Tamils and St.Valentine

14 Feb


Well, it’s that time of year again. Love is in the air. Of if it isn’t, it’s definitely on your social networking sites; facebook, twitter, instagram, your inboxes and post boxes. Brace yourselves for the avalanche of ‘hearts’ folks. Red ink be flowing in rivers of red today.

Every conceivable category of people have a Day to celebrate who they are but the Lovers had a long head-start on this phenomenon. They had a Day, along with their own patron saint, centuries ahead of the others. It’s hard to grudge them that but as many have noted, it has become a highly commercialized and over-hyped day, these days.

It is interesting to note the effect the Day has on different cultures though. There was this hilarious write-up about how people in a relationship, feel in the modern world in the Huffington Post, recently. 


They forgot to mention ‘modern’ in which country however. In Good ol’ Sri Lanka, the system is completely different. So couples in the West even live together but are uncomfortable with acknowledging feelings for each other? Here, the first thing a guy who is hitting on a girl will say is “I love you!”

He might have seen her for the first time only a few seconds before, but it is already “I love you.” And if he finally manages to find someone who says yes? He’d be lucky to hold hands with her in public, much less date – they might sustain a relationship like that for years, but it would still be “I love you” back and forth.

A girl in her sixth year of the relationship (many of them stick to the first relationship they form as much as possible) admitted to me her feelings of harassment at having to text this to her significant other often. “What do these words even mean? I just parrot them routinely. Why do we have to do this?”

Well, if she didn’t know, how was I who had never been in a relationship supposed to know? I was just amused by all the lack-luster, half hearted “I Love You”s I had to over-hear in the All-female youth hostel I was boarded at, from the women to their men over their mobile phones. Yes, there were the cooing, simpering “I love You”s to be stomached, but more often than not, they were weepy “I Love you”s after a fight or brusque “I Love You”s after an argument. It was all rather hilarious to someone on the fringes, watching these antics, as I was.

It is not really part of Tamil culture to spout the words so easily. Where then did it come from? Ask the Jaffna parents. They usually blame the movies. Tamil movies mind you. And they might be right. For a culture in which ‘love’ is a bad word, it is rather paradoxical how our movies keep portraying romantic love as a fundamental aspect of contemporary life. It certainly isn’t a fundamental aspect of modern Tamil life, given how parents and the community in general react to it.

the above video is a more faithful representation of how Tamil romances play out in real life though

No sooner than a girl and boy make eyes at each other than the gossip wind-mills start.

“Psst, psst! You know so-and-so’s son and so-and-so’s daughter? They are…”

“Oh really? That girl? Shocking! I thought she was a well-brought up girl. The poor parents…”

Shocking indeed! For this reason, there are quite a few of us living here who have eschewed romance altogether. Who wants to be discussed like that by the community? Not to mention facing your parents’ wrath. “In Love??? How dare you?,” is very often the first response.

No wonder then that those who do venture into the realm of romance, have nothing to fall back on to define how the relationship should be other than movies – where the Hero declares his love for the Heroine as soon as he meets her. In a ludicrous case of life imitating art (rather than art imitating life), many couples follow the movie-code of relationships to the letter; idiotic unnatural dialogues, furtive dates to beaches and parks (where you absolutely have to lie on the grass at 90° to each other and take pictures to upload on facebook; because the hero and heroine always lie 90° to each other on the grass, with the camera zooming in on them. It’s a cardinal rule. Never mind if it’s not your usual habit to lie back on grass like that), and tearful drama about potential other lovers or mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law (to-be).

The only thing they don’t do in faithful reproduction of a movie romance is burst into song while chasing each other round trees – for which small mercy we can be thankful I suppose. Although I must admit, that in the movies themselves, it is the songs I enjoy the most – especially if it is an A.R Rahman number.

images (1)

And so we come back full circle. Parents here warn their children against falling in love. The very word is taboo. I actually heard somebody refer to it as the
“L-word”. Yep, the L-word is what keeps most parents awake at night here. Whatever are their off-spring up to? Of which caste are their boyfriends / girlfriends? Youngsters these days. They just don’t understand the value of our culture. Never mind if part of the culture are the movies we watched as a family, from the kids’ childhood days. We did tell them not to emulate the movies.

They didn’t listen though. And so today, quite a few boys and girls in Sri Lanka will be exchanging gifts and love notes! Many of them might not even know who Valentine was and what he stood for – but amidst the sea of disapproval they face for their romance, they have latched on to this one day that celebrates them. The “I Love You”s are going to be a little more intense and heart-felt today. We singletons are not complaining though. It is also a custom here for couples to celebrate by offering their friends ‘treats’ – sweets of some sort generally. Well so long as I get the brownies and the cakes, I won’t complain. Long live love and lovers. Long live St. Valentine who apparently died for the sake of uniting couples in Holy Matrimony.


Postscript: Maybe if they knew that aspect of St. Valentine, the average Tamil parent wouldn’t be so against him! They have only two major fears regarding their off-spring.

1 – They might fall in love.

2 – They might not get married.

Make of that paradox what you will!


(Wrote this for the Canadian diaspora paper, the Monsoon Journal)



2 Responses to “Tamils and St.Valentine”

  1. Meg February 14, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    I think it’s much worse in the Muslim community 😛

    • Tulie February 15, 2014 at 2:32 am #

      Perhaps! We seem to have similar cultures and restraints in that respect but yeah – the Muslims here, especially the girls have it bad too

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