14th of February. On way to attend a shraddha ceremony, I stopped at my regular flower shop to buy some flowers. I generally do not give bouquets to people. It is a waste of money. It is held in the hands of the receiver for few seconds before being consigned to some remote corner waiting to be thrown in the bin. I only buy for the dead. As a mark of respect to the departed soul. At least the flowers lay with the body for quite sometime. I prefer Rajanigandhas with one or two white roses.
The flower seller smiled at me and said» Uncle, rose today is Rs. Fifty each – red and white both». «Fifty!!! «, I exclaimed. «Yes uncle», he said, «Pune, Bangalore, Kolkata any source». Looking at my puzzled face, he clarified, grinning from ear to ear,» Today is the belentine». I remembered now. The day was Valentine›s Day. The day you hand over roses to your love. I skipped the roses and bought few Rajanigandha sticks for the departed. It would not have mattered to him. (Kolkata, with all its romanticism and calf love sold roses 150 a piece).
Back in my car, I thought about Valentine’s Day. Marketed by West, it has engulfed fragile Indian psyche and made it a National craziness. St. Valentine, a Roman priest was born about 1700 years back and had nothing special about him. I have seen his portrait. A shade better than me. A very non-attractive persona. How he got associated with love is a mystery to me and many others. He was beheaded and buried young and was out of the Church’s list for years. He was re-included much later. However, St. Valentine somehow got connected with love and 14th. February was assigned as Valentine’s Day.
In India, scheming business houses foisted this day with much of aggressive marketing making huge profits out of V-day cards, cakes and chocolates. The Indian Rose industry also made crores on this day.
Indians have changed the meaning of this day as per their liking- from platonic to physical and from respectful to lustful. Like we have done to Dosa- keema dosa, paneer dosa, mushroom dosa, noodle dosa.
The line between love and infatuation has blurred now. True love is rare these days. People get alternatives fast and forget the earlier one.
In Lucknow, the place of Nawabs and broken hearts- Mayfair cinema building in Hazratgunj- the CP of Lucknow stands as a majestic reminder to the past. It belonged to the iconic MGM of Hollywood. English movies were screened there. The building housed British council library and the famous kwality restaurant too. The frontage- nearly a hundred feet long- was a covered one. Much like the regal cinema building in the Connaught Place. Hazratgunj is a place to stroll, window shop, to meet and ogle at beautiful belles. Called «Gunjing» , it is a ritual of young and old. Much has changed now after the invasion of Bahubalis from nearby districts. The place still retains some of its old flavour of laid back lifestyle. More on that later.
During 1955-65, a young man in crumpled but clean white kurta pyjamas used to pace the Mayfair frontage very slowly muttering audibly «amma ,amma,Woh aayegi – e amma woh aayegi». This was his daily routine- 4 pm to 7pm – summer or winter. We were kids from neighbourhood and sometimes followed his paces before being whooshed away by the cinema hall guard or a sympathetic passer-by.
It was said that he belonged to a royal Shia family who fell in love with a beautiful girl. The girl was shifted somewhere by her parents. As the lovers used to meet in front of Mayfair, this unfortunate boy, waited for her for months leaning on the fluted pillars. Ultimately, he lost his mind and became insane. He, however, kept up his routine foray to the place every day.
On some days, he sauntered to Aminabad market, sometimes half naked. Fair, thin and loose light beard on face, the boy could have hooked on to any other girl but he waited for his true love.
I left Lucknow in 1964. He was there. I went back in 1973. He was’nt there. The hopeful valentine was not to be seen. I asked the paanshop wallah, the oldest on that line about him. He made a sad face and swayed his head in negative. As usual his mouth was full of paan and he was not willing to spit it out.
On Valentine›s Day my ears rang with «Woh Aayegi- woh aayegi».
RIP my real Valentine. Hope she has met you in Jannat.
Subir Adhicary has authored five books. He is a humorist and his first book Beyond My Blinkers. He is a civil engineer from University of Roorkee ( now IIT) and is working as consultant.