Many stories have been shared about the origins of valentines day to justify it, or to defame it, to further sugar-coat it or to 'de-myth' it. In the west, where this day originates, lives are busier, more detached, independent - people tend to live in their cocoons through out the year, barring a few days like Valentines when they halt their mechanical lives and spend a breath or few to pay due attention to partners, parents, loved ones etc. Days like mothers day, fathers day, family day make a lot more sense in this format of life where you need to 'stop' to spend time with those around you. And this is so because either children have moved out to be on their own, or because the parents are by themselves near the country side, a different town or an old age home.
But what does a day like Valentines mean to a developing and struggling country like Pakistan? For one, the nation has a divided stance on this topic; as you can see in the picture above, the anti-valentines day campaign by tanzeem and the response to that by Peaceniche, the NGO behind T2F. In a country where the nation faces an extreme divide in terms of wealth, mindset, education and standard of living - valentines day comes as an added deterrent to unity and harmony. The quite opposite of Love! The billboard and poster here show the lack of harmony in our society. Gradually this seemingly harmless freedom of thought is becoming a larger and more damaging civil war. It's ironic that on this supposed the day of love, we are arguing about the celebration of love. This is because in countries like Pakistan, values of culture, religion, tradition supersede these recently adopted trends and new trends will always be bench-marked or evaluated against the list above.
My stance here isn't 'No to Valentines', neither is it pro-Valentines. What I despise about this corporate-mandated day of Louve! (call me sarcastic) is this 'compulsion' to express love. Not just express but publicly display our love. I know I have a choice not to celebrate this day but Do I, Really? Because while I'm sitting here all chilled writing this post, most of my other friends are making plans of surprising their loved ones and expecting even bigger ones in return. Once they are done, the results of these will proudly be displayed on facebook and then post V-day, there will be phone calls and messages between girl friends flaunting their day, the diamond rings, the bunches of flowers, the dinners and the places they went to celebrate d-day. And I too shall be asked, 'So how did you celebrate valentines day?'. That's when I'm pushed out of my comfort zone to question: is valentines day really a true measure of how much your family, husband, partner loves you? I think its a pretty bad yard-stick to measure or judge love against. Moreover, the majority of our country (barring 1% of the elite, who drive the culture of lavish parties on v-day) cannot afford wasteful expenditure on gifts, cards, flowers or jewels all of which are double the price on this day, but they are somewhat pressurized to do so, because it is gradually becoming the 'in thing to do'. So just like our mehendis and weddings catch-up with the extravagant trends of society, so will our attitude on valentines day unless we consciously try not to get carried away.
Even worse, valentines day has now been positioned as the day to 'pop the question'. It has sadly been established that if a girl is not proposed to on the 14th of Feb, she will have to wait the entire year to be proposed. According to a survey, 53% females in the US would end a relationship if they were not given a gift on Valentines day (rising expectations?) and 14% would send themselves flowers on valentines day (talk about self-esteem). It is more sad to see the number of heart broken on valentines day than is amusing to see the public display of love-birds. Just recently a friend called me frantically asking what she should do on this valentines for her boy-friend, and shared her anxiousness on how if he didn't propose this time, he probably never would. Proposals aren't timed against public days, there are timed against personal situations, feelings, commitments, confidence, the ability to support a family and support from parents and family (specially in our Pakistani context).
At the end of the day, like anything else commercially driven, it becomes a rat-race, nothing personal, losing its charm. I'm not against celebrating a day of love with your loved ones. But let that day be special, unique, uncommon with the rest of the world, shared between the two people who care about each other, rather than the whole world. If Chacha (St.) Valentine did ever exist, he would have liked to keep it simple too.
It's love, so let it be personal.
- [Not] your valentine