Essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said that ‘Earth laughs in flowers’. But in Pakistan, the hands that carry the flowers often don’t even have a smile on their faces, nor do they have much to laugh about. They don’t know about the (in)significance of the 14th of February nor do they care about it. All they know is that their flowers sell like hot cakes on this day and that they go back home that night with a little more in their pockets.
Every traffic signal has at least one flower-seller, usually a kid, promising you that buying a rose on a stem (which will fall off the stem the moment you take off the cellophane) will improve your relationship with your loved one. They will employ every trick to make you buy their wares (usually wishing you a happy married life with the woman sitting next to you, even if she happens to be your sister) but they don’t have a clue about the relevance of the day that makes them feel like millionaires.
‘I don’t know’, says Irfan when asked the reason why his flowers sell more on 14th Feb. ‘I guess it has something to do with pyar mohabbat,’ he takes a wild guess. Zubair, another flower seller, chips in with ‘pata nahi, zyada paisa milta hai, ameer logon ki baatein hain’ (No idea but we get more money; probably some indulgence of the rich) before he runs away to pursue a client.
What he says is true. The simple act of buying flowers is rapidly becoming an indulgence in a country where many find it hard to buy two square meals a day. And even this simple gesture of love is fast receding from the reach of the common man as the price of flowers skyrockets on the 14th day of the second month of the year. Another flower seller, also named Zubair, confirms this fact, ‘The twenty-rupee flower goes off for up to Rs50 on 14th February although I don’t know why.’
His ‘brother’ Imran also looks forward to this day. “For 364 days a year, we go home after selling a maximum of 10 flowers a day, earning, at the most, 200 rupees a day. On the 14th of February, I sell as many as 50 flowers and go home with at least 1000 rupees.” A mustached Javed concurs. ‘Four years back I made 3000 rupees in one evening; I moved around the rich areas and had taken care to dress well to look presentable. Young ladies and gents took as many as 75 flowers from me that day.’
Smart little Kashif, who wipes windshields most days but replaces his viper with flowers on 14th February every year, claims to know about the origin of Valentine’s Day and why flowers are bought on this day but refuses to elaborate. “I cannot tell you in front of kids. But I can tell you that it is a day when love conquers all.”
Big words from a flower seller whose life is one long struggle to keep body and soul together where the only spark of joy comes once a year, in the guise of the day that stands for love.
As the rest of us deck ourselves in red