Loves Me, Loves Me Not

he_loves_me_not_by_roxanne_jasmine

Today morning in The Times of India I read an article about a boy who has been arrested in Jaipur for illegally appearing as a proxy candidate in a medical examination in the army recruitment process, for another candidate. He was caught when the astute army recruiters noticed the discrepancies in his signature and the signature of the actual candidate. He had been offered 5000 rupees for the job, and he had readily accepted the same as he wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend in style. He had previously been depressed for not being able to afford gifts for his girlfriend. Now his affection for her has landed him in jail. What do you say to ‘Love’ like that?
What’s ironic is that this incident occurs in a country where certain right-wing activists have already forbidden all Indian couples from celebrating a West-inspired festival. Any couples found roaming in the streets, holding hands or exchanging gifts and roses shall be forcibly married!
Not that this has in anyway deterred lovers or marketeers, for you see:

Love triumphs all. And if not love then definitely cash.

Storefronts, window displays, spam emails, billboards, hoardings and TVCs are all busy advocating the message of love and busy arguing over which branded chocolate, which diamond cut, which neck tie and what oversized teddy best screams L.O.V.E.

Love is definitely in the air, and so is consumerism!

Valentine day offers galore – from candlelight dinners in posh restaurants, themed cakes (and its expensive, younger sister – cupcake), chocolate boxes, helicopter rides, diamond rings (or bracelets or pendants…girls aren’t really picky when it comes to diamonds), rose boquets and fluffy teddy bears – everything you need to give your date and your wallet a day they can never forget! Newspapers and magazines publish articles on what to wear to allure your date, the list of the most expensive and hence most romantic restaurants in the city and which coloured rose conveys what.
Which brings us to the question – Is this all that Love is supposed to be? While there is nothing wrong in organizing a special day for your special one why enter a rat race with the rest of the world for that? Your love for him or her should be what matters, not the carats of the diamond ring. Amidst the riff-raff of cosumerist and materialist gifts it takes a lot of effort to find love. How is it love if he spends more than he can afford to get you a gift on Valentine’s Day, but fights with you and hits you the rest of the year? Even if he is a sweet, caring boyfriend, will he not resent you for burning a hole in his pocket? How is it love if you let it happen?
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day, but it is important to remember what one is celebrating is not a Western festival rooted in consumerism and materialism but your love for each other. The dozen expensive roses shall wilt in a day. The box of chocolates shall be eaten and digested. The teddy bear shall lie in a corner, gathering dust and in the age of tiny apartments you shall curse it as a waste of space at least once. What shall remain is the sweet fragrance of cherished sweet moments spent together. And that’s what this is all about.

Once upon a time people were ready to die for their lover. The generation now is more pragmatic. They are ready to go to jail in their attempts to organize a special Valentine’s Day for their lover.

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Quote

“Anything Else, ma’am?”

I was on my way home from college, when my mother texted me and asked me to pick up some groceries from the local kirana store.

I listed out all that I needed to the shopkeeper, more interested to the songs on my mp3 player, tapping my fingers in rhythm and impatience.  It had been a long day, and I wanted to go home. After fetching the items, he asked courteously, “Anything else, ma’am?”

I froze.

Ever since we moved to this neighbourhood ten years ago, this is the shop we visited most often for grocery shopping. I have tagged here along with my mother, peering excitedly at the glass bottles of candy, displayed prominently to entice kids like me. I have come here, a warm coin curled up in my fist – that week’s pocket money – and spent a long time wrestling with the conundrum of which chocolate to buy.

I have visited this shop often during the summer vacations to buy zillions of ice-creams and at Christmas, dragged my father here, to buy chocolates and plum cakes. I have come here with my playmates, when some magnanimous parent or other had handed one of us a currency note and said, “Go buy some sweets and share them with your friends”. I have stood behind, giggling and prodding each other, daring them to go talk to the shopkeeper. It was a daunting task back then.

I have heard the same shopkeeper (minus the silver streaks in his hair) tease me and address me, while I shyly hid behind my mother’s pallu. When I couldn’t reach a packet of crisps, he has many-a-time come to my aid.

I don’t know when I transcended into this new category of customers — customers who were not to be teased, but spoken to courteously. I don’t know if it is a welcome change.

*

I was sitting at my desk, next to the window, studying for my upcoming psychology exams. Now and then excited giggles and laughter from the kids playing below would reach my ears.

Suddenly someone shouted — “Priyanka Didi!

I recognized both the person being called and the caller. Priyanka was the youngest girl in our group of playmates. The one we never took seriously, the one to be picked last since she was always thought of as a liability to the team than an asset. I was the eldest, and animously called by all those in our neighborhood playgroup, Didi. To think that someday my title would pass on to Priyanka was surreal, but it had, and somehow till that afternoon I had never realized it.

As for the caller, I was already a teenager by the time she was born. I have seen her take her first steps, played ‘peek-a-boo’ with her and pulled her cheeks.

She had grown up in front of my eyes, but somehow I never realized that so had I.

*

Jolly Didi was my grandmother’s aide and companion. She had always been there, as far as my childhood memory stretches back to, and whenever we visited my grandmother, she would play with me and my sister. She would tell us jokes, teach us new games and narrate funny anecdotes from her village. My sister and I would follow her all around the house while she did her chores, constantly chatting.

She was a constant at my grandmother’s house for most of my early childhood, until she left to get married. Soon after that we moved to Mumbai, and all she became was the vestige of a childhood memory.

I never spared her much thought, until last year when we were visiting my grandmother, and she came for a visit with her son.

I don’t really know what I expected would happen. Maybe I wanted to relive the camaraderie we had shared when I was a child. I would love it if she became her previous self, tell us jokes and play hide-and-seek with us in the garden. But it was not to be.

Clad in a simple orange cotton sari, her head bowed and eyes downcast, she was not the playmate I remembered. Her behaviour towards me was courteous, bordering on reverence. I vaguely remembered her treating my mother and aunts with similar politesse, but I couldn’t fathom why she would treat me in the same way.

A particularly disconcerting moment was when she tried to sit down on the floor, near my feet. I jumped up, shocked, and asked her to sit next to me on the bed. She obeyed me but with a timidness in her behaviour that frustrated me and left me bemused. I wanted to but didn’t know how to dissipate the awkwardness in our relationship.

When her son poked me in jest, she immediately chided him, and begged my pardon. I wanted to scream that I had behaved similarly with her, when I was a child. She instructed her son to touch my feet and when he ran away shyly, she repeatedly begged pardon for his discourteous behaviour. I told her it didn’t matter, that he was just a child, and I didn’t mind – but the words sounded hollow and patronizing, even to my ears.

I was dying to relive, for even one moment, our earlier companionship and comfortable ease. But it was a thing of the past, and I didn’t know how to bring it back it back to life.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “All Grown Up.”