In Defence of Valentine’s Day

by Tara* Kaushal

In-Defence-of-Valentines-Day-Sahil-Mane-PhotographyDespite the criticisms in the Indian context, I explain why I'm a huge fan of the day of love. Conceptual image by Sahil Mane Photography.

Call me a romantic fool, but I love Valentine's Day. In college in New Delhi, I'd laugh and say, “Why not? It's just another excuse to celebrate and get presents!” Now, 10 years, awareness and much consumer fatigue since, it isn't about the gift economy at all. For days before, love is literally in the air (and on the airwaves, TV and everywhere). Consciously ignoring advertising suggestions of what we should be giving-receiving, where we should be going, what we should be doing, Sahil and I celebrate without spending. Last year, we just cooked for each other over music and laughter; this year, we're planning a party. I also wish my mother, family and friends.

When I speak of my love for Valentine's, it tends to spark debate with a whole range of people. I've had the religious and cultural traditionalists play the ‘Against Hinduism/Islam' (India's two major religions) and/or ‘Against Indian Culture' Card, say it is a cultural contamination from the West. Friends who are nonconformists and anti consumerism are, well, anti its consumerism, the nauseating marketing blitz and the pigeonholing.

And the many arguments of those coming from a postcolonial perspective are best summed up on Wiki: “The holiday is regarded as a front for ‘Western imperialism', ‘neocolonialism' and ‘the exploitation of working classes through commercialism by multinational corporations' (Satya Sharma in ‘The Cultural Costs of a Globalized Economy for India', Dialectical Anthropology). Studies have shown that Valentine's Day promotes and exacerbates income inequality in India, and aids in the creation of a pseudo-Westernized middle class. As a result, the working classes and rural poor become more disconnected socially, politically and geographically from the hegemonic capitalist power structure. They also criticize mainstream media attacks on Indians opposed to Valentine's Day as a form of demonization that is designed and derived to further the Valentine's Day agenda.”

And, surprisingly, I agree with most of these criticisms.

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The Question of Stereotypes

by Tara* Kaushal

Indian-Stereotypes-Sahil-Mane-PhotographyProbing pigeonholing from my experience as an educated urban Indian. Conceptual image by Sahil Mane Photography.

I'm brown skinned, and that, along with my features and fusion dressing style clearly mark me as being from the Indian subcontinent. I travel to the ‘First World' a fair bit, and spend a lot of time in Australia, where most of my family live. More often than not, when I have conversations with locals there—on the street, at the post office, paying for groceries—a standard, unanimous response when I tell them that I'm only visiting, that I live in India is “But your English is so good!”

I realise that this is not simply racism and arrogant Euro-/white-centricity—it is also curiosity and ignorance. Whatever it is, for the longest time, I didn't know whether to be all WTFed about it, or simply amused at their ignorance. And I certainly didn't know how to react—was I to justify this with “I studied literature/Worked with the BBC/Was a magazine editor” and/or “Where I come from, English speakers are the norm, honey”? How about: “Your English is not bad either.” Or should I have mentioned Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth…? And then storm off (not!) or smile or be condescending? How does one react to racial stereotyping?

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