On Valentine’s Day

Ever since I was 14, Valentine’s Day has always been interesting for me, and not necessarily in just good ways. I grew up in Madras, a city not particularly known for its sense of romance. As school kids, Valentine’s day was spoken in hushed whispers and was an urban legend that only some chosen seniors had a clue about. The whole idea of expressing your love for someone to that very someone was a fantasy that had no existence outside of Tamil movies (and the occasional Hindi movie at Melody theater).

So when I found myself in Delhi, surrounded by classmates who had smoked actual cigarettes and spoke of multiple girlfriends like they were pairs of jeans, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. What was even more of a shock was the very existence of girls whose response to non-study related male conversation was not a tear-filled visit to the principal’s office and a subsequent visit by the girls’ parents to one’s home, horoscope in hand, and a “your son spoke to my daughter so they must get married” proposal.

But my teenage mind took to the whole Valentine’s day thing in Delhi with alacrity. I mean, if you were a gawky, socially maladjusted kid (as all South Indian kids are in the capital) with a thousand crushes assaulting you from every direction in school, the only way to deal with it was to focus all your attention on that one day when it is marginally acceptable to express your feelings. I sure as hell couldn’t go and tell every girl I had a crush on that I had a crush on her on a daily basis. That wasn’t going to happen because I would have died several small deaths everyday. Instead I put my bet on being tragically and massively rejected just on that one day instead of going through several mini-rejections.

I approached the problem with an engineer’s mindset, which might explain the substantial rate of failure back then, but I stuck at it nonetheless. I first tried to find out what manner of magical things boys did that made girls not want to go crying to the principal’s office. I noticed flowers were involved. And Archies cards. I then paid a visit to that store. There were essentially 2 kinds of cards. Cards with cloying images of flowers in an orgy of pink and cards with snarky American humour that I wasn’t sure wouldn’t work. I found the former clichéd and the latter designed solely for display in a store than for actual giving to a girl one has a crush on. Honestly I didn’t think any Indian kid would ever take the risk of giving a girl a card that made jokes about cleavage. Where I came from, doing that usually entailed the dispatching of several goon-laden Scorpios to deal with the situation.

So I didn’t like any of those cards. Honestly I felt that if the female of my species had heartmelts reading the soul-sapping inanity on those cards, the future of humanity was quite dim. So that’s when I decided to make my own cards. Unlike now, I had passable sketching skills back in the day. I drew a violin eating a hearty meal telling the reader of the card “Hey, I’m your violin. Dine?”. It was contrived but I was 14 ok?

Now when the day actually arrived, despite being vegetarian, I chickened out. I couldn’t muster enough brave rebel neurons to convince me to put my name on the card. All of that Madras upbringing came roaring at me like an MTC bus on GST road and I painfully turned ASHOK into ANONYMOUS (ps: the top bit of the S extended to the bottom left of the H which was completely thickened into one line and the K was made N-like with just an extra line on the right) before leaving the card in the girl’s schoolbag just before lunch break was over.

So that was how it all began. An anonymous self-drawn card with a cheesily un-grammatical pun. If Darwin was watching, he’d have put very few odds on me. But within that year, I had my first real crush, and when I say real, I mean “Ashok’s academic performance has slipped as he seems quite distracted” on the report-card kind of real, if you know what I mean. And I realized that hand-drawn musical instruments with appetites was not the sort of thing that might appeal to this girl. So I went all literary and starting churning out poems. But by the time my first V-Day with this crush came, I was nervous again. I couldn’t just tell the girl I loved her in rhyme. This time, Madras upbringing formed a coalition with Engineering mindset and went wrote a cryptographic election manifesto.

I wrote a long and rambling poem about nothing specific and made the first letter of every line spell “<GIRL NAME>, YOU HAVE AN UTTERLY BEAUTIFUL SMILE”. Even with all the steganographical chicanery, I still couldn’t get myself to tell her what I really felt. The girl didn’t get it. I asked her a few days later if she got the hidden message. She gave me a “Should I go the principal’s office” kind of dubious look but when I did tell her how to um..extract the message, she was all smiles and said it was very sweet.

