Valentine’s Day is the most overrated holiday ever invented and the grossest form of marketing manipulation aside from Christmas. It is yet another holidays that got lost in translation like Halloween and has degenerated into a festival of paper hearts and kitsch, not to mention that it floral highway robbery. There is really no need for one specific day in the year to show your love for someone, there are 365 perfectly good days to choose from!
Filipinos are one of the most sentimental and romantic people on this side of the Pacific Ocean, and as such, the perfect victims for the Valentine circus. My cynicism comes from living in Europe where the concept is just beginning to catch up but still viewed as a marketing gig, and they would be right. It has been a while since I was in the Philippines for Valentines and the scale at which it is being promoted now is scary. The marketing is aggressive and the creativity of the Filipino entrepreneurs is fascinating, creating hapless victims at all social levels.
Strangely enough, of all countries to yearn for on Valentine’s Day, my heart seeks India, a country brimming with mystery and love stories to be found in philosophy, theology, mythology and popular culture all intertwined in daily life, and with very little to do with Hallmark. Valentine’s Day is nowhere near the scale of what you find in the Philippines, but it offers a profoundly fulfilling abundance of love stories that inspire and delight. The thriving Bollywood full of sensuality and hip-swinging beats not likely to experience a recession in the next two decades opens up a new world of body talk. India is the land of immortality, where the word for tomorrow and yesterday are one and the same (kal), tombs are built to enshrine love and shout it out to the world from both sides of heaven such as the Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial of his eternal and undying love for Mumtaz Mahal. The ultimate perfection (in every sense of the word) of symmetry, complementary spirits that form the whole, remind us that true love transcends time and space.
This year was the first time in my life I was not able to hear my parents say “Happy Valentine’s Day”, and I sorely missed that. My dear aunt (herself a widow and also missing her beloved husband on this occasion), sensing my emotions, called me up the other day and asked if I had a date lined up for Valentine’s. When I said no, she proposed that we be each other’s dates, to which I gamely agreed to. Neither of us wanted to brave the Manila traffic on such a night, so she came over to my place and I cooked dinner, lit candles, and we spent hours and hours talking. “My gift to you is the past” she said, as she handed over her gift – a bag full of my grandparents photographs from their youth that I never knew existed! In return, I gave her the future, a small jade plant to nurture.
With full stomachs and fulfilled hearts, we smiled at each other as she said, “Look at the two of us, back to square one… I took care of you when you were a toddler and I was newly married. When you cried because you missed your mommy, I cried too because I missed my mom as well. Almost 50 years later we have come full circle.”
So to hell with Hallmark, the expensive roses and exorbitant chocolates the market offers. I had a true heart and the candle of remembrance burning at my table this evening.