Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

You wouldn’t think they’d do Valentine’s Day, here, what with Valentine being a saint, and everything, and nothing to do with elephants or cows. Money talks, however, or at least it buys red roses, in Mumbai. Business will do cross-culture, if there’s a rupee in it, it seems. The big picture window down at D-Mart is decked in red clothes, although why buying red gardening trousers might increase your chances of romance, is anybody’s guess. Haiko are also making an effort, their window’s full of plush love-hearts and teddy-bears, mysteriously facing inwards to beguile the shoppers they’ve already snared, leaving the yet-to-be-bewitched ones still on the pavement outside, looking at bear bottoms. In down-town Mumbai, it’s not hard to find jolly robins and fat Santas, painted on shop windows and even people’s houses, and we’re only a hot cross bun away from Easter. I resign myself to being charmed by entwined hearts until Michaelmas.
In a society where arranged marriage is still the norm, the boyfriend/girlfriend market simply doesn’t exist. Campaigns are therefore targeted at newly-weds – “Make your first Valentine’s Day together one she’ll never forget...” – the intimation being that this is more likely with a gold necklace than a dying flower. You can see how that might work.
In Life Style, at the In Orbit mall, a lady with a lollipop microphone circles round uneasy shoppers, encouraging them to join her, in a Valentine’s Day dancing competition. She’d get nowhere in Selfridge’s, for example, or BhS, she’d have the store cleared faster than a bomb alert. Yet, here, there’s patently more romance and less reserve, she hardly has to pressgang at all. I’m touched to see that the “volunteers” span the entire ambulant age spectrum. She puts a piece of newspaper on the floor in front of each pair – the disco-arena - and the dancing couple aren’t allowed to step over the edges. Since we’re talking tabloid, here, it makes for some very cosy cha-cha-chaing. The couples sway, shopping abandoned with their shoes, while onlookers smile and nod. The lollipop lady flicks a switch and shatters the magic. Bristling with prizes, she thrusts the microphone into the winners’ faces: “Have you one little personal love-message for her, sir, this Valentine’s Day?” By this point, over-sensitive to the Cringe Factor, I’m two floors away, but the intimate moment’s being tannoyed across the whole store, proving that you can run, but you can’t hide. From Saucepans and Pressure Cookers, I hear him stammering, but am spared his blushes. (They’ll sort that one out for next year, I imagine, with a wide screen television by the elevators.) Like a wind-up toy, the man produces the three little words we’re all waiting to hear; honour’s satisfied on all sides. Lollipop woman releases the lovers back into the wild, and goes off in search of fresh victims. Reluctant to have newsprint on my soles (or indeed soul), I leave the store via the scenic route, like the Wise Men...
At the traffic lights, the touts have got a new seasonal line going – heart-shaped balloons. They must be aiming at the tuk-tuk/Hero Honda market, because who’d want a massive balloon in the back of a car? The roads are worse than ever. “Valentine’s Day,” says Monu, philosophically. “Everybody take wife out to dinner.” (Yes, but whose?)
Leaving the restaurant, lady diners are each presented with a shiny gift, a red plastic rose sellotaped to the back. Inside, a vase painted with hearts – also the word “LOVE” about twenty-six times, in case you hadn’t got the drift (must be aimed at the British market, then) – supported by two moonstruck china bears. If you’ve got an Easter Fete planned in your village, tell me. I’ve got something you can have for the raffle...
The next morning, I see Monu has stuck the plastic rose into the air-freshener on his dashboard, next to Ganesh and the flags. Very nice too.