You know, the problem with the “It’s very sweet” compliment when one is 15 is that it is almost always misinterpreted. Well, I did end up interpreting this miss quite wrongly and it eventually ended a year later with me watching the Rakhi horror picture show, if you know what I mean.

Once I left high school, I did end up studying to be an engineer with all of that mindset business I was speaking of before, so quite expectedly, there was a 4 year break in Valentine’s day activities and I was back in action only when I got a job in IT.

Now that I had a salary, my outlook towards V-Day changed. I felt that I could buy expensive jewellery, roses and those sorts of things instead of doing what I used to before, which was actually taking a personal effort to do something special for someone, no matter how cheesy, corny or low-quality it turned out to be. It took me a while to realize that women value the time and effort taken to make them feel special more than the actual gift itself. I went through the “romantic candle-lit dinner at the Taj” phase but in retrospect the only characteristic I ended up displaying to the girl was financial imprudence.

Once I was in the US, I think I learned quite a lot about life in general. No, not women. Life. Anyone who claims that he understands 3.5 billion human beings is likely lying. About the only thing I have learnt is that every stereotype for an entire gender likely came out of the nether regions of a bull. On the contrary, I prefer to listen to personal anecdotes for what they are, personal anecdotes and sometimes, they turn out to be useful.For e.g, I find myself asking the girl in my life “What’s wrong? Why are you looking dull?” and I always remember a bit of advice I got from an old chap I had met a long time ago, who was married to a French woman. He told me that there’s a reason it’s called a mood swing and I felt that his advice was best captured by a visual

 

His point was that as men, we sometimes act selfishly by even assuming that we are the only problem and then annoy the hell out of the girl with some shameful displays of self-loathing.One just needs to let go sometimes and things will be back to normal.

While I was in the US, I realized how American men were an order of magnitude more romantic than the average Indian man. Perhaps their women expected more from them than Indian women do, but all the same, within a year, I decided that dinners at Olive Garden had to stop. I started learning to cook and while my first Valentine’s day special dinners were quite unpalatable (I used to follow the “with-enough-oil-and-masala-any-dish-tastes-nice” approach) , I eventually got better and once even made Tandoori kebabs in my apartment’s oven. Well, the leasing office slapped me with a $100 fine for destroying the oven but it was the most satisfying fine I had ever paid in my life till that point.

To the girl I eventually married, for our first V-Day, I wrote and composed an unbelievably cheesy song, recorded it amateurishly on Garageband, burnt a CD, hand-drew a label and even used a calligraphic pen to write lyrics inside the sleeve. I don’t know if that sealed the deal, but she did accept the Cubic Zirconia ring I gave her a few months later (I was cash strapped at that point ok?)

Looking back, I think if I learnt anything profound from all my V-Day experiences, it’s that nothing makes one more creative than being insanely in love with someone. I have learned musical instruments, picked up sketching and cooking skills and found more creative ways to be productive at work (in order to find time to do all of the former) while pursuing a mad desire to do something special for someone on Valentine’s Day. It hasn’t always worked, but I have always ended up enriched no matter what happened.

100 Comments

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  1. It hasn’t always worked, but I have always ended up enriched no matter what happened!!

    Nice ending. I guess this is who you are. Enjoi!!

  2. Hahaha.. I tried the first-letter-spelling poem thing myself back in middle school, and the ladice took three days to figure it out. Buzzkill.

    Good one!🙂

  3. for my part, i learned to make claymation movies and avoid talking about how israel should totally stay out of iran.

    women and the things we do for them. tcha id like to see them in my shoes once.

      1. You do that !!! Super funny. Wonder why you don’t turn up on Freshly Pressed more often. This was way better than all the valentine posts I have read lately,

  4. Brilliant. Just brilliant… “?..Madras upbringing formed a coalition with Engineering mindset… wrote a cryptographic election manifesto.” it seems. Haha! Lovely read. Thanks.

    Also, Y U NO BLOG MORE OFTEN?

