The Valentine season has arrived. I thought I should assure you once again that 'I love you, Sohiniay, my pretty lady.'
You have asked many questions in your letter. I shall be able to answer only two or three today in this letter. About your question on St. Valentine, you must have heard his name for the first time when you were in the Delhi University, studying Shakespeare's play, HAMLET.
In Act IV, Scene 5, Valentine Day is mentioned by Ophelia when she says:
Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime
And I a maid at your window
To be your Valentine.
Gradually as the time marched on, Valentine Day has evolved into an important event which is celebrated on 14th February every year in which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers and sending greeting cards.
I have read in some books that St. Valentine was born in Rome in the third century.
That time Rome was ruled by a very unpopular and cruel Emperor, named, Claudius who was always at war with the neighbouring countries, and therefore wanted to have a big army but many strong and well-built men did not join his forces. This made Claudius furious.
At the same time, St. Valentine, a devout Christian as he was, preached love and peace among the people of Rome, gave young men and women the message of understanding, non-violence and friendliness, and encouraged them to love each other.
Secretly he began to arrange marriages of those couples who were willing to do so but Claudius did not like his actions because he wanted young men for his army. During that period, one very beautiful girl, impressed by his philosophy of love and peace, became his friend. Let us call her 'Patricia'.
One dark night, when he was performing a marriage ceremony of a young couple in candle lights, Claudius soldiers arrived, arrested him and pushed him into a dark jail cell.
Patricia's father was a security guard at the jail. Instead of stopping his daughter from entering the jail building, he helped her to go in. She would bring red roses for Valentine. Both of them, Patricia and Valentine, met secretly, almost daily, talked for hours, holding each other's hands and developed strong ties of love and affection.
One day Valentine got up early in the morning, and began to write a love letter to Patricia:
Darling of my heart
This is my last letter. Today is my life's final day. Claudius has given me punishment of death for the messages of love, harmony and conciliation which I preached among the people of Rome. Three soldiers of Claudius army will continue whipping me until I become unconscious and breathe my last.
But I shall not die. My soul has become colourfully immortal and is fragrant with the red roses you gave me daily. In my death, I shall live. We loved each other. Love is another name of God. Since the day you have entered my life, I have become a different person. Whenever I looked into your wide, beautiful eyes, I felt as if God has opened the golden gate for me to step into the paradise of your fragrant personality. I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love. Those who have the courage to love should have the courage to suffer. The palace of Claudius is like a cold tomb because the breeze of love and tranquillity would never touch it. For you, my dear, I am leaving behind tons of best wishes.
Goodbye, my sweet heart,
From your Valentine.
Dear Reshma, I know you must have become sad to read this letter.
Your other question is about those Indians who argue that Valentine celebration is not in their culture and it will corrupt the young minds. You say that their argument is 'Valentine celebration is offensive to their traditional values and it is a symbol of western civilization, and it is their duty to protect Indian values and traditions.'
You might have seen that in cosmopolitan cities like Bombay, Calcutta, and Delhi, there are thousands of families who love western ways of life. For them, it is a symbol of status to wear suit and necktie, speak English at home and in social parties, and send their children to those schools where medium of education is English.
If messages of love and roses as advocated by St. Valentine is foreign and therefore unacceptable to some groups of fanatic Indians, then what about the love poetry of Shelly, Keats, Tennyson, Byron and love sonnets of Shakespeare which continued to be taught to the boys and girls in many Indian Universities for about two hundred years?
There are so many other examples to show that some Indians and their children have gone very far to adopt western ways of life, not only in India but in almost every oversea country where people of Indian origin have settled.
On the other hand, Indian saints and sages have been singing the glories of love and beauty from time immemorial.
Love is the strongest foundation of Indian culture. It is the most fulfilling and ennobling emotion among human beings. Men and women are made to love each other.
On the stone-walls of some ancient Hindu temples, there are monumental works of sculptors who carved images of love-making by men and women in their naked bodies.
The message of love as given by St. Valentine stands nowhere when we compare it with Maharishi Vatsiyan, the author of Kamasutra in which he gives lessons, step by step, to the readers on love-making.
Figuratively speaking, Valentine's is a small candle against Maharishi's floodlight. Other books on love and sex, written centuries back, were called Shastras and Granths.
For example; Kok Shastra and Kaam Shastra. These words, Shastra and Granth, have religious connotations.
The scripture, Gita Govindam, written by Jaydeva in the 12th century, is read by some religious men with the same enthusiasm as they would read any other religious work.
Some parts of this religious book contain love songs of Radha and Krishna.
As Lord Krishna, time and again, is adored by the poet (Jaydeva) as God, in matters of love, he treats him as having all the passions that are natural to a human lover.
He ascribes such words and phrases to Krishna as if he (Krishna) is using them for Radha: 'honey-dripping lips', 'cheeks like golden hue of flowers', 'eyes excelling the beauty of blue lotuses', 'nectar of her enchanting smiles', and wanted Radha to 'imprison him in the locks of her arms'. Similarly the poet made Radha use very passionate language to describe her love for Lord Krishna.
Such religious books and stone-images of love-making on the stone walls of the old temples are not foreign. They are considered part of rich Indian culture and civilization.
My dear Reshma, I do not understand, then, why some religious organisations in India are not able to digest St. Valentine's simple message of love and roses, and of truth and beauty."
Jogindar Singh Kanwal has written many Hindi and English books and has recently published another historical novel, A LOVE STORY-1920. He lives in Varadoli, Ba and his email address is: kanwal@ connect.com. fj)