Ever since I started to write my column, it has been customary for me to put pen to paper in celebration of love, the most beautiful feeling for every living organism, on Valentine’s Day. Words typically flowed with no writer’s blocks experienced from start to end. It was a matter of rummaging out a chapter in my life, in the distant or recent past.
There were many Valentine’s Day heroines — or victims — who I said I wanted to celebrate on the Red Letter Day: doctors, nurses, sales girls, et al. And, of course, a couple of journos who I wished Happy Valentine, with my heart pounding for fear of being flirtatious at the height of the raging #MeToo movement. I even dared to dig into my life and chronicle a legion of old flames as well as a motley of revered personalities, in a tribute to ‘The other women in my life’.
But today, with Valentine’s Day almost knocking on my door, my fingers are frozen, lips aren’t quivering, heart isn’t bobbing, and cognition isn’t computing. I am faced with the dilemma if Valentine’s Day is valid in the new normal that the Covid pandemic has cursed upon us. But I cannot let it go because — forget the legend behind the day — it’s the only time when the world takes a break from all its nefarious activities to celebrate love, the matter of life.
When the virus rose from Wuhan like a murmuration and swooped down to the earth, it not only wiped out millions of humans, it also crippled millions of hearts. Marriages broke down within 24 hours after couples tied the knot. The pathogen altered the concept of love and life we have been used to for centuries.
I always believed the wiseman who said familiarity breeds contempt was wrong because, in conventional Asia where arranged marriages have been the norm for centuries, it’s the familiarity they acquired in the post-nuptial life that built a bond between the couple. The more time you were together, the more intimate you were. The darker your locale was, the more physical you got. Remember the phenomenon of ‘blackout baby boom’ that gripped America during the power outages in the 1960s and ’70s?
I, for one, anticipated a ‘corona baby boom’ as the world switched to work from home in early 2020. Deliveries took weeks as people spent more online to embellish their living space and build parks and pools for their little ones in the backyard. There was every reason for romance to be in the air. And plenty of time to bond at home.
But not everyone could be Florentino Ariza in Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Cholera and corona may rhyme pretty well but the latter pandemic redefined the concept of human relationships. It taught us we are all individuals first, then husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. It taught us that there’s life beyond the family. It taught us that an individual is complete only when life offers a holistic experience of personal space, societal interactions, professional gratification and family bonding.
Corona has caused more breakups and domestic violence than marriages. There has been an unbelievable spike in divorces across the world. Reasons galore: from being cooped up at home together 24x7 to differences, such as to vax or not to vax and to mask or not to mask as well as financial losses and unemployment.
“Why did Gandhi carry lipstick to the bedroom?
Because he wanted to make up his mind?”
We grew up laughing our hearts out over this insipid joke in our school days. It isn’t a joke anymore when we wear a mask at home. On his way back from the airport, son commented, “The situation in India is so bad we even wore the mask in the bedroom.” No one laughed inside the car. The air was thick with doleful sighs.
“How is your Valentine’s Day preparation?”
“Are you mad?” screamed one of the old flames I pinged jokingly.
Google, the modern-day wiseman, says Valentine’s Day is to commemorate the martyrdom of St Valentine who was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. A flood of questions inundated my cognitive field: Am I too old to celebrate romance? Who do I honour this time? I cannot put a face to my doctors after months of tele-consultation. I cannot picture my pharmacist who arranges home delivery. The pathogen has wiped out memories of the blue-eyed barmaid from Romania.
“Dad, where are you?” Daughter wanted to keep track of her “naughty dad”.
“At Malibu, Arabian Ranches.”
“What the hell are you doing there? You don’t live there.”
“Thinking about my Valentine.”
“Dad, are you in love?” She pestered me with the query in several consecutive calls.
“A man is not old as long as he is seeking something,” I quoted Jean Rostand, celebrated French philosopher and biologist.
“So, you are seeking someone?”
“I’m not sure. I certainly don’t want my Valentine to turn up in a PPE. I don’t want her curls to smell like a cheap sanitiser. I don’t want Jebel Ali-made vinyl gloves to come in between our interlaced fingers. No, I don’t want a face shield to block the warmth of her breath that would have rejuvenated the roses I gifted. I don’t want a surgical mask to mute her whispers of love. Vava, it isn’t politically correct to ask someone to be a Valentine in the time of corona.”
“Dad, much better if you put it the other way around: Will you be my quarantine?”
“How does it help, Vava?”
“Dad, a Valentine is for a day, while a quarantine is for 10 days. Read the protocol. Enjoy a nine-day bonus. Be positive and have a great time.”
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