As a business proposition, Valentine’s Day has initiated trends in gifting items, flowers and small plants, culinary and bakery delights, specific artefacts, knick knacks, jewellery, fashion items and intense socializing in cafeterias, bars and restaurants.
At our time, Valentine’s Week/Day had still to be discovered in India, as a western concept, and yet to be established as a stated opportunity of expressing love, feelings, infatuation, crush or simply togetherness or genuine appreciation. Further as a business proposition, it initiated trends in gifting items, flowers and small plants, culinary and bakery delights, specific artefacts, knick knacks, jewellery, fashion items and intense socializing in cafeterias, bars and restaurants. The idea has taken over two decades to mature with a lot of criticism and policing by moral brigades, in different parts of the country. Social media has given a tremendous impetus to crystallize it into a major development and industry.
From menus, loyalty cards and staff aprons to promotional t-shirts etc you have merchandising agencies creating branded apparel and accessories. With many custom merchandise manufacturers, design services and ecommerce platforms available, launching such products has never been simpler or more affordable.
Beyond this, selling customized products is an intelligent way to generate passive revenue, which became a god send during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many restaurants had to pause on-premise dining periodically. ‘Passive’ would infer that after the initial investment in designing products and selecting vendors to create them, major part of your ideating is over. What’s left to do is ship out orders and replenish your stock when it depletes.
In the process, it has also given a lot of employment avenues for people, in the supply chain and hospitality sector. Archie’s stores were perhaps the very first in this fast expanding industry.
From cards, flowers and perfumery, there is a whiff of expectancy floating in the air particularly for the younger generation and over the years it has permeated into all sections of society, bringing with it a sense of a special feeling of excitement and attachment. Today the Valentine phenomena has not only changed the attitudes and social mores of young people but has drastically changed the hospitality scene, the effects of which reverberates across the country throughout the year.
We did not, as one example, have the wherewithal of ‘Axing’ oneself but certainly could ‘Brut’ oneself as much as ‘Fogg’ now. Deep Red has become the overriding colour and the heart the overriding symbol, by and large reflecting a heightened pulse of opportunities and expression of heartfelt alliances. It is not between a man and a woman alone, or a boy and a girl but, an expression of fondness and special attachment between living beings.
In this context, I recall a trip in 1982 along with cameraman Mahadev Rao and engineering assistant Mahender Singh, to Bastar and its adjoining districts of Madhya Pradesh now Chhattisgarh, with the first electronic colour camera in India the ENG, as Doordarshan’s tribute to the advent of the digital media and the desire for a change for the better, by focusing through the making of a Documentary, on the most backward region and consequently the most backward people of the country. This area was as yet inaccessible and the special permissions for the same was given by the then Commissioner in Raipur, Najeeb Jung who was a senior in school and college. Networking really helps.
It was a closed society enveloped and segregated by thick forests- Abujhmar and Dantewada, where even today the state is fighting a protracted war with the Naxals.
An area which even then was exploited by the outside traders and other external forces.
Money in terms of currency had little meaning as most trade amongst the tribals was done as a true barter system.Salt was a precious item and a source of long exploitation and consequently the forest produce largely wood, became the target.The very decent, simple and honest life of the inhabitants, who understood life in its pristine evolution, which was sustainable and in harmony with nature was at danger.
As part of the ancient culture and heritage of the region, we were taken to an annual event on a full moon night and was truly a precursor to the present Valentine kind of thinking and behavioural pattern. I was taken aback at the mature and scientific approach to life, experienced and crystallised through centuries of understanding. With our western knowledge and biases we have unfortunately not recognised and given a philip to our ancient and traditional systems which were and still are in many ways, far superior to the foreign influences which we have adopted, steamrolling the immense knowledge available in our hinterlands.
It was a Ghotul, a virtual club house and meeting point set up by the village elders in different parts of the region, where all the young boys and girls in the last of their teens, from the neighbouring areas, would spend 2-3 days and nights together, in a large dormitory to get to know each other. They would sit with burning logs, outside in the open, throughout the night, blissfully dancing and singing amongst themselves. This was simplicity at its best in terms of attire, behaviour and approach to a festival outlook, in the effort and opportunity to seek an alliance.
This way, the young boys and girls were able to socialize and choose valentines, who eventually became their life partners. They had wild flowers to offer each other, other than bangles and trinkets made of bones. Animal figurines, statues of gods and goddesses and other craft items made of bell metal and woodwork. They had simple percussion instruments. Khoot: a hollow trapezoidal shaped wooden block, hung around the neck of the person playing it and is struck with two wooden sticks to create a unique sound. Maandaar: a small sized drum that resembles a dholak. Gadha Baja: another percussion instrument with a resemblance to the (Bayan) Tabla. For these people the open sky was the limit.
We too were experimenting with a brand new technology. When we played back the video tapes, the small eye piece of the camera becoming a black and white monitor, these young people could not believe the output. It was like a bolt from the blue.
One marvels at their sagacity and in a way, they were we really ahead of us and the west in the initial idea behind the purpose. One can say, the concept of specialised dating services and matrimonial services was way behind.
Did we have such glorious opportunities of mixing up. Yes it was Lori, Holi and many other functions throughout the year. An odd resto-bar “The Cellar” had opened up the seventies in the Capital in Connaught circus close to Regal cinema. However, even if you had studied in the best of schools or colleges, it did not ensure or guarantee a Valentine. If you had a Royal Enfield, you had a silver spoon in your mouth, or you if you had an imported car, or if you had a charismatic personality other than a fat wallet, you surely had a better chance.
Since I was in the Media, things were not that decrepit, but an astrologer put me into a great bewilderment.
I was told that my strong Valentine would be from the North East. I was perplexed.Would it be an Assamese girl from Guwahati, would it be a Manipuri girl from Imphal, or one from the Khasi Hills, or even an Arunachali, but this was too close to the Chinese border for my liking although then the Galwan skirmishes very far into the future. Eventually and finally, when I did meet my Valentine, I was stumped by her sexy voice. It was a googly and all this while I was trying to play out of the crease. Surely it was a girl connected with the northeast but to my very pleasant surprise it turned out to be one from LSR n JNU, but virtually from my backyard, who had a brother settled in Guwahati, but she was living in close proximity.
One lesson I learnt, never overlook your backyard, there may have a surprise for you. I was reminded of the song of 1972 “I’d love you to want me” by Lobo and “Love is in the air” by John Paul Young of 1978, two of my favourite songs, particularly for their lyrics.
The season now is truly full of love in the air, specially at a time when the continuing pandemic had lowered our hopes and aspirations and the zest for life.
When winter is here, can spring be far behind. Today there are ‘…….. no bars’. We actually had no Bars, yet it was tea coffee and sweet. The overriding obsession was to either get into the Civil Services, do CA or aim for an MBA and get into the Corporate world. It was far from heading into a Bar at the slightest inclination, opportunity or as a routine, like it was for some as a fad, smoking cigarettes. I never smoked but Charms used to cost 30 paise for a pack of ten and had a denim impression on its carton , 555 and Dunhill 20’s was Rs.4.75 a pack. Thankfully smoking is out (like dandruff) but drinking and all kinds of cocktails is in. The women are more independent and take longer to settle down. Careers are in, as well as economic empowerment.Yet life has funny twists and there is more than meets the eye.
Valentine for sure, but lurking at the back of the mind is the double edged meaning of some of these quotes collated by Kelly Kuehn, “love is a two way Street- it is constantly under construction”. What would you say if someone asked you “What is the difference between me and a calendar” The answer would be “A calendar has dates”. Someone quipped, “You can’t put a price tag on love but you can on all its accessories.” But then Albert Einstein remarked “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love”.
Trevor Noah quipped, “I understood Valentine’s Day as a concept. The naked baby shoots you with an arrow, and you fall in love.”Not so simple, as another person remarked “Husbands are like fires- they go out when they are left unattended.” I researched, Adam Rippon had mentioned “nobody loves me as much as I love me, so I guess I just be mine own Valentine.”
To this I would add the statement by the charismatic ZsaZsa Gabor, “I want a man who is kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?” Let me also quote Rodney Dangerfield, “I told my wife a man is like wine, gets better with age. She locked me in the cellar.”
Finally remembering the saying from an American comedian woman from New York Rita Rudner “When I eventually met Mr Right I did not know that his first name was Always.”
The writer is former Chief Producer, News & Current Affairs, Doordarshan.
Fulbright Scholar, Syracuse University, Upstate New York.