Heart and sold

Heart and sold

Points to ponder

Heart and sold

For Valentine’s Day, as the country turns all pink hearts and red roses, Manjul Bajaj wonders if it’s about time we took a pledge to honour the heart and hold it sacred.

The month of February has changed its colours since I was a kid. Back then, it wore the yellows and oranges of Vasant, our festival of spring, and brought with it the promise of the multi-hued Holi celebrations — when we would fill up our water-pistols with pink and purple and green water and spray the neighbourhood, neighbours and all, with it — whooping with laughter all the way. No longer so. 

I watch in bemused wonder as February unfurls and the country becomes all pink hearts and red roses, wearing its collective yearnings on its sleeve. The shops are festooned in reds and whites, the colours of candy treats and puppy love. Crimson hearts jostle against over-sized stuffed teddy bears holding aloft declarations of love in shop displays, flyers fly out of the morning newspapers advertising cozy dinners for two and other romantic getaways, stationery shelves sink under the weight of heart-shaped cards, their messages ranging from the sentimental to the suggestive.
Next only to Diwali now, Valentine’s Day has become commercially the second most important festival in India. Rose and gladioli farmers deep in the hinterlands of UP may not know their ABCs but they know V is for Valentine and February 14 is when the rupees roll in. Sometimes I think I see old Cupid sitting there, atop a mountain of clichés about love, shooting off his arrows at random and having a hearty laugh. And why shouldn’t he? He’s pulled off the marketing heist of the century.

New shapes and forms

Once, the heart was a lonely hunter. Now, it hangs around in gregarious clusters, as shiny red cut-outs, festooned upon streets and shop windows, beckoning us and cheering us on as we embark upon our festive season shopping. Truly, the human heart has been displaced. It is no longer a construct of blood and sinew beating valiantly in the dark caverns of our bodies.

No longer is it even the stage where our grand passions are played out, or the conductor orchestrating the symphony of our lives. Nor is the heart anymore the still, silent witness seated in the centre of our souls. It has moved — changed shape, function and location. The heart no longer has its reasons. Or motives. Instead, the heart itself has become a cheesy motif strewn over the great bazaar of life — as confetti, as wrapping paper, as show window decorations, as key rings and lockets, as mugs and plates.

Matters of the heart

Hearts no longer bleed. They can’t. They are made of pink and red paper. Or plastic. Or wax or gel or glass or bone-china or porcelain. Or, if you are really lucky, of chocolate even. 

No one wears their hearts on their sleeves any longer. You can wear them emblazoned upon your chest, on your lycra tees, with gold edging for extra effect. And only the very young or very immoderate eat their hearts out. The majority of us are content to tuck into heart-shaped cookies and candy. Muffins even. And as for losing your heart to someone — don’t even think about it! Hide it, keep it in safe custody, hold out. Wait till he springs for that heart-shaped diamond ring, or pendant. Or that gorgeous bracelet with twin hearts joining together to form the clasp!

Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against matters of the heart. I do not even reject the heart as a symbol — the heart, through human history, has been a symbol of the emotional and spiritual dimension of the human mind, of its moral fiber and of the intellectual core. Many philosophers and scientists, Aristotle included, have considered the heart the seat of our deeper thoughts and emotions, our organ of motivation as it were, the more scientifically validated claims of the human brain notwithstanding. The ancient stoics also believed that the heart was the seat of the human soul. I’m with them all. And with the musicians and the poets too — them of the soulful sonatas and suffering sonnets. 

Not anymore...

It’s the heart as stupid red emoticon that I cannot abide. Or the heart as a card-box for gifting candy in. Or the heart as a vase or coffee mug. Or a bumper sticker or an item of stationery. These are what dishearten me completely.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be a worthy cause to dedicate one’s life to? A campaign to put the heart back in its place? Which is deep inside the human body, held centrally between the lungs, with two-thirds of its mass towards the left of the midline, held in position by the pericardium. Let us remove it then from the shop shelves, from the dangling decorations, from all items of stationery, from casual conversations with strangers in internet chat rooms, from our car bumpers, our t-shirts and our confectionery counters.

Let us sweep our external world clean of it, scrub off the tell-tale stains, put helium in all the remaining heart-shaped balloons on the earth’s surface and wave them goodbye as they fly out of our world forever. 

Instead, let us pledge that the human heart shall henceforth be honoured and held sacred. And once every decade or so a poet or a lover will be allowed to plunge in his fist and pluck it out, raw and bleeding, for us to behold. To wonder at its valiance. And to gasp at its vulnerability.