It was February 14, 1984. The scribe was to turn 16 in two weeks time. There was a lot of excitement among the young people but there was fear deep inside everyone. Vigilantes of some religious organisations could also be seen moving about on the roads of Lahore. The Valentine Day smash party was to take place on Empress Road. It was being hosted by a group of Anglo Indian friends and it was my first time to attend a function like this. Punjabis like us were guests as well. It had been decided that the guests would not arrive in groups but in number of one or two and to maintain difference in timing to remain out of the notice of vigilantes, who had vowed to smash all parties. People avoided wearing red dresses and flowers too were brought wrapped up to escape notice.

Three decades have passed the vigilantes are in their middle ages or have grown old. Their place has been taken over by new vigilantes and every year clashes take place between groups of students. The Anglo Indians are long gone. Most have migrated to other countries. The police beefs up security in all cities of Pakistan to keep the celebrators and those who want to stop them at bay. In Pakistan the Valentine’s Day celebrations and meanings have evolved over the years and one is amused to the point of laughing at what they have done.

In all the elite English medium schools and educational institutions Valentine’s Day is celebrated. In schools the students are asked to bring flowers for teachers and chocolates for teachers and friends. Some are told to bring friendship bands for their friends. The children are encouraged to buy gifts for their parents or elder brothers and sisters to show their expression of love for them. In colleges and universities many female students wear red colour clothes and lunches and dinners are planned.

What we wear and what we do reflect the changes that have come in the society and suggest what is in store for us in future. Like most countries in the world the Valentine’s Day is a commercial festival and time for business. Valentine campaigns start at least two weeks before the day of celebrations. Everyone wants to look sharp, smart and smashing on the day of expression of love, therefore the main advertisers are the fashion industry brands selling clothes, shoes and makeup items. Multi brand stores offer special Valentine’s Day discounts up to 75 percent off.

Jewellers come up with special heart pendants with prices ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 while some jewellers offer special discounts on all jewellery. Many shops offer gift hampers on the sale of their products like watches. Some designers and fashion houses come up with new collections. This year the House of Ittehad has introduced its Vintage Love collection while Elan too has came up with special Valentine’s Day collections. The restaurants have come up with special menus. Some restaurants that wanted to start new food items planned launches on the Valentine’s Day. One such example is of Polo Lounge which launched live barbecue on the Valentine’s Day.

Others who are doing good business in the season of love include bakeries, general stores selling toys and decoration items and flower vendors. Valentine’s Day baskets are also a rage this year. Starting from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 Muneeze Khalid catering was offering such baskets that had cupcakes, brownies, truffles, heart-shaped cookies on sticks, teddy bear, mini chocolates and a framed picture of you and your loved one. The courier operators were also providing special delivery services. 

An event management company executive talking to this scribe said it was not just one day of celebration. “It is a week of festivities and events are organised at people’s houses, seaside and farm houses. Not all the parties are typical dance parties. Some are just family get-togethers to eat and have fun,” said Saima while explaining the change in the nature of events.

Catchy advertisements are a treat to watch whether they are TVCs or on newspapers. For example the Canderal advertisement is adorable. “You complete me without the extra calories. Life is sweet and healthy with you in it.”  And the catching line for the same advertisement’s conclusion was ‘It’s a match made in oven.”

Tune up to any FM channel and most of the programmes are about Valentine’s Day and love. Browse through the TV channels list and you will find that many programmes especially the morning shows are about the Valentine’s Day. So what has happened in all these years? Social acceptance of girls wearing jeans and tights has come in society. Thank God in the cities craze of boys staring at girls as if they were some out of the world creatures has lessened a lot in recent years. That was not the case two decades back. Has the social acceptance of this event too finally arrived? That may be so but times are changing and people are fed up of terrorism and all the miserable scenes that come with it. They want to laugh and live their lives happily. But then the meaning of Valentine has changed in Pakistan. It is now more about expression of love than about love between male and female. Children making special drawings for their parents and buying presents for them from their saved pocket money is perhaps something that may not be happening in the west and other countries. Pakistan has found its own unique style of celebrating Valentine’s Day. Good or bad it is now part of our routine every year.