Valentine’s Day and this thing called love - Hindustan Times
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Valentine’s Day and this thing called love

ByHindustan Times
Feb 14, 2023 10:41 AM IST

The article has been authored by Anita Anand, communications specialist, New Delhi.

I grew up hugging and playing with cows and calves. My mother, originally from Punjab, moved to West Bengal after marrying my father, who also came from Punjab. Nostalgic for her Patiala environment, my mother asked if they could keep cows. My father obliged, procuring cows and buffaloes, building a cow shed and ensuring food for them. My childhood was surrounded with pure milk, curd, ghee (clarified butter), cheese (paneer) and butter. Naturally, my two sisters and I loved the animals, watching in awe calves being born, helping to feed them and taking care of them.

Animal Welfare Board of India wants people to celebrate Cow Hug Day on February 14.(AFP) PREMIUM
Animal Welfare Board of India wants people to celebrate Cow Hug Day on February 14.(AFP)

India’s Animal Advisory Board urged citizens to celebrate “Cow Hug Day” on February 14 this year instead of Valentine’s Day, calling cows the “backbone” of Indian culture and rural economy, and “hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness.” And hugging cows would help counter the threat posed to Vedic traditions—which stem from the ancient religious Hindu texts of the Vedas—that faced “near extinction” because of westernisation. A few days later, they reversed the announcement.

I am perplexed. In my recent memory and experience February 14 was Valentine’s Day - a day when people expressed love for each other - a tradition that originated as a Christian feast day, honouring early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine and, later through folk traditions became a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.

Growing up in rural India in the 1950s and 60s, I never heard of Valentine’s Day. After moving to the United States in 1970s, I became aware of it. I liked the idea of love and its expressions. But being Indian and growing up to not openly exhibit emotions, I was a little subdued about it.

In the 1990s the Indian economy liberalised and soon after, in 1992 satellite entertainment channels began airing programmes, which, in the 2020s expanded to streaming over TV, video and cell phones. There was increasing ease of accessing films, programmes and music channels which opened a new world for Indians.

There is legitimate worry about ‘increasing westernisation replacing and causing the decline of Vedic traditions.’ India is a traditional society with beliefs, objects and customs with origins from or believed in from the past, and transmitted through time, passed on from one generation to the next and are performed or believed in the present. But times change. What then, is the relevance of these traditions, especially in these modern times?

Modernity, on the other hand, means individual subjectivity, scientific explanation and rationalisation, a decline in emphasis on religious worldviews, bureaucracy, rapid urbanization and the rise of nation-States. When choosing to adopt modernity, there is a natural threat to unquestioned tradition.

Young people in India are questioning traditions passed on to them by their ancestors, which include hierarchical and patriarchal ways of life, often contradictory to modernity. They want freedom - in choice of work, partners, in and outside marriage, and relationships in general. If Hindu culture and tradition are facing ‘extinction’ it could be because they are not relevant to present day Indians.

In India the idea of love, traditionally, has been downplayed in favour of duty, honour, respect and regard. The ‘arranged marriage’ was a transaction between two families, when children reached marriageable age. Couples got used to each other. There were no flowers, cards or gifts exchange in my parents’ generation (or in mine). No cuddly toys, love emojis or texting.

Young people today are more exposed to each other. Women are accessing education and working outside their homes and are aspirational: want to earn, be financially independent and choose who to love and marry; and often not worried about caste or religion, the two factors that are traditionally vital criteria for marriage alliances. The cell phone has enabled them to text, exchange photographs, poems, music and sweet nothings. They have discovered love and sex and want it.

Traditional families disapprove of this ‘westernization’ that young people are not only leaning towards but adopting. Many young Indians, unlike Westerners, are not exposed to a different sex and may not prepared emotionally for relationships. There will be sexual harassment, heartache, stalking, suicide and murder. But all this happens in ‘arranged marriages’ too.

The cow in India means different things to people - sacred, holy - among others. In the 1960s, American anthropologist, Marvin Harris studied what is sacred in cultures. He concluded that Indians revered the cow as it was a highly utilitarian. It made more sense to have them alive than dead.

“Religious laws that forbid the slaughter of cattle promote the recovery of the agricultural system from the dry Indian winter and from periods of drought. The monsoon, on which all agriculture depends, is erratic and drought strikes large portions of India. Farmers and the zebus are accustomed to these natural disasters. Zebus can pass weeks on end with little or no food and water. Like camels, they store both in their humps and recuperate quickly with only a little nourishment. The cow is a symbol of health and abundance.”

The reverence for cows is, however, different to love between humans. Valentine’s Day is about expressing love in all relationships. No matter how much traditional Indians frown upon and discredit love, it is here to stay. The expression of love between people is a beautiful thing and Valentine’s Day is one example of the celebration of love.

The article has been authored by Anita Anand, communications specialist, New Delhi.

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