Cultural or Marketing Crossroads

Avanti Sopory
On the morning of 14th February, reporters were flashing pictures of cupid’s arrows lying scattered and impaled all around the international     border. The security officers were shocked to see the plight and ordered enquiry; but just then an officer from the enemy country looked up at the azure skies and said – Mr. Angel, better luck next time. Love and humanity is a rare commodity on enemy ground.
That’s true. Doesn’t the red heart shaped arrow of the Angel mean love, compassion and humanity? Then what stopped St Valentine from spreading his message on the frontiers of two rival countries?
St Valentine’s Day, as we know it more popularly as Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in England and now in most parts of the world as a day when lovers express their love for each other. It came into prominence when Saint Valentine was nursing and performing the wedding of Christian soldiers who were persecuted by the ruling Romans. Since that the day gained liturgical importance. The past misunderstandings are dug deep down and renewed love and compassion is spread. It is a celebration of life and everything that has a longing heart, because love is a universal language.
Since the 18th century, 14th February echoes love across all nations, communities, creed and cultures. And India which was an emerging country in the early 1990’s aggressively acquired this imported date and soon Valentine’s Day was added to our list of celebrations. A burgeoning economy and democracy, the younger generation in India rapidly took to celebrating Valentine’s Day.  And of course, after the impactful years of British Empire, we like everything “Vilayati”. So Valentine’s Day was a delayed parting gift from the erstwhile kingdom.
Gifts, cakes, curios, confectioneries, greeting cards and flowers are exchanged as an expression of love. After all who doesn’t like giving and receiving gifts? They are far better than bombs, drugs, WMD’s, nuclear threats, suicide attacks and violence.
In all this helter-skelter of the “in-thing” of celebrating Valentine’s Day in India, there were many people who were at unrest; for both good and bad reasons. There were groups who saw the Valentine’s Day celebration as a threat to the rich, ethnic culture of India and some saw the celebration as an opportunity for business and expansion.
Since the early 1990’s when the Indian economy opened up, there was a flood gate of   international job avenues for young Indians. They travelled the world and returned with a truck load of experience and exposure. Around the same time the advent of cable television and the introduction to foreign channels and news, made the resident Indian aware about many “phoren” things, which also included the Valentine’s Day. The media got rolling and soon Valentine’s Day celebrations coloured India in its signature red colour.
Simultaneously the hawk eyed business man saw an opportunity in the Valentine’s Day celebration. Till yesteryears what was just a small business set -up, had overnight grown into a big industry of making Valentine cards, photo frames, personalized gifts, mugs with messages, home décor  and curios. Besides these the businesses’ of flowers, cakes, Jewelleries, accessories has also grown by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. In current times, the gear-up to the day happens a month in advance through the commercials played on television, radio, internet, bill-boards, metro stations, bus kiosks, public transport, OOH’s (Out Of Home) and whatever medium the marketer can think of. Freebies, surprise parties and gifts for the partners are some of the other ways through which the consumer can be lured into buying. This is all a commercial set-up where the primary motive is to make money. The marketing team, sale team, idea team and the creative team together create the eyeballs for the Valentine’s Day product. The soldiers on the enemy borders aren’t love-stuck; because the industry does not see any monetary benefit there.
While the industry is busy creating noise and making money around the Valentine’s Day, certain social and political groups, who claim to believe in Indian culture, think that this celebration is “alien” to India and celebrating love in public is against the Indian culture. They fear the loss of Indian ethicality and are antagonistic of Western culture and social influences. To them celebrating Valentine’s Day means trudging over our family values, respect and decency.
Lest we forget, even India has its version of cupid Gods – Kama and Rati who long ago instilled a feeling of love and compassion. In coming ages India had immortal love stories of Heer-Ranjha, Shreen-Farhad, Sohni-Mahiwal which overwhelmed the youth. The magic was further spread deep into the corners of India through the mushy Bollywood movies, so love and romance is not a new thing for Indians. In fact the world considers India to be the haven of love legends, spirituality and self-actualization. But what baffles is why are we hooked to Valentine’s Day as the only day of love? Or is it because it comes from the West?  Love what you own and own what you love.
There is truth in the fact that Valentine’s Day celebration has seeped deep into us. Like other important dates, this day too has blocked its permanent place on our calendars. But the questions that still remain unanswered are:-
* Is the rise in the celebration all a marketing game-plan?
* Are there interested business lobbies working to make it this popular?
* Since times immemorial India has had foreign influences which have got blended so well, then why do we still feel insecure about our ethnicity.
* If we shun the celebration, will we not be alienating ourselves from the larger world?
The answers to these questions may still be in the dark but there is a larger question. Sometimes in the rush to ape the foreign cultures, we often forget or ignore many of our own festivals and events. Agreed that we are global citizens and open to all cuisines, cultures and beliefs of the world, but this magnanimity should not come at the cost of losing our own originality. Valentine’s Day, La Tomatina, Carnivals of world and Ice festivals of the world are welcomed but India should not forget its own identity.