Pritish Nandy, 15 February 2010, 09:21 AM IST
V-Day week is a good time to ask: Is gifting the only way to show your love? Over the past week, wherever I looked, all I saw were exhortations to buy, buy, buy. What struck me as funny to begin with eventually became so high pitched that, despite my cynicism about such promotional antics, even I felt guilty for not rushing out to buy gifts. Everyone around me seemed to be flashing credit cards. The consumer society has taken Mother Teresa literally: Give till it hurts. So if you can't buy her a platinum ring or a candlelight dinner by the Aegean Sea, it means you can't afford her. Worse, it means you don't deserve her. From a day of love, V-Day has become a day to test your love.
It's actually a new premise, that love must be afforded. Like water, that was free till a few years back. It seems just the other day that the Beatles sang, Can't buy me love. Now love, like Evian, is expensive and branded. The bigger the brand, the more impressive the gift, the more powerful the love you profess. Or so declares the new consumer ethic, reinforced this time, no, not by the Beatles but by Abba. Money, money, money, it's a rich man's world. It's not just about women. It extends to even God. Tirupathi and Siddhivinayak grow richer every year. The offerings are more flashy. We are reaching a stage where we will soon be told if you can't afford to show your love for God with a big enough donation, don't come.
Ads warn me that if I don't buy the right insurance policies, I don't love my family enough. If I don't buy myself the right medical plan, I am not taking adequate care of them. If I don't pack off my kids to B-schools overseas, I am not preparing them properly for life. If I don't invest in the right mutual funds, I am not investing in their future. If I don't buy the correct cell phone plan for the family, I am not enabling them to talk all day and night to each other and bond as strongly as a family ought to. It all boils down to money. That's the ultimate test of love today.
But is that what your heart says? Is it what the people you love tell you? Is it what you believe is true? Well, not as yet perhaps. But the pitch is so high it's tough not to be persuaded that love is all about what you buy each other. Going back to the platinum ring, it's a beautiful gift and I am sure many of us would love to give it to the person we cherish. But not all of us can afford it. Those who can't are possibly no less loving than those who can. But do we really believe that any more in a world where we've reduced love to buying clichés? From the ubiquitous bouquet of roses to the Hallmark card to the blue Tiffany box, everything's now so tiresome, predictable. We have forgotten the power of the well crafted, hand written note, the stolen kiss.
Gifting is for the unimaginative. The more expensive it is, the more it speaks about who you are, not what you feel for her. It's untrue to say people don't like gifts but to assume that gifts can substitute for love is plain arrogance. That's what Sahir meant when he called the Taj Mahal not a symbol of love but an emperor's way of boasting that he could afford a love his subjects couldn't. From weddings to V-Day, every occasion is now becoming a test for love. You can buy your neighbour's wife a red Porsche convertible on her next birthday but will it win you her heart?
Gifts are never a substitute for love. Expensive gifts, even less so. They only reveal your own lack of ideas. Learn the salsa for her instead. Write her a poem. Mail her a song. Open the car door for her more often. Take her for a walk on Marine Drive. Play with her mastiff. Challenge your imagination. Surprise her. Enchant her. Woo her. Seduce her. Every day can be V-Day. You only have to make it so. Fight with her, argue with her, make love to her. Make her laugh more often. That's what love is all about. Not what you buy her.
As I sat in a dark hall, surrounded by so many bored young couples munching popcorn and staring at the screen, watching an unbearable movie called Valentine's Day, I am reminded of how beautiful and ephemeral all love is. To preserve it, cherish it, hold on to it, you need imagination, courage, adventure. You need a heart that can beat fast and a pulse that races every time you are near her. Me? I get an adrenaline rush even when I speak to her on the phone. Her presence in my life is the biggest gift of all.
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