St. Valentine and love in the 21st century

(Published in The Times of India:

Legend has it that Valentine’s day started as a celebration for an early-century Roman Christian saint named Valentinus who was said to be a messenger of love. Valentinus was known to bring together loved ones and performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, resulting in his imprisonment. Even while in prison, he is said to have cured the blind daughter of his jailer and sent her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’ before his execution.

I hardly think St. Valentine would have been ready to martyr himself for love and romance today, in the 21st century. An era where the words ‘love’ and ‘lust’ are used interchangeably and where the proclivity of couples to fall in and out of ‘love’ at top speed has almost become a fashion statement.

2016 started with a domino-like downfall of celebrity couples that made a splash in the news one after the other. Starting from the ‘Kat’-astrophe that was the Ranbir-Katrina split, Farhan Akhtar – Adhuna , Hrithik-Kangana (the war of words between the two did not go unnoticed), Virat Kohli-Anushka Sharma with a ‘heartbroken’ Kohli taking to social media to convey the plight of his broken heart and yet seen dancing at night clubs soon after (and promptly not seen at the ongoing T20 matches) – one begins to wonder if love hasn’t become the most misused emotion today.

Just days ahead of Valentine’s day, the day that started off a commemoration of the great saint of love but has today become it’s commercialized rendition by greeting-card companies, (‘Proposal Day’ just passed us by),  I find myself in a Shakespearan bent of mind thinking back to Romeo and Juliet’s grueling struggles that ended in tear-jerking tragedy, Cleopatra and Antony’s intriguing and heart-wrenching saga of a forbidden love that moved warring countries and yet the loss of each other resulted in death – such tales of the fight, the effort and the pain undergone for a victory of their love have become a sad absence in our world today.

Father Frank O Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland (a church that claims to house remains of St. Valentine) once said, “If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage.”

But would we have listened?

We don’t want to fight for love or relationships anymore. We are in love with the idea of love but when signs of the first problem seep through, we want to walk out the door and not look back. A celebrity isnt spared for a second by the media but its not just about them. The story is the same among us and ours.

Thats not all, love has also become a very profitable business proposition. Capitalizing on the much awaited ‘day of love’ each year and the fact that the days of sending personalized, hand-made greetings or gifts are long gone, companies have built businesses and startup-ventures around the idea of catering to ‘the business of romance’ by offering greeting cards that already have personalised messages on them so you don’t even need to make the effort to write the message yourself.  Romeo and Juliet must surely turn in their graves once every year!

Then there are those that take it a step further and make us wonder if we should laugh or hold our heads. I just watched a satirical video announcing the decree by the Hindu Mahasabha stating that any couples (or a boy and girl) seen in close proximity to each other on February 14th will be married off. In an obvious attempt to ward off public displays of affection, the contradictory statements made by the president of the Mahasabha saying that they have nothing against love and the fact that only Feb 14 shouldn’t be declared the day of love but in fact 365 days in the year is certainly questionable considering that the UP government and its various such outfits are notorious for making outrageous and often misogynistic statements.

Roses and chocolates have become a cliche in a technology-driven world today where even e-greetings have become a thing of the past. While Shah Jahan made thousands toil day and night to build the mighty Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, we now build apps like Tinder to cater to those who have no time to make the efforts or invest in the pursuit themselves.

As the upcoming ‘day of love’ draws near, lets think about what this day should really mean to us. And how coining just a day in the year as the day to spread love is, in fact, the antithesis to all that St. Valentine stood for.


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