Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 36, Tuesday February 10, 2004







Valentine's culture

Celebrating Valentine's Day in our country is a recent development. It has been about a decade since people here found out that there is a special day dedicated to love. Love is such an abstract but powerful notion that it transcends all barriers of age, country, culture and even time itself. It began with Adam and Eve and will continue to permeate the lives of people till the end.

What is the significance of this day? Why was 14th of February chosen to commemorate such an emotion? It's time to peruse through pages of history.

Towards the end of the 5th century, the Roman rulers passed a decree saying that the entire Christian community would have to pay respect to al the Roman gods and goddesses. Anyone not complying with this rule would be severely punished. The problem was that the followers of Jesus would not obey this decree. As a result the rulers identified these people as heretics and would imprison them. A priest called Valentine supported these protesting Christians. For this he had to stand trial and explain to the court what he felt regarding the Roman gods Mercury and Jupiter. Without hesitation he exclaimed that in the religion led by Jesus there is no place for such gods and goddesses. The only receiver of such obeisance would the one whom Jesus referred to as father.

Such a reply did not sit very well with the judges so they sentenced him to death for denying and defiling the Roman gods. During his imprisonment he met the jailers' daughter who was amazed with the priests' dedication to his religion. Gradually she became a convert to the ways of Jesus. They would be engrossed in conversation related to such matters till the day he was taken to the galleys. With tears streaming down he looked into the innocent girls eyes and uttered "From your Valentine".

The followers of Christ were deeply saddened by Valentines demise and decided to honour his sacrifice by instating 14th February as Valentines Day.

There is another tale that has a significance to this date. In ancient Rome 14th was holiday during which people would pay their respect to the goddess Juno. She was the goddess who looked over women and weddings. In those times love affairs before marriage was the accepted norm. Because of this there was a festival called supercelia that would take place somewhere around mid February. In that festival all the single maidens' names were jotted down on pieces of paper. The men would randomly select a paper and the woman whose name was on it would be the man's paramour henceforth. Later on this girlfriend would become the life partner.

In 496 AD this festival was celebrated alongside Saint Valentine's Day. It has become a custom to propose the loved ones with the phrase 'be my valentine'.

This is how the day came about. In Bangladesh the young generation has been celebrating this day following the lie s of other countries. Display of affection is expressed by cards, flowers and other gifts. This day helps to add more depth to a relationship. Some people start in a relationship for the first time whole others use it as a time to renew the vows. Still for others who have lost it is a time they spend in abject sorrow.

This day did not exist in our cultural calendar. It so happens that it coincides with the first day of spring in the Bangla calendar. Pahela Falgun is a known as the season of love in our culture so it is small wonder that valentines has taken such a strong hold as well. It is a boon for lovers for there is no other country where there are two such festivals coinciding in one day. And this is not just for love between couples but love in all its splendorous forms. It is a day to express to the ones you love just how precious they are.

By Sultana Yasmin Translated By Ehsanur Raza Ronny


Mirror, mirror on the wall…

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Bangladeshi girl in possession of dark skin must be on the look out for a fairness cream which will undoubtedly lead to eternal happiness." Indeed, if Jane Austen had been alive in this day and age, this could have been the introduction to at least one of her novels. What am I talking about? Well, anyone living in Bangladesh and 'fortunate' enough to watch any Bangla cable channel will have come across some very colour-biased and gender-biased advertisements.

Let's first take a sneak peek at some of the audacious colour-biased advertisements aired on television. The one that undoubtedly walks away with the winning trophy has to be the fairness cream advertisement where a dark girl is miraculously transformed into a beauty in a matter of weeks and thus becomes an airhostess. How about a short recap? The advertisement starts off with the weary, aged father asking for a cup of tea. The exhausted stressed out mother snaps at him, and reminds him that they cannot afford cup after cup of tea on a limited income from one person's pension. To this the father heaves a sigh and responds, " If only I had a means of support!" The daughter of the house, on whom ash has been generously and quite obviously massaged to exaggerate her darkness, responds by sobbing her heart out and determinedly deciding to be her father's 'means of support'. And so Lo and Behold…out rushes the spectacular fairness cream to the rescue. In a matter of weeks the dark skinned girl is transformed into a fair beauty, ready to rival those in Hollywood and Bollywood alike, and thus it comes as no surprise that she lands the job of an airhostess. Hence the advertisement ends with her escorting her parents to a posh restaurant where, if nothing else, the now beaming father can enjoy a cup of tea. Then again there is that other advertisement where a girl auditions and gets the chance to host a television show. However her gaze suddenly falls on the mirror and her rather dark skin upsets her. So what is the next step? Yes again, the renowned fairness cream (our Bangladeshi version of Superman) rushes to her rescue and in a matter of weeks transforms her into another incomparable beauty. And thus, as one can guess, the fair beauty equipped with the powers of the magical fairness cream grows more charismatic and hosts the show amidst loud applause from her co-workers, directors, cameramen etc.

Well, if nothing else, it seems like our Bangladeshi producers have managed to invent something that even the esteemed western scientists have been stumped by-how to change the genetic makeup of a person in order to transform them from dark skinned to very fair. Well that definitely solves our problem to racism…let's just turn everyone white! Without any doubt, such advertisements greatly discriminate against dark skinned people, blatantly stating that only fair skinned people can be truly successful whether in terms of money or popularity. After all, if one wants to be an airhostess or a television presenter there is no need to get any degree or training. All one has to do is rush to the nearest shopping centre, grab a tube of fairness cream and land a very successful well paying job. Maybe someone should tell our schools and universities about this miraculous solution that renders studies quite superfluous. Better yet, let's tell the poor parents trying to make ends meet while sending their children to colleges and universities. After all it will definitely remove the gaping hole burning through their fathers' wallets.

Moving on, there is also the case of the gender biased advertisements. Off the top of my head, the advertisement that never fails to capture my attention is the advertisement of a particular moshla. This advertisement starts off with mother's beloved son returning from Dhaka with no less than this special moshla for his mother. After spouting the virtues of the moshla to 'mummy', 'mummy' delightedly cooks her darling son some mouth-watering dishes using the moshla. And at the end of the advertisement the mother, not satisfied with the easy to use moshla asks her son to bring in a real cook i.e. a bride. Well what is the message that such an advertisement is giving? Is it trying to say that men are not supposed to cook? After all anyone would have thought availability of such ready-made moshla would make cooking easier, even for pioneering males to step into the kitchen.

It is rather surprising that even in this day and age we should be accepting such advertisements, which insist that women are only beautiful and worthy if they are fair or experts in the kitchen. Instead of using ads to promote such discriminatory messages, imaginative advertisements can instead be used to send out some positive messages. After all there can be no doubt that advertisements, packaged with their attractive jingles, are eagerly watched by people all over the country. Thus this very tool, i.e., the advertisement, can also be used to change people's mindset, to educate them about various issues, and to increase their awareness. Some such advertisements have already begun to grace our television screens; let's just hope that we get to see more of them.

By Saima Khan




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