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APARAJITA SEN

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 2/15/2017 |




After we had chosen this as the theme for the February issue of Songsoptok, I decided to do an unobtrusive and somewhat surreptitious survey amongst friends, family and colleagues about Valentine’s Day. I wanted to check whether 14th February means anything at all to people any more, whether they still think the day to be special and worth celebrating. My questions were innocuous and innocent, and so answers flowed in naturally. Yes, a majority of the people I know are doing something special today – a meal, a movie, an exhibition, a special dish cooked at home, a small surprise gift. Nothing over the top, nothing extravagant, but something a tiny bit special, different from other days. My early morning radio station aired a special interview of young children this morning and their perfect determination to kiss their ‘loves’ during the day. They would make kissing obligatory if they ever became the President of France, they vowed solemnly. Because ‘kisses are sweeter than even candies.’

We are all convinced that modern Valentine’s Day is a clever marketing and advertising ploy that was dreamt up mainly in the USA in the 19th century and struck the rest of the world with the rapidity of a blitzkrieg. February was traditionally a lean period for retail trade in America and what could be a better idea than creating a serious consumption spree centering on couples – existing or aspiring, old or young, staid or romantic, passionate or placid, shy or intrepid. Pledging love and affection could do no harm to anyone and appealed to a whole host of sentiments, including guilt. In one fell marketing masterstroke, Valentine’s Day became THE occasion for wooing, pampering and huge spending. According to available data, Americans are going to spend an average of $136 for Valentine’s Day this year.

The seller of dreams, the advertising industry, has taken over the media since almost a month now, offering solutions for a romantic Valentine’s Day for all income groups, - sparkling diamonds, exotic lingerie and truffle chocolates jostle for air time with pre-packed dinners for two, complete with a bottle of sparkling wine. It would be impossible to have a normal meal in a restaurant come the 14th – all of them would propose an often over-priced special menu that you may or may not fancy. But that is of very small importance. The flower shops must have spent a good part of the night making bouquets or wrapping red roses individually, complete with a red ribbon and a tiny heart. Hordes of flower sellers will invade the bars and restaurants everywhere, often forcing wilting roses in the hands of hapless men and women. And they will smile sheepishly and whip out the change. Oh yes, men and women are going to feel special today all over the world.

Americans may be most enthusiastic about celebrating Valentine’s Day, but other nations are not far behind. Koreans and Japanese have a double dose of Valentine’s Day – on 14th February and 14th March when men are supposed to reciprocate with gifts and of course, undying love. In parts of Europe lovers give each other St Valentine’s keys as romantic gestures and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart. On the contrary, 14th February is a day of mourning in Mexico, and Brazil, already roiling and boiling in its Carnival, does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. In Philippines young couples participate in mass weddings on 14th February, taking the step beyond romantic love. Islamic countries are staunchly against Valentine Day celebrations – a Pakistani high court today banned Valentine's Day celebrations across the country and its promotion on social media after accepting a petition which argued that it was un-Islamic. Young and not so young couples in India will celebrate Valentine’s Day, braving the palpable and often open disapproval. It seems that Valentine’s Day has become a big event in my country, a perfect occasion for displaying money and power for one section of the population. A report on the Internet described the speed dating events that are being organized in different places in India to lend Cupid a helping hand.

I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day, especially since 2013 when Eve Ensler launched the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign, one of the biggest mass actions undertaken across the world to end violence against women in human history. Right now girls and women are dancing in the streets of cities big and small with a pledge to break the chains of oppression and asserting that the ‘Time is Now’ to end violence against women. ‘Rise, Dance, Disrupt, and Connect’ they cry in one voice, as I write this editorial. Horrific statistics flash across the giant screens – women violated, abused, raped and killed. Girl children dying from malnutrition and lack of proper health care, smuggled across land and sea to feed the ever growing demand of sex trade across the globe. Women, the innocent victims of dowry deaths, honor killings and acid attacks, still downtrodden by the modern day society.

Under the neon glow of flashing hearts and kissing lips, tables piled high with gifts and food, let us not forget those who are not as fortunate as we are.

Aparajita Sen

(EDITOR)

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