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The first time I heard of Valentine’s Day was in 1981/82. That was the year American Sikhs (those who wore white clothes, white turbans and had Sikh names) joined my school in Mussoorie. I remember being fascinated - there was actually a day that you confessed your love to someone, gave them cards and gifts, and went out on dates! What a far cry from my all-girls school, where you were not allowed to talk to boys, and the only way to get through to any boy was to tie a rakhi on his wrist!

This Valentine’s Day, I feel like romance has passed me by in this life. The stores are full of ‘love’ merchandise, there are special deals on red roses and wine, and advance bookings for a dinner for two on Feb14th. Yet, it seems cheesy to buy something for my husband of 20 years, or to even plan a quiet dinner that night.

At my mother’s home last year when I was rummaging through my old things, I chanced upon an old Mills & Boon. It was fascinating to re-read it again. In my teen years, I lived my love-life through M&Bs as we referred to them. Those short chapter books with a length that ranged between 180 to 196 pages had a standard formula. A simple girl meets a rich alpha male, sparks fly, the alpha male is almost always a woman-hater (because of some incident in his life) and a vamp might be on the scene; our poor heroine falls for him but he is rude to her, he may kiss her with passion and nothing seems to go right until the last chapter when he confesses his love to her.

Through my school and college years, M&Bs were my constant companions. I would insert a M&B in my study book and moon over the tall, dark and handsome hero through prep hours in the boarding school; my juvenile fantasies were about him as well! In college M&Bs became my palate cleansers. My local market had a great circulating library with thousands of M&Bs. For a measly amount, I would borrow four M&Bs everyday. In between writing critical essays on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare or Naipaul, I would read a M&B. Armed with a packet of chips and a cola, it used to take me exactly 45 minutes to finish one from start to the end; it did not matter if I slept off in the middle or skipped pages, because I knew the formula well enough. The M&Bs would refresh me and I would then settle down to understanding ‘Waiting for Godot’ better!

When we were growing up we were not allowed to feel romance! Good girls (and I am not claiming to be one) were not supposed to be aware of boys. They were not allowed to experiment, have ‘boy’ friends or experiences that their raging hormones so desired. All these were activities to be performed in secrecy, away from the prying eyes of family and parents. I could never figure if the flutter in my heart was because of the guy I liked or the fear that someone would find out ? Ofcourse, I never got flowers - how would I justify taking flowers home and explaining them to my mother? I got cards once, and I was mortified that a guy could actually give me a card that said he loved me - in a strange way it made me feel like a bad girl! In a culture where any relations with a boy are frowned upon, and yet, the arranged marriage groom has rights over your body on the very first night you spend together, where is the potential for romance? Candlelight dinners, gifts and cards and sweet nothings jostle almost immediately with the business of starting a life together and planning for a family and the future.

Romance passed me but I did find love. My husband’s hug is home for me, and his concern for my well-being is reflected in many small things - like making my cup of tea in the morning, pressing my achy feet, complimenting the dinner I have cooked, letting me sleep in on weekends, throwing me a surprise birthday party and/or gifting me jewelry or a holiday. He is the person I turn to when I need to bounce off ideas, or am fretful or distressed with kids, friends, or even my own family.

When I think about it, my alpha male dreams should remain in the realm of fantasy. In real life, if a guy was brusque with me, caught me by my hair and kissed me with bruising passion, I would respond with a kick in the place it would hurt him the most! That would not make for romance!

I would trade love for romance any day. This Valentine, like all the previous ones, the husband will not get me flowers or book us for a quiet dinner for two. Like an old married couple, we will sit in front of the TV, with a drink in our hands, argue about what movie to watch and share a pepperoni pizza.

As Robert Fulghum puts it,“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”

I am in love with that weirdness!

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