Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, it is hard to make the disassociation with February once you’ve learnt about the 14th. Isn’t it? So today, I want to tell you about the two times in life that I had anything to do with Valentine’s Day.
The accidental celebration
The year was 2003. We had our last set of 10th board preparatory exams, and so I’d gone to school early that particular day. One of my good friends came running, and gave me a huge box of celebrations (chocolates), a greeting card and a bunch of red roses. She told me that my then flame had asked her to deliver them to me for Valentine’s Day. Without wasting a second, I shoved everything into my bag, before anyone could see it.
I’d never celebrated Valentine’s Day before. The only people who celebrated this occasion in my class were people who weren’t very bright. I wonder where I’d picked up this theory on intelligence being inversely correlated to you celebrating Valentine’s Day. It was probably the middle class sanskari fodder that I’d been fed to ensure I get good marks and don’t bring shame to the fam.
I know I am not alone. Some of you single people out there are thinking the same - I am a smart and successful person, and I don’t need marriage. I’ve already got my validation from good marks.
If I were you, I’d think the same.
Okay, may be not. I never got very good marks.
Anyway, back to the story…
I can’t put a finger on the exact emotions I felt receiving presents for Valentine’s day - fear, shame, anger, excitement and may be some confusion even. Reading “I love you” on the card made me feel suddenly very grown up. Something about it made me immensely uncomfortable. I felt like an imposter. As I left my backpack outside the exam hall, I wondered if someone would discover these things in my bag. I didn’t need a reason to be distracted during the exam, but I was.
My friends at school teased me for the rest of that day, and I oscillated between being proud and being embarrassed. When I came home that afternoon, I threw the roses as far away from home as possible. I burnt the card, and flushed it down the toilet. I hid the chocolates as safely as I could before my parents got back from work. My flame called to ask if I’d received his presents, and I couldn’t get myself to talk to him that evening. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this - I was in love when I wasn’t allowed to be.
Soon after, things ended between us. It was never meant to be. Also, as my parents would say, I was entering the most crucial two years of my life, and I needed to focus on nothing but studying. So, I had no time for love or the elaborate logistics of being in love while pretending not to be.
It was circa 2005. We had our 12th board preparatory holidays. I went to a friend’s house for “combined study”. Once we were done with some studying, we decided to step out for a walk. It was Valentine’s Day. So, we decided to pass by the Coffee Day near her house. Neither of us had a boyfriend to celebrate the day with, but we were curious nevertheless.
Back in the day, coffee days were damn aspirational, in general. You’d pass by one and start envisioning a rather extravagant life with:
yourself clad in fashionable clothes (read a tank top without a dupatta)
a hunk of a boyfriend that would make your friends jealous, and
a dad who wouldn’t lecture you on how he could make the same coffee at home for Rs. 5 instead of Rs. 50, that you used to feed SM Krishna’s family.
Naturally, on 14th February every year, Coffee Days vicariously played with your emotions.
We saw lots of cool kids celebrating the day with their loved ones. Being good brahmin kids, my friend and I scoffed saying we had education, and we didn’t need boyfriends. We wrote off the cool kids, and their celebrations saying they were probably from Sheshadripuram college ( which is not a Tier-1 college in Bangalore). But we both probably knew, deep in our hearts, that good marks is all we really had (of course, only until the boards’ results came out).
It’s been 15 years, but things haven’t changed a lot. Sure, instead of Coffee Day, it’s probably Starbucks now, and instead of 12th standard, it’s probably 3rd standard but the emotions remain the same.
No no, this ain’t a story about St. Valentine. As I finished writing these two stories, I remembered why and how Valentine’s Day became important in my life. I am sure you have a similar story too.
This was in 2000, when I was in 7th standard. A friend’s cousin got married on 14th February. I remember this friend coming to school that day and telling all of us how romantic it was that this couple had chosen the day of love to be married. That’s when we learnt about Valentine’s Day. She showed us a picture of their reception a few days after that made it impossible to forget the story so easily. Also, she was one of the few girls in class who was teased in 7th standard. So, naturally, the story made an impact.
Oh wait, I have to explain teasing first.
So, when we were about 11 or 12, a few girls in my class started to blossom little bosoms, and voices of boys began to crack. Collectively, as a bunch of 12 year olds of varying maturity, we didn’t quite know what to do with these changes. So, we paired up a few people in class, and began teasing them as if they were secretly dating. Whether these couples truly fancied each other, or started fancying as a result of our teasing, nobody knows.
But, when someone is the subject of such teasing, you naturally look up to them for guidance on love, and in turn, Valentine’s Day.
Well, we were 12 after all.
After 2005, I can’t remember a single Valentine’s Day that ever mattered to me. Mostly because I was almost always in relationships, and by college, you’re mostly over trivialising love like that ( at least some of us).
But, when I think about these stories, and imagine an alternate history where it would’ve been possible to discuss love with an adult as if it was nothing to be shameful about, I wonder how different our lives would’ve been.
What if, in 2000, I could come home and tell my parents that I felt incredibly small (quite literally) because I wasn’t subject to any teasing in school? In response, what if someone told me then that it’s not the teasing that makes you tall or small, but how you feel about yourself?
What if in 2003, I could share with an adult how incredibly lucky I felt to have been the subject of someone’s attention and in response, someone told me that I needn’t feel afraid or ashamed or feel like an imposter?
What if in 2005, someone told me that it was okay to be in love, while also building your career and that the two aren’t inversely correlated?
Would I be a different person today?
Sometimes, I wonder, if we’ll ever manage to normalise love, not just for children or teenagers, but even for adults.
I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day now, and it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that my love is any less special than if I did celebrate it. But if I ever wanted to, I must.
And if you are celebrating it…
Happy Valentine’s Day to you.
More from Shapely Gal
Last year was a very busy year for me. Not just work wise, but even personally speaking. With schools being shut, it is really hard for working parents with little support to get through their day to day, let alone orchestrate creative projects.
So, this year, I’ve decided to be a little kinder to myself, and I intend to remain this way at least until schools are back in action. So, here’s a little sneak peak into a very limited set of projects I am working on right now:
Shapely Gal Night: I will be doing a monthly live session on Youtube and Instagram reading and discussing the Shapely Gal newsletters as a way to pause, go back and reminisce on some of the wonderful stories from last year. Follow me on Youtube and Instagram if you want to be a part of this.
Ask Auntie: I am collecting ideas from my audience on questions that they’d like answered. In case you have any, do write to me. Don’t be shy.
UNBOXED:Rahul Kolle & I spoke about Jigsaw, a stand-up comedy show on Netflix, by this Scottish comedian called Daniel Sloss. Daniel uses the analogy of Jigsaw puzzles to talk about life and how the society makes us feel like incomplete if we’re missing the partner piece of the puzzle. We did a 3-part Unboxed series on this.
Sneak peak into what I’m reading/ watching/ listening to:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: This was such a powerful book, which I didn’t quite realise until I had finished reading it and mulling over for a few days. If you have any interest in mental health, it is an absolute must read.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: This is a story of a pair of twins in America whose lives take very different turns once they part ways. It is a familiar yet untold story of any two siblings whose lives diverge with their life choices.
Shapely Gal song of the month: “Wish you well” by Sigala and Becky Hill.
Shapely Gal is a monthly newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.