Looking at the scene today, it seems Valentine Day is not just a day but an industry.
There are several businesses that make a good buck around this Day. Nothing wrong with that at all. The flower vendors, the stuffed toy makers, the lingerie manufacturers, the greeting card sellers, the wrapping paper manufacturers and lot of other such businesses could be grateful at the shape this day has taken.
In her younger days in the sixties and seventies such a day was quite unheard of in the conservative India. Valentine Day or no such day, Love thrived in most households as families had time for each other. The word itself was used in a conservative manner due to the very orthodox society they lived in but “Love” was found immensely in each household, in each street and among fellow colleagues .
Rita saw a picture of unconditional love in her mother Pushpa when she took an unhindered step to help a vegetable vendor. 31st October 1984 was the day when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her bodyguard . The Prime Minister’s assassination triggered riots in various parts of Delhi. A vegetable vendor, Pammi rang the door bell with the hope of selling something. Pushpa took everything she had in the cart and paid her extra money too and told her to rush back home as she sensed danger. Pushpa was right. No sooner had Pammi left, Rita saw people holding huge sticks and rampaging the Sikh temple nearby. There was fear all around. They locked the doors and clamped the Windows but Pushpa was thankful that Pammi was safe. Had she been trying to sell off her cart load, she might have faced damage to her stuff and risked her life as they later learnt of the deaths that occurred that day.
Rita learnt the lesson of unconditional love that day. The timid mother she had known, had not thought twice about rebuke she would face from her dominant mother in law. She had a renewed respect for her mother that day onwards. In her retrospect she could tag that day as the Valentine Day.
Another episode comes as a vivid memory to Rita. In those childhood days of late seventies she used to save her pocket money to buy gifts for her parents from her own money. She would often buy a saree for her mum. Daddy provided all the help to her by maintaining the secret and enabling her to procure the accompanying accessories. Was it not his Love, in a different way towards his daughter? Was it not his love for his wife to maintain the secret to see that joy on her face at getting the gift? Once it so happened that Rita fell in love with a saree and bought it few months prior to pushpa’s birthday. As it was impossible to hide it from mummy for that long, daddy offered to keep it along with his office goods at a warehouse. As fate would have it, there was a robbery at the warehouse. Daddy lost the goods and Rita lost the saree. She cried but he remained calm and told her not to despair. He gave solace saying, ” probably the people who have robbed needed the goods more than we did”. She was stunned at this behavior. Did he even love the robbers? Wasn’t that a true Valentine feeling, she wonders going into a flashback.
Rita’s feelings about Valentine are not limited just at her parents. She often saw this love in her elder brother too. Those were the days when the family lived in a very humble environment in the posh Defence Colony in the capital on India, New Delhi. Her father Ishwar had started his business after an early retirement from his job with a Singapore company. He wished to be with his family. They settled in a house where the sitting room acted as her Daddy’s office and the remaining two bedrooms and a kitchen was their house.
Pushpa cooked, looked after her three children, her mother in law and the aged great grandfather in law. It is hard to imagine how they managed in just two bedrooms. She was a mere housewife to say but her hands were always full of chores so endless. In such times it was Manu, the elder among her children who took on the mantle of sharing her responsibilities.
Manu did things which boys his age probably wouldn’t have done. With his unique patience and responsible attitude he helped Manoj and Rita dress up, taught them games to keep them busy, attended to their homework, disciplined them etc. Rita reminces him teaching her mathematics which she was pathetically poor at. She must have been nearly five years and him eight when he was given the responsibility of cutting his siblings’ fingernails. Very meticulously he wiped their fingers with dettol soaked cotton wool before and after the ritual of cutting nails. He would sit them on those little round metal chairs and would tell them stories while cutting nails to distract them from the fear of cutting. It was pure sibling love and needed no roses or cards exchanged to prove it. But today when she looks back she is full of appreciation for his many caring ways. Those were their Valentine moments.
Delhi had extremes of hot and cold weather and in winters it was very difficult to wake up early to study. Manu made sure that they got up in time to study. Not only that, he even made two cups of tea for both himself and younger sister to warm themselves in the early morning cold. Rita always had excuses to make and the fear of cockroaches to explain for not going into the kitchen in that early morning hour but he simply did things as if it was his duty. Throughout the school years, he attended to most responsibilities of paying the fees, collecting receipts, walking her back home in the hot sun in summers. Yes, of course it was love and pure love and nothing else. It did not have a title then as they weren’t aware of Valentine Day, Friendship Day, Brothers Week, Sisters Day etc.
Today she reflects back on the various ways they found love in abundance in their childhood. Rita tends to think that even our younger generation does not have access to so much love around them hence they find pleasure in celebrating these special days. Times have changed, definitions have changed. What we did was good then, what they do now is good now. The younger generation often is deprived of the love and care that was found in joint families.
Going back to her memories of the unconditional love that her paternal grandmother had for each and every one Rita further remembers fondly of those days.Each year in winters she would be found distributing shawls and blankets in hundreds to the needy. Each year she would be donating the matkas( earthen pots to store water and keep it cool) to the needy and to organizations during the warmer part of the year. In summers she would buy hundreds of cane hand fans and stitch frills around them and donate. In winters she stitched quilts herself and gave out. She reached out to people on the streets, the vegetable vendors, the gardeners, the workers and many others and became a mother to all . During summer she ensured at least two huge earthen pots filled with water were always placed at the entrance of their home.This way she looked after the thirsty passers by as well. Out of respect, they would all address her as Mataji (Mother). That is the unconditional love which we need to celebrate as a Valentine Day, she thinks.
she aspires to be like her grandmother who could love anyone and everyone. Rita prays to God in earnest to fill her with love. She wants that love to be filled to the brim. The love that not just flows but overflows like liquid love. The love that knows no territories. The love that knows no colour, no creed, no caste, no boundary, no language, no form. The love that spreads joy of sharing. The love that fills hearts with abundance and brings smiles. The love that is encompassed with caring. The love that will make her live each day as The Valentine’s Day.
The third century saw a saint called St. Valentine who went against the cruelties and sacrificed himself but gave joys of companionship, marriages and love to the men and women. He nurtured the need of his times. Let us nurture the need of today’s time thinks Rita. That is possible by sharing our fortunes with those in need, by caring for those not cared for and by spreading the love among all. Thinking so Rita hopes for the day when the world is united in love.
Love is not an item to be displayed, it is not a commodity to save unspent. Love is a feeling to be experienced. Sikiladi !