This is a dig at Valentine's Day : first love

Arguably, I started too early to fall for a sweet young thing in the year of the moonlanding. Not surprisingly mama had once remarked, "Can’t tie his shoe laces and he is in love!" At kindergarten, my sister’s friend Dolly and I were the only ones in school who came closest to what I was to learn later, teenagers proudly called 'going steady'.

In later years I would also learn to laugh at myself remembering my fisticuffs with other boys who pinched Dolly’s tiffin or stole her pencils. Those were simple times and she was happy with ordinary gifts like toffees. And since neither of us had heard of Valentine’s Day, I never had to blow my piggy bank on her. The lunch break at school was usually set aside for little adventures like feeding the rector’s flock of aggressive geese. And thanks to pictures in Life magazine, I also bragged endlessly about the Apollo 11 and the Vietnam war. My lectures, of course, were always after my father had told me the stories.

All that was a long time ago when we were growing up in a small town in Assam. We moved away after my father was transferred. And as it still happens to me, goodbye was a difficult word to say that day when we packed up. I thought we would meet again some day. Since then, I went through three more schools, two colleges, broke a few hearts and had mine broken too, flirted briefly with the university and changed my job thrice but never ran into Dolly again. If she hasn’t grown up to be fiercely career-minded, I should imagine Dolly is probably the mother of a kindergarten going child.

I shifted to Delhi more than a decade ago. Since then, every February, the hype over Valentine’s Day drives me round the bend. William Shakespeare may have said “She is a woman, therefore she must be wooed.” But I doubt whether he would have endorsed the collective madness that grips the city in February. And on the wrong side of thirty, the ballyhoo over Valentine’s Day makes me feel like a relic of an ancient past who is more at home riding a motorcycle on windswept Himalayan passes or chasing a vintage car rally.

Last year on Valentine’s Day as I was speeding down the Delhi Golf Club I saw a young man give a rose with great flourish to a girl, presumably his sweetheart. For the life of me, I still don’t understand how something so frail and transient as a rose is regarded as a symbol of everlasting love. I have always believed that flowers should never be plucked but admired only in gardens although I once came dangerously close to buying them for a princess. But Valentine’s Day or not, roses or violets, here’s to you Dolly – for the summer of ’69.

- by Sabir Hussain