Valentine's day : A New Look at a Cliche by Gayatri R. Shah

I’ve never understood the furore over celebrating Valentine’s Day in India. Yes, it’s a cliché - a marketing ploy by brands to have people spend money. And yes, V-Day is not native to India – so what? Neither are potatoes.

If there’s one thing that 2020 taught us, it was that love and compassion make the world go around. From Indians opening their hearts (and wallets) to support migrant workers stranded in cities, to supplying rations and other supplies to neighbours in need, to healthcare professionals, cops and front line workers performing tirelessly, acts of unselfishness peppered our news feed.

During the lockdown, I had a friend who was stuck alone in Mumbai, far away from family, whose upstairs neighbours sent him home cooked meals unannounced multiple times a week. Another friend told me her decade-old marriage had become so much stronger because she and her husband were finally able to spend time together. One couple adopted a hungry stray they found huddling on their footpath, and now can’t imagine life without this four-legged addition.

Forced by lockdown rules to adhere to social bubbles, people prioritized relationships and rekindled ties. As for me, even though I haven’t seen my parents in a year, our daily evening video calls, where I hear about my mother’s online bridge games or my father’s rediscovery for the joy of cooking, end up lasting far longer than our pre-Covid phone calls. My almost 16-year-old Maltese, Attila, has probably lived longer knowing his human family is constantly around and in need of licks and cuddles.

It’s the same with my far flung family of cousins, who live in the US, the UK, Switzerland, and various Indian cities. In the past, most of us only met during sporadic family get togethers -- if work-life balance permitted. Thanks to the pandemic, we now have regular Zoom calls and know more about each other’s lives than we ever did – including a newborn nephew’s bathroom habits! On my daughter’s 11th birthday, earlier this month, I sent out an uncharacteristically emotional Whatsapp message to some fellow mothers whom I haven’t seen all year, but who have been constant sources of support in child related matters big and small. It does take a village.

Valentine’s Day is said to originate from Saint Valentine of Rome, who aided persecuted Christians in the 3rd Century; while in prison he is said to have restored the eye sight of his jailer’s daughter. Whether true or not, the kindness behind these tales illustrates love at its best. Which is why I think we should commemorate Valentine’s Day this year as of love in all its forms – romantic yes, but also love of friends, families, community and the natural world.  Be kind to others, be kind to nature, be kind to yourself. And knowing what we lost to the pandemic – relatives, friends, opportunities, incomes, time -  let’s all say a big thank you for what we do have – kindness of fellow human beings. Sentimental? Sure, but it’s Valentine’s Day!