Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Valentine juggernaut

In recent years, so much noise has surrounded the popular Valentine's Day celebrations in India, that it becomes difficult at times to see the large trend underneath. In this article, I will share my understanding of what all this truly means. And I must admit I love Valentine's Day because without fail, every year, it gives me a chance to study the social & cultural evolution of Indian youth at such depth!

The universalisation of a foreign "festival" amongst Indian urban youth in a short span of just one decade is stark. While Indian festivals have existed for millennia (literally!), Valentine's Day celebration has just appeared over the horizon. Yet, it has been accepted by a significant number of young Indian boys and girls, and a not-insignificant number of men and women too.

The trends underlying this phenomenon are

  1. At least let me experiment! Young Indians are willing to experiment with their cultural outlook. They are no longer happy with just being told what is right culturally, and wish to try out their own versions of a new cultural reality. So, while their parents (in many cases) may be ultra-conservative, many young Indians want to at least 'have a taste' of what this new expression really stands for. In a society that has never had an armed revolution on a large scale through mainstream society (Naxalites are not mainstream), this is possibly the biggest outpouring of a non-violent yet assertive revolution of young Indians. "We want to try this new thing out, and you don't interfere" seems to be the message. Learning : Each generation will have its version of a revolution, and Valentine's Day celebration surely qualifies for this period.
  2. Two worlds together Reading the above point may make an outsider feel that young Indians have revolted against their entire cultural upbringing and heritage. Far from it. In all my interactions with young students (from elite urban middle class backgrounds) I have realised that many of them know much more than what I do about Indian festivals and cultural norms. While celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Janmashtami with these young folks, I wonder who taught them all the technicalities of cultural practices needed for these festivals! And then I realise that the sheer depth and ubiquity of Indian culture is so profound, it is almost a given that most young Indians will grow up with these in their bones and blood, although for many, it may be subconscious for a long time, and suddenly manifest itself at the right moment. Learning : Young Indians are living two lives simultaneously. On one hand, they are traditional and deep-rooted in the cultural sense of the word, and on the other hand, they can be ultra modern.
  3. The power of social media Any political or social group that thinks it can successfully force young people to stop socialising on the Valentine's Day, is making a fool of itself. In this age of online social media (OSM), it is clearly an impossible task. While mobiles have always been a great help for votaries of the Valentine's Day, today with a few clicks of the computer mouse, one can easily set up communities online that share similar passions. For ex. in less than 2 minutes, I can set up a community right now on or on that is titled "I love Valentine's Day, Don't you?" and invite thousands of people to join me. Who can stop me? Realistically speaking, my parents cannot. And practically speaking, not even Mark Zuckerberg!  Learning : OSM has irreversibly changed the dynamics of the game. Trying to control socialisation is futile in today's world.
  4. The great Indian decency What surprises me each February is not that so many young Indians want to celebrate this special day, but the amazing decency with which the entire day passes by. Given the scope and size of the festival, we hardly witness a substantial number of incidents that will truly qualify as indecent. I am totally certain that on any other regular day in India, there will be far more indecency (some forced, some voluntary) on the streets. So the issue is not specific, it is generic. Learning : Never underestimate the inherent goodness of people, especially young ones. They are far more likely to be decently behaved if given the freedom to enjoy the day. Yes, risks are always there, but if you can trust them with electing the government of this country, then where is the problem! And if you have a particular problem with your own kids, do not generalise it for the rest.
  5. The power of market forces Market forces are pretty smart. They smell out opportunities, and encash them quickly. Greeting card makers, Restaurants, Clubs, Farmhouses, Pool-parlours, Video-gaming parlours, Malls .. they all realise that this is one day they can significantly enhance their revenues on. In a society that is hugely driven by a desire to do materially very well (why else do so many people do MBA courses for!), this market alignment is a natural extension. Learning : Market forces around the world have their unique ways of encashing social trends. Personally, I am against most of these. But I have to say - they are pretty smart people and know how to push their wares.
  6. The myth of invincibility A lasting fear in the minds of culture-vultures and moral police is that the new cultural norms (imported from West) may become more powerful and more deep-rooted than the original Indian festivals, traditions and cultural beliefs. Far from it! The reverse may happen. We are yet to witness the maturing of many of these "imported" traditions. It is highly possible that the Indian youth may simply ditch the entire concept of Valentine's Day celebrations in favour of something fancier, one fine day. It is a grand myth to assume that these "imported" festivals are permanent. They are not. They seem to be so, however, in the short run, only because they are strongly providing an avenue to a lot of youngsters to express their latent desires. Learning : Wait and watch! You may be in for a surprise.
  7. Indianisation is inevitable While the above myth indicates the vulnerability of such festivals, one thing is totally certain - every foreign thing - foren thingy - that gets accepted by India will be rapidly Indianised. It has happened with music, and we see it with food (I am sure we all have tried Indianised versions of western foods!). The same thing is happening with Valentine's Day as well. Indian mothers are wishing their kids "happy Valentine's Day Beta", and kids are reciprocating with all happiness and glee! This is so beautiful to see. It is a perfect rendition of the age-old belief that culture evolves naturally, and is the most spontaneous expression of people who live it, rather than those who enforce it. Learning : The day may not be far off when the Indian version of Valentine's Day may attack the West with full force!
The fantastic beauty of Indian democracy is that both camps are equally vociferous. Those who support it, are enjoying it, and those who oppose it, are equally in rapture (from the news coverage they get!).

As for me, for this Valentine's Day my wife tersely informed me that she alongwith her friends (9 more ladies from a club) are out on a picnic the whole day. I am to take care of both the kids, at home. So much for Valentine's Day celebrations, more than a decade after marriage.

Maybe now I understand why some people hate this day. Ha ha  - Valentine's Day hai hai


Anonymous said...

Respected Sir,

What a wonderful 360 degrees study of socio and cultural evolution of Indian youth!

Though the history of St. Valentine's Day and the patron saint behind it is shrouded in mystery, we continue celebrating the spirit of love, in our own distinct ways, throughout the month of february.
I strongly appreciate the Indianization of it. Love, after all, has many colours; with red heart inside each colour - love for parents, children, country, Nature, God, so on and so forth and is sweet to the soul and healing to the bones whenever expressed. And special days lends it an ornamental touch and an added value.

Wish you and your family a happy, love-filled quality time of togetherness.

Sincere regards,
Nidhi Agarwal

Shoaib Qureshi said...

Dear Sir,

Me & my friends normally call Valentine's Day by the name of a specific party. I mean they are the ones who enjoy this day to the fullest, its completely their day, they can do whatever they want, beat people up, vandalize shops etc. Also, I don't think someone would ACTUALLY wait for 14th Feb. to propose to a girl.

I personally feel if its a day of love then we can celebrate it by wishing everyone who we love. Happy Valentine's Day Sir :-).

Shoaib Qureshi

thecoolesttiger said...

Respected Sir,
I am Shreyas Bamde PT Ujjain
sending you my blog address

Hoping to see ur comments for improvement.

Nikhil Thakur said...

People killing people dying.. Children hurt n you hear them crying ...
I think the whole world is addicted to the drama, Only attracted to the things that bring you trauma.
Overseas yeah we trying to stop terrorism, but we've got terrorists living here..
& But if you only have love for your own race, Then you only leave space to DISCRIMINATE, And to discriminate only generates HATE, And if you hating you're bound to get IRATE..
Can you practice what you preach, Would you turn the other cheek?... See More
This has got all of us questioning: WHERE IS THE LOVE? ♥

(PS: in these times these lines from a popular Black Eyed Peas song makes a lot of sense..)

ThanQ.. Regards Sir.. :)

Avinash Choudhary said...

Respected Sir,
Your blog on "Valentine day and....." is truly a superb example of an international level literature. Anyone from any country, any ethnic group can read and appreciate this blog.
I would like to comment on the 5th and the 6th point of your blog.
1- Isn't it just a power game of market and hence of the culture(western) that is why Valentine day is celebrated by the Indians while Diwali is not celebrated by the British and the Americans( As per my knowledge).
2- Since it is mainly celebrated by youngsters and India has the advantage of demographic dividend for at least next 50 years ( if am not wrong) there are strong chances of it( Valen...) becoming deep rooted in Indian culture.
Yours Sincerely,
Pr. Avinash Choudhary

Unknown said...

today we all are discussing about Valentine's day, and no one knows that on this day, February 14th, 1931 - three brave men - Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev were announced a death penalty ..i dont knw that in wch direction we r going??- Salute their sacrifice - Jai Hind!


Unknown said...

Respected Sir,

Great views. What an analysis of the sentiments of middle class urban youth. Only you could do it with that precision.
I personally believe that Love is something which comes quite naturally from within. It knows no bounds. So if one thinks that he/she can stop its expression or can brutally suppress it, one is just trying to go against nature. Love has been known to exist since the existence of humanity, or, let us say, since the existence of life itself. When we talk of love, we must make sure that we are not talking of it as a function of mere young and opposite sexes. It is not about sharing little warmth but about building great intimacy and belonging to someone. It is the sublimity and culmination of the manifestation of divinity in life. Hence, in my sincere opinion, love must not be bound in the shackles of religion, caste or any other sect developed by the so called intellectuals.
I am all in for those who share and spread love. Saint Valentine has surely gifted humanity with a reason to celebrate love and treasure its memories fathoms down the depths of heart.

Yours sincerely
Munish Sharma
Fall 09.

Test said...

Hey everyone, thanks for commenting!

Munish - Love is the most wonderful feeling any human can ever experience! Its crass commercialisation is what worries me. But one thing is for sure - when you are truly in love, nothing else matters!

Himanshu - we all join you in saluting some of the biggest heroes of the Indian freedom struggle! Jai Hind, Vande Mataram

Avinash - you missed the point here, it seems. Just like the Indian youth popularised Valentine's Day, it can popularise something else tomorrow! Right?

Nikhil, thanks for contributing the wonderful lyrics!

Shreyas, keep up the good blogging work you are doing. My best wishes!

Soya, ha ha! Good one.

Nidhi, thanks for reading and commenting!

smthin differnt said...

respected sir...
excellent blog...
jst want 2 add one thing
no day is bound 2 express your feeling bt ven u surround by soo mch of voilence(terrorist attack)dis day wrk as a sweet...