16 Feb

St. Valentine without Valentine


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Bassano_vignette One of the earliest mention of St. Valentine in serious literature comes in Chaucer’s Parliament of fowls, back in 15th century. In that book two types of lovers are mentioned- the honourable, steadfast lover who would rather die than have anyone other than his one and only love (the tercel eagles in Chaucer’s tale); and the smaller, realistic cocks and fowls who are always eager to find a quick way around the problems (if any), or switch their attention to some other desirable recipient faced with any initial rejection. The differentiation stands in black and white. Like George W. Bush, the American President, said in the aftermath of WTC bombing- you are either with us, or against us. In actual life, however, sticking to such rigourous distinction is highly problematic. Of course, the tercel are an idealisation, symbolised by such figures are Troilus, Romeo and others, but then they are idealisations. With Helen of Troy, a group of men (her suitors before her marriage to Menelaus) remain eternally faithful to her love and memory, and thus wage a ten years war far away from homeland, for the sake of a rival’s wife. Love does not survive in such purity anymore. One would like to see those mythical figures nowadays. One wonders how they would act. Questions remain, doubts linger, and with a resigned satisfaction that the mythical love is split milk, today’s lover become the lower fowls. The tercel eagles are relegated to the fine print columns of madness and tragedy.

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Reams have been written about how St. Valentine is alien culture in India. India’s ideal is the love of gopis and Krishna (forgetting so frivolously that Krishna flirted with dozens of gopis while he incestuously loved Radha, who was an aunt to him by relation, and while he ended up marrying Rukmini), or Ram and Sita (and again it was Rama who doubted his sexually chaste wife Sita and banished her while she was pregnant). It is argued that alien notions of love, or even occasional expressions of love, would play havoc with native culture. What is forgotten is that we are perfectly happy watching Hollywood movies, organising Michael Jackson shows, shaking hands with the Americans……Of course this foolish pretension is advanced by only some fringe sections of our society who are notorious for their foolishness, and so my outrage is limited to them only. On second thoughts, I believe that their actions and thoughts are so frivolous that they don’t even deserve a sane man’s outrage.

And so St. Valentine’s came. I have never believed that Calcutta is a Romantic city, the same way Paris, Rome, Venice, Miami or other cities are. But love is as alive here as it is anywhere else. Perhaps love is not so visible here, but it exists- behind the bushes in the Victoria Memorial premises, on the different park benches in the Lake area, in the green expanses of Nicco Park, in the romantic waters of Nalban, in the stairs and promenades of Nandan and Rabindra Sadan, in Lindsay Street and the cinema halls, in the college premises, in the housing colonies, in the street corners, in the music galleries, in the Book Fair, and in the departmental lobbies, and of course inside every married home. The rare occasion came when the average Indian found courage and opportunity to present a red rose to someone he/she liked. The rare occasion when the loving couple moved to a little more romantic corner of the city. And it was a great respite, an assurance that the city is alive. Long live St. Valentine!

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