My local supermarket had plastered red hearts everywhere. Red roses were placed at an angle so that you could spot them from the parking lot. Red face masks with hearts were hung by the cashier to tempt emotional shoppers. It was that time of the year when illusion of love takes front seat every February 14th.

I peek in between aisles and see men with receding hairlines buying overpriced half dead flowers. I see young teenagers buying candy in a shape of a heart and see their belief in the concept of eternal love that is somehow sealed by one-dirham cheap sugar. Maids are giggling at their phones and stealing flirty exchanges with someone on the other side of the world. Love makes us to do strange things and makes us believe that shape of the heart is the only shape that really matters.

The day passes without much gung-ho for me. My husband is the old school solid guy who believes in buying a house than gifting a bunch of flowers. I nudge him to see if I will get me a rose. My feeble attempts are met with blank stares and a cheesy line, ‘every day is valentine’s day with you!’ I hug my cats for that dose of unconditional love while chatting about mundane stuff with my husband over cheese and toast. This normalcy seems perfect like a poached egg, hard on the outside but deliciously gooey on the inside.

With the day of love finally behind me I sort of feel relieved. There is only so much of mushiness I can take. Roses, balloons, chocolates, jewellery ……… Marketing across the globe has clearly figured out what constitutes true love, yet more than half the population is still clueless. Love needs to be simmering with urgency of a masala chai these days. Who the hell cares about honesty, loyalty or integrity?

Don’t get me wrong. I love gifts like all women. I mean receiving cheap chocolates in a shiny pink box that will sit on my waistline for years are my favourite. Or the overpriced red roses that symbolize how much your partner loves you. Your expectations generally seem to perish faster than the roses once the colours in your dreams starts to fade.

I know someone who took a day off this valentine’s day just so that he could profess true love to his girlfriend. I guess he forgot about the other 364 days. Another client borrowed heavily from friends and family to buy a big designer rock to propose to his girlfriend, who equates the size of the rock to the intensity of his love. Another lady I know hired a private boat to sail across Atlantis on the 14th of February with her boyfriend. It is a different story that she curses him after two drinks for not yet proposing. But all is forgiven on the day celebrated in the memory of a saint who ignites passion among the human race just for one day. For the rest of the year the circus continues as usual.

What happened to the old-fashioned let it brew slowly kind of love? I guess it does not exist anymore. My parent’s kind of love where my father never left my mother’s hand in a crowd or refused to eat at a party until she ate. Or my aunt’s brand of love where she read newspapers to my uncle every day for twenty-five years after he lost sight to a rare disease. My best friend’s type of love when her husband took a day off from work to hold her hand while she waited for hours to get vaccinated as she was too nervous to be by herself. Or my brother’s silent love who nudged my sister-in-law to take a step back in a career with a huge pay cut simply because she was deeply unhappy in her job and wanted something low key that would allow her to spend time with my nephew.

These days love can be accessed as easily as ordering a heart shaped baloon from amazon. The Tinder kind of love that swipes left or right depending on your mood. Facebook kind of love that displays albums of glossy pictures by the beach in flashy bikinis. If it’s not Instagramable, then it can’t be love. How could it be? After all true love needs to be professed, expressed, dissected and flashed out in the open like the famous Marilyn Monroe’s white dress.

I guess for me love is a like a jar of pickle. You start by drying all ingredients in the harsh sunlight for weeks – the sour green mango, the roasted Kashmiri chili, and the bitter mustard seeds. You add all the ingredients in a narrow airtight white glass jar that belonged to your grandmother and fill it with a generous amount of stinky mustard oil, cups of sticky cane sugar, and chunks of rock salt. Everything drowns in the heavy yellow liquid so that there is no room for any ingredient to escape or change their mind. You then leave this pickle for months to ferment and develop flavours. When you finally reopen the jar, you can taste the chewy mango, feel the kick of the chili at the back of your tongue and be seduced by the sweetness of sugar. It makes you wonder – how did this amalgamation of flavours happen? Is it a mustard oil pickle or is it a mango pickle? Is it sweet or salty? You can feel the diverse flavours performing salsa on your palate. All ingredients have different textures and bring something different to this pickle. Yet the ingredients learn to coexist within the confinement of the jar to create a harmony that did not exist before they were tossed in together.

Blending with another while embracing each other’s flaws and yet retaining what is true is love!

When all the glitter has faded, and the twinkle in your eye is dimmed, the chocolates would have melted on the worn out dining table, and the pile of laundry would remain on the old double bed with green bedsheets. You will be deaf towards the whistling kettle on the stove and the left-over food in the yellow container will remain hidden at the back of the fridge like it always did. The rocking chair will make constant creaking sound and his wrinkles will remind you of how many decades have passed since he last bought you a rose. Children would be gone; your parents would be dead, and your siblings will in the same boat.

After years of squabbling over which channel to watch and who sits where on the brown couch; when you will comb your silver hair one evening with chipped nails and frail hands with bulging veins; what would remain in the ruins of your life will only be love!

The remaining 364 days 2

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Shivani Adalja

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