Love All: Why We Need Valentine’s Day Now More than Ever

Love and Sex

Love All: Why We Need Valentine’s Day Now More than Ever

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

As an adolescent I’d hate on everything “normal”, I naturally swore to look down upon Valentine’s Day. I questioned its legitimacy. Hypocritically, I celebrated all other arbitrary “greeting card” events like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, even Friendship Day for that matter. But for me, there was a reason why Valentine and Vendetta both began with V.

Born in a typical Indian household, “love” was not a word that sat comfortably on our tongues. Our love language was always acts of service as opposed to grand and eloquent declarations. There was no “I love you” but a plate of cut fruits while I studied. Cheesy Bollywood films were also occasional guests; unspoken rules dictated that we must never let their flamboyance impress upon us. Romance novels were read only in secret. If the covers flaunted the world “love” or any allusions to it, they only saw the light of day in the bathroom. When you grow up constantly hiding an emotion so universal and ubiquitous, just how exactly are you supposed to accept the celebration of a day dedicated exclusively to it?

In my teenage days, when everyone was high on hormones and weed, I categorically chose neither. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the people around me but the extent of this love stretched only to whispers, accidental confessions, and sometimes special occasions. What my friends mistook for stoicism was only my inability to say it out loud. As a person who was always quite self-reliant (atma-nirbhar may be a new fad for Mr Modi but not for me), I could not imagine someone who would – in the words of Hozier – give me toothaches just from kissing me.

Since I considered the concept of love and loving so foreign from my person, it did not take long for me to get christened “one of the boys”. An honorific that I accepted while simultaneously straddling my feminine self. To be “one of the boys” as a teenager meant “being cool and edgy” – wearing sneakers and T-shirts and stifling my feelings. It also meant thwarting all things remotely feminine. While I tactfully shunned their other distastes for the “delicate darlings”, one thing that I agreed upon with them was the cringe-inducing celebration of love in the form of Valentine’s Day. We collectively poked fun at teddy bears, sneered at Archies’ Gallery cards, and rejected the culture of coronations and bouquets. These were all things that came easily to me for I was inoculated against verbose declarations from the time I was little.

But growing up is a wonderful thing. When I started college at 18, I was introduced to a world that was alien from my past life. I found myself surrounded by friends whose affections were unbounded, who bought flowers for me without any occasion, and sent me “I love you” texts casually. All lovers around me found their own ways of celebrating their relationships, some starkly different from those I had condescended upon.

Every day we wake up to a world so tumultuous and traumatic that it gets taxing to find happiness.

Eventually, I had experiences of my own. I had boyfriends who fell in love quickly and unabashedly, men whose feelings I never tried justifying with those of my own. College romance stayed alive all year round but come February, all those emotions elevated.

Every seemingly inane day like Chocolate Day and Promise Day that led up to D-day was a cause of cheer and celebration. In spite of their being corny and unnecessary, these days were instrumental in the journey before the destination. While Valentine’s Day may be a commercial celebration, I noticed that it did not have to be celebrated commercially. And even if someone enjoyed all the mush and the gimmicks of this day of love, who was I to discredit their happiness? Or diss it?

I did not have to declare love in the same fashion as everyone did. I did not have to embody Shah Rukh Khan with open arms in bright yellow mustard fields. I could just celebrate love in my own manner without indulging in the frills that others did. I looked around and no one else seemed to mind being “uncool” so why did I?

I’m 24 now and I’ve spent the last few Valentine’s Days figuring my own expressions of love while keeping my edge intact – I have burnt playlists on CDs, handwritten letters, and poems steeped in nauseating metaphors, baked heart-shaped cakes. My boyfriend buys me books instead of roses, sends me drum grooves instead of Elvis Presley songs, and we go cycling instead of dinner dates; we celebrate love in ways that feel like love to us.

This transition has taught me that there is not just one way to love in the public domain, and no one makes the rules. There is enough misery around; every day we wake up to a world so tumultuous and traumatic that it gets taxing to find happiness. If all it takes to be temporarily distracted from our misfortunes and the impending doom is this one “greeting card” event then it’s truly no love lost.

My existentialist dread can wait for February 15.