  5. aw🙂
    I can’t believe you actually did the love-struck thing and made a creative and personal gift for your lady. Then again, you are creative. Just didn’t think guys had it in them.🙂

  6. “The very existence of girls whose response to non-study related male conversation was not a tear-filled visit to the principal’s office and a subsequent visit by the girls’ parents to one’s home”

    Haha – this is totally Brilliant.

  7. Reblogged this on pensive-thumbs and commented:
    The part where the Madras boy is in a cultural holocaust is definitely true😀 Maybe my US friends can say something about the second part – learning to cook, making mix-tapes, making designer cards, etc😀

  8. Made me nostalgic. Thanks for giving your readers get to know bout your sweet memories.

    Ungal veetla ungalai eppadi thaan samaalikkurangalo !…

    PS: Hope you also shared how your parents managed your brilliance !

  9. God! I cant believe that you actually wrote ‘ I’m your violin”!!!! If someone had given that to me, I would be laughing my heart out even now on every valentine’s day. You have changed her life forever! God bless you.

  10. Utterly brilliant writing🙂 I stumbled upon your blog few months back (when I was holidaying in India) and since then I think your blog’s (& sometimes words of wisdom.. haha) are among the very best I’ve read…🙂 Reading your blogs makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me relate heavily to the words (stories, events, or whatever… – given that I come from Madras/Vellore myself..😉 Anyway, thanks and keep up the good work. Cheers.. and Happy V Day to you and your wife🙂

  11. Loved your description of the Archies cards – perfect.. that is exactly what they were.. Guess that is why it always took me too long to pick even one card.. great post..

  12. My first valentine with my now wife and then girlfriend , got awful busy with annual budget and could not even muster flowers. Got out of it by giving her the one day of love is bullshit and corporate propaganda , will get you gifts any other day but not on valentines spiel. 9 years maintaining same facade , it means B’day and Anniversaries are double expensive but still holding

  13. More men should read this and not dismiss it as one of your mood swings🙂

    I wish Indian women would demand more and men would want to do something more than wish that her perennial PMS get over.

    “nothing makes one more creative than being insanely in love with someone” – beautifully said!

  14. Ya, creativity one creates, when infatuated. But it is necessary to have good strong shock absorbers. Feminity can kill by a simple ‘turning the face away’ act. I was disappointed to the point that I decided to concentrate only on my studies and career to distract myself from depression.😀

    1. In retrospect, I think the intensity of the trauma of rejection is proportional to one’s own sense of self-worth🙂 If one thinks one is too good to be rejected, sure the rejection is going to be painful🙂

  15. Aha how well written. Complete with Jet airways advert (how typical considering you globetrot) and P James Magic Show (is this also you?).
    As I was musing over your “sandarbh” and “vyakhya” of V-Day, I remembered my own adventures🙂
    Thank you.

  16. “His point was that as men, we sometimes act selfishly by even assuming that we are the only problem and then annoy the hell out of the girl with some shameful displays of self-loathing.One just needs to let go sometimes and things will be back to normal.” That is sooo true! :O Only if more guys understood that women’s worlds do not revolve around them. :p

  17. You got me at “New Post: Doing Jalsa…”

    And this got the Mylapore Auditor in me “I went through the “romantic candle-lit dinner at the Taj” phase but in retrospect the only characteristic I ended up displaying to the girl was financial imprudence.”

    Me and the fiancee (now wife) once walked out of the Taj once on similar grounds🙂

  18. “Rakhi horror picture show” is one of the most brilliant things I have ever read. I think I’m ready to quit the internet now.

  19. I saw this on my blogs feed, and my head sprang with a “New Post Alert”!
    And as always a delightful read.

    I do hope you give another TEDtalk soon, because this time, I would like to attend it.

  20. “nothing makes one more creative than being insanely in love with someone” – awesome lines…loved the whole post, especially the violin part and the last para

  21. I landed on this blog very accidently and realized can now land on it frequently. I just read this blog of your until now. You are hilarious!!

    Regards
    Srikanth

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