Our universities have such a rare and unique talent for dreaming up the most insane, inane and pointless policies that they should offer an official degree in Useless Grandstanding. This time, in a few weeks, Faisalabad University is going to take back Valentine’s Day from Western free-thinking liberal scum and transform it into Sister’s Day! Evidently sponsored by companies that make hijabs and not Hallmark, FU (an acronym never so serendipitous than now) has officially decided that boys on campus will give girls on campus hijabs as a gift on fourteenth February, now re-christened ‘Sister’s Day’. So on the fourteenth a Special Day will be celebrated and boys will give girls presents, but it will not be the same thing as Valentine’s, because the gift will not be evil things like chocolate, roses or a murderous looking white stuffed bear. It will be a hijab. Like polio drops, these hijabs will presumably protect the wearer from misfortune. Which seems to be the gifting brothers, but let’s not assume.

There are many questions that arise, naturally. What do girls who don’t wear hijabs get? An invitation to dawah printed on strictly not red or pink paper? What colour will these hijabs be—after all, some might say that bright ones or printed ones might be too becoming and thereby defeat the purpose altogether. Another concern is the sister element. If you give someone a hijab on Sister’s Day, does that mean that woman is now your sister? Isn’t that exactly like raksha-bandhan that Indian Hindus do except with the roles reversed, and in that case even less desirable than copying shameless white people? It’s a real conundrum. Yet another question is why are the boys giving the girls presents, and not the other way around also? Are none of these ladies in search of a nice brother? Surely there are many eligible fraternal candidates on the campus of FU that any Nice Girl would be happy to call her own? And if this were to be allowed, what gift would be sanctioned? A prematurely shortened shalwar? A portable audio-Quran? A very long tasbeeh that can be worn as a necklace or hung from one’s rearview mirror? I’m full of questions.

I’m also quite curious about the gender dynamics of Sister’s Day. Will Brother’s Day be celebrated on the fifteenth of February? Why do men feel the need to hand women tokens of religious piety whether they want them or not? Why is the onus of modesty always placed squarely on the shoulders, arms, chests, hips, legs, hands and feet of women, while men are allowed to behave in any manner they like and conveniently blame the consequences on anyone but themselves? Can men only be trusted to control themselves if they see all the women around them as sisters? Is there something dangerous in the canteen food at FU that is causing men on campus to feel so deranged that the only way they can wrap their minds around Valentine’s Day—that one day where men and women’s romantic interactions take a public face—is by sanitising it?

When I was young, nobody cared about Valentine’s Day. Hardly anyone ever celebrated it or did anything for it, certainly not publicly. It’s ironic that the closer we get to global cultural practices through our increasing consumerism and access to travel, imported luxury goods and social media influencing, the more hysterical we become over the same things. It doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. You can’t really use certain markers of upward mobility and modernity and leave the ones you don’t like out. The floodgates have been opened, for better or worse, and there is no turning back. Valentine’s Day is never an issue when it comes to international brands on sale, eating at fast food chains or return tickets to Dubai. It’s never part of the conversation when laptops are being distributed and internet speed is getting faster than light. Nobody is cursing Evil Western Civilisation when they have a new iPhone in their hands, are buying diamonds from a Valentine’s Day sale or watching cable TV. There are plenty of people reading this column who remember having only PTV, STN and, if you twiddled your aerial, Doordarshan on the telly.

There’s nothing particularly terrible about changing with the times. We don’t actually dislike western culture, and in many households an affinity with local culture, customs and language is steadily declining. We are happy to not dress our children in ethnic clothes, we are happy to mock the poor English of others, we are happy to say “tension na lain”. It’s not ideal, but it’s just the way the times are. Valentine’s Day is just another part of it, and not a very important one at that. People have had romantic feelings for others before Valentine’s and will continue to do so even if Valentine’s is officially struck from the record. As far as being a hill to die on goes, protesting Valentine’s Day is a pretty pointless one. Have we all forgotten that the entire premise of Urdu poetry is to pine for a beloved, to meet their eyes across a room and speak through that longing gaze? If anything, St Valentine could have taken a few lessons from South Asians. Has nobody seen ‘Devdas’?

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

 m.malikhussain@gmail.com

@cyclestand4.