Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Walletines' Day

So another Valentines' Day has come and gone. And the attendant hysteria is finally beginning to die down just a little.

I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. I don't understand Valentines' Day.

Saint Valentine, after whom the Day is named, is apparently the patron saint of affianced couples. He is also, my sources inform me, the patron saint of bee keepers, epileptics and travellers. (So if you're an apiarist in love, are bitten by wanderlust and are prone to the occasional fit, you've hit the jackpot.)

Saint Valentine may as well also be the patron saint of overpriced flowers, candy, cloyingly mushy love songs, the colours red and pink and marketing/advertisement agencies.

Love has never been so commoditized, dragged down from its deservedly ethereal heights and crammed into the greedy mould of mass commercialization. An emotion that is something relatively simple and (potentially, should you choose to make it so) uncomplicated is repackaged to morph into a confusing mix of expectation, guilt, tension, disappointment and anxiety culminating in a big fat credit card bill.

I don't see why there has to be ONE day to make the person you love feel special. I don't see why there has to be ONE day to tell them how much they mean to you. I don't see why there has to be ONE day to convey your emotions. From my experience, an unexpected rose on any random day is a greater sign that someone loves you than a rose (or several) right on cue on Valentines' Day. Predictability and a sense of expectation will be the death of spontaneous expression of love.

Anybody and everybody jumps onto the Valentines' Day bandwagon nowadays. Here are a few examples.

- Florists have a field day as the price of roses shoots up 500%. And giving one's Valentine day-old flowers is simply considered too tacky and cheap for words. (Try explaining the 50% cost arbitrage advantage to a miffed girlfriend.)

- One has apparently not celebrated Valentines' Day in its true spirit if one has not been to the most eye-poppingly expensive restaurant in town. For a steep price (special Valentine offer, of course), one gets to experience fantastic ambience, soft romantic music and often tasteless food.

- Or, one of the many plush multiplexes in town where if one buys couple tickets, one will get popcorn free! Romantic as it may be, I'd much rather watch the movie I paid up to 300 frickin' bucks per head for, and not be distracted by my girlfriend nibbling on my ear.

- We consumers are reassured that this is the ideal occasion on which to buy your loved one lingerie. (Yeah right. Given the traffic snarls to and from that expensive restaurant so diligently recommended by all known media, I doubt one would have the time or energy for much action.)

- Jewellery, of course, is the perfect gift for the occasion, ads plead. (What occasion? Me loving my girlfriend/wife is an occasion?!) Other perfect occasions in the future will include Diwali, New Year, Akshaya Tritiya, Holi, Pongal, Eid, Christmas, Krishna Jayanti, the various regional New Years, Independence Day...

- "Love is a matter of taste," urges a consumer electronics company in an ad (that they doubtless consider clever) in today's paper as it positions a microwave oven as the best present for one's beloved. (Oh screw the swanky restaurant, honey. Let's just stay home and try out our new microwave!)

- "If you cant say those three words today, say two," is the sage recommendation from another. The two words? "iPod Nano." An informative little callout on the ad tells us to buy the iPod in pink, as that is the colour of love. (If anyone were to get me a pink iPod, I'd kill them. And use their blood to colour my iPod a sporty red.)

- Do you know how to show your loved one how much you really love them? "Gift your Valentine something special... Buy them a car! Now available at a special 10% discount, repayable through low EMIs over the next 7 years." (But which time one would have got a new car, and probably a new girlfriend/wife as well.)

- Everybody with the equipment and time to churn out a music CD comes out with a 'Love Collection' or something of the sort, featuring exactly the same songs in every single CD, with perhaps a change in the sequence or the addition of remixed tracks being the only difference.

- "Love at first ride!" screams a wildly original ad from a bike manufacturer.

- How about this, from a popular beauty parlour chain: "This Valentines' Day, gift your loved one a special slimming package." Right, nothing quite like telling her how much you love her and sending across a subtle message at the same time.

- "This Valentine, charm a million hearts with your new look... avail of special discounts on our non surgical treatment for baldness!" Quite a turn-on, I'm sure.

And there are many many more. Everyone's out to make a quick buck on this most profitable of days. And you can't blame them, they're just doing what makes good business sense. It's all of us, the society at large, that has been brainwashed into feeling the need to 'celebrate' it. In my view, it's nothing more than an excuse to get off work early. (No manager can deny you time with your beloved on Valentines' Day. She/he probably has to rush home herself to deal with a spouse brimming with fancy notions and high expectations of an evening's expensive affirmation of love.)

Bal Thackeray, the head of the political party the Shiv Sena has long crusaded against Valentines' Day being celebrated in India, deeming it a western influence that spreads immorality amongst the youth. He considers it an attack upon Indian values and culture. (The land with the second largest population in the world does not understand love and/or lust, apparently.) In a front page editorial in the party newsletter, he wrote, "What is this Valentine Day? In what way it is related to Indian culture? It is a rotten imported culture thriving on the neo-rich with easy money to squander."

Now I have a deep, long-standing loathing for him and his party, given their highly divisive politics and hate mongering. But you have to admit, in the context of the statement above, he kind of has a point.

Valentines' Day is no longer about love. It's all about the money, honey.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"

Location: Strand Book Fair, Mumbai

Time In: 1230 hrs

Time Out: 1330 hrs

The spoils, all in mint condition:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Of Human Bondage, by William Somerset Maugham

Intellectual stimulation:
The Koran (translated to English)
The Dialogues of Plato

Pulp fiction for long flights:
A Puzzle For Fools, by Patrick Quentin
The Last of Philip Banter, by John Franklin Bardin

Magic, by Isaac Asimov
The History of White People in America, by Martin Mull and Allen Rucker
The Litle Pun Book, from Peter Pauper Press

Expense: Rs. 834. What a steal.

Note: The quote in the title is attributed to Henry Ward Beecher.