks to the blockbuster film Munnabhai MBBS) seems to be something not many are easily comfortable with.

Considering all this, I personally think Valentine’s day, in its broadest application, is a very good thing. It allows people to open up a bit, it gives them an opportunity to share their feelings with another person.

Yes, it can be argued that this feeling should be present throughout the year and not on just one day alone. True, but then the same argument could be put forth for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, World Peace Day, World Anti-Corruption Day and every other such occasion we try to commemorate on a single day every year. It is not about expressing the feeling only on THAT day, it is about marking a particular day of the year to remind all of us of the importance of that sentiment.

Besides, I am sure nobody will argue that we live in a world where we could do with more love, affection and caring between people. And surely if more people buy into this, it cannot be a bad thing. And if that means setting aside a particular day of the year to remind people of this, so be it! And if it means commerce flourishes with the sale of more flowers or chocolates or jewellery or other gifts, so be it! When this is money spent on somebody you love, surely it’s got to be money well-spent?

Which brings me to another point. The problem that a lot of people have with Valentine’s Day is the “gift” side of it. Just figuring out what gift to give can be a major cause of stress. Some people even jokingly say that Valentine’s Day is when a relationship is most likely to break because the gift becomes the deal-breaker. All I can say to that is, if the GIFT is what has been keeping the relationship going in the first place, then it is probably best that the deal does get broken.

In a sense, this is a smaller version of the bigger Christmas issue where people get extremely stressed out over Christmas presents. You’ve got to get something for everybody in the family, everybody’s doing it, you are not even sure who likes what, maybe you are getting something the person already has – oh, it is one hell of a nightmare!

It is. The post-Christmas returns at any store are a good testimony to the fact that the process of giving gifts at Christmas has more to do with obligation between two parties than ANY understanding of each other’s likes and dislikes. :-) It is all very well-intentioned of course but it still goes all horribly wrong.

Ideally Christmas should be about the spirit and not about the gifts. And it is the same with Valentine’s Day. It is about the feeling and not about the gift per se. I think I speak for most people when I say this but I really couldn’t care less if anybody did not ever give me any material gift on any occasion – a genuine, felt-from-the-heart “thinking about you today” message would mean more to me than a material gift given as an obligation.

So that’s how simple it is. I think it is a WONDERFUL occasion to mark a WONDERFUL emotion. And, importantly, it does NOT have to cause stress.

So, here’s wishing all those close to my heart, a very happy Valentine’s Day!

Am thinking about you – you should be knowing who you are! :-)


Random thoughts said...

Lovely post Raja :-)

avdi said...

Celebrating a 'day' brings the issue into focus no doubt. One can sympathise with a poor husband who has to shell out for his wedding anniv, birthdays and this too now. Like you, even I am most happy with a message, for my birthday even.

Happy Valentines Day. Ummm or is the correct thing to say = Be my Valentine?

raja said...

@ Shalini, thanks. You are one of the few I flog with my blog and who always leaves a comment. :-) Very thoughtful of you.

@Avdi/Ava, I guess it could be "Be My Valentine?". I wouldn't know, nobody's asked me. ;-) Well, you're the first actually. And I'll be happy and feel privileged to be your Valentine. Cheers. :-)

Shilpi Bose said...

I am glad to see you blogging again, by the way I am a history buff and when I say history I really mean history which is ancient history and from my research into Valentine's day I learnt that it has its origins in pre-Christian spring festival and people also worshipped the fertility God. Interestingly here in India too during the Vasant or Basant Utsav which is also our spring festival our Indian God of love Kamdev is worshipped. Interestingly we Bengalis worship Goddess Saraswati on Basant Panchami and nowadays young Bengalis also celebrate it as sort of a Bengali Valentine due to the Kamdev connection.
Hope I did not bore you with all this gyan

raja said...

@Shilpi, you did not bore me one bit! :-) It is interesting to know that this is a convention that has been around in India for way before it got a Valentine hue to it. It should have struck me earlier - there's such a rich legacy in ancient Indian history that an event around worship of the God Kamdev must definitely have been part of this too.

Thanks for enlightening me on this one.

Anu Warrier said...

Came here through your link on Dustedoff's post. I'm one of those who are anti-Valentine's Day - not in the least because, where I am, the pressure on the poor male is so much. It's almost a crime if you cannot get your girlfriend / wife something for V-Day.

Besides, I think it also brings out the worst in normally-reasonable women. Somehow, it always end up in hurt feelings and tears (he should have known I wanted the diamond earrings!) on hers, to absolute bewilderment on his. Chocolates and red roses just aren't enough.

Besides, it's a very greeting card-and-chocolate-company sponsored holiday (here).

To add to Shilpi's comment on its history, the original Valentine's Day had nothing to do with romance - it was a liturgical celebration involving a Roman saint called Valentinus. Until Chaucer linked 'Valentine' with romantic love in the 14th century.

It's a l-o-n-g comment; sigh. Feel free to truncate as you wish. :)

Raja Swaminathan said...

Hey Anu, first of all, thanks for reading the post and leaving a comment here. And why would I want to truncate it - I quite like it as it is. :-)

It's good that you mention the reasons Val's day is dreaded by many. And as for the history, whatever the background, I would not want to burden the present with the legacy of the past.

I totally agree with you about the artefacts and symbolism that have taken over what should have been a "relationship strengthening" occasion. The effect is sometimes now quite the contrary (I've said as much in my post).

But that's the problem with the implementation, not the concept. If a relationship is based so much on materiality and "who gives whom what", it's on very shaky ground anyway. It's a losing game and one may have to question whether it's worth trying to strengthen at all.

For me (and maybe I'm living in cuckoo land :-)), a relationship is about caring for and about each other, in good times and in bad. Whatever be the nature of the relationship - husband/wife, siblings, friends, whatever. In that context, Val's day may be a reminder to just re-affirm the strength of that caring. It doesn't have to be with jewellery and chocolates and those who use these as THE measures of love/caring are misguided, in my opinion.

But then, I guess I'm living in cuckoo land anyway when it comes to relationships. :-)

Thanks once again for commenting.

dustedoff said...

Lovely post, Raja (even though I'm a year late to the party!) - and well-thought out. Belated happy Valentine's Day!

ineke koppers said...

Mooi gezegd Raja en zo waar ook. Ik moet eerlijk zeggen dat ik ook nog nooit van Valentijnsdag had gehoord tot zo'n 25 jaar geleden. Al dat gedoe met Kado's en hartjes zegt mij ook niks maar het is natuurlijk wel leuk als mensen elkaar blij willen maken op zo'n dag. Ook is het een mooie gelegenheid om kenbaar te maken dat je om iemand geeft, dat heb ik bij mijn dochter mogen ervaren op school toen een klasgenoot een lieve kaart aan haar gaf.
Ik schrijf je bewust in het Nederlands Raja want hoop dat je het nog niet verleerd bent ;-)
Groetjes, Ineke