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WHERE IS THE LOVE?

Sorry Cupid, move over

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No love lost for Valentine's ? Join the gang of urban Indians who're cutting back on the mush, and the teddy bears.

Where have all the flowers gone? They're probably still at the florist, for this Valentine's Day, love isn't blooming the way it typically does at this seasonal sop fest. There appears to be a new rulebook around with the following codes: Sentimentalism is uncool;OTT is out the window;and romance will not be tolerated with bells on. If you've got to say 'I Love You', say it, don't spray it - not as graffiti or skypaint. Thou shall not use Google Love fonts or buy a Hallmark card larger than 7X4 inches (they don't make them smaller). And god help you if you hire an a capella quartet or go home with a teddy bear. In a word: understatement is trending this season.

"Too long have we fallen for the tricks of the Hallmark and Solitaire empire, " protests Preeti Manicherry, an unlikely renegade who happens to work in public relations in Chennai. "The people in the business of making or promoting special days have monetised relationships and have steadily cranked out a culture of competitive love, which says cheapskates lose out. Good old romance has been done in by overkill and my heart bleeds for it, " she declares.

Even colleges - those cathedrals of camp - have cut back the mush. A recent article in The Times of India surveyed campuses in Mumbai to discover that teenagers now consider it uncool to make a song and dance about Valentine's Day, or other designated calendar events like 'Friendship Day', for that matter. The article quoted a student, Zarna Chheda, from HR College, who threw new light on the culture of restraint. "Teens these days celebrate their 'anniversaries' every month because that's how short-lived their relationships are. For them, Valentine's Day is just not that big a deal. "

The slide hasn't gone unnoticed by shops in the gifts and greeting cards business. It has people like Runish Chedda, the managing partner of a popular store in Churchgate, called Satyam Collection, asking, Where is the Love? "Our forecast for Valentine's Day has led us to believe the average spend this year will be considerably lower compared to previous years, " he says, somewhat dismally. "This is why we won't be stocking high-value items like diamond jewellery;we've replaced it with silver. "

Chedda recalls a more lucrative 2011, when people spent up to Rs 10, 000 on a diamond pendant - that too, at a gift shop. He predicts the average outlay this year will be between Rs 3, 000 and 5, 000. "Even companies who've traditionally cashed in on VDay, like makers of greeting cards, stuffed toys and watches, have cut back their advertising this season. "

If the season is muted, it's not only because of budget cuts. Try boredom, says Manoj Bhavnani, a copywriter with Bates in Mumbai. "How long will you keep celebrating Valentine's Day with its same old protocols and processes without tiring of it?" he questions. "People will continue to eat out at restaurants, go to clubs, but it's what they routinely do through the year anyway. They don't want a custom-made day for it. And they certainly won't be browbeaten to the florists, " he says. He points out that even airlines, those fair-weather friends of St Valentine, are hardly ballyhooing about Bali this year.

It's not to say Himote - that Japanese subculture that rails against an inherently gendered Valentine culture - has disseminated its ideology here. It doesn't even suggest political intrigue. No flag-waving, card-carrying (pun intended) fascists have turned minds in Indian cities. If people are not flying heart-shaped balloons or dedicating ballads on radio this year (or at least not obsessively dialling in), impute their curbed enthusiasm to (hopefully) shaper critical faculties. Or maybe they've ODed on chocolate cake.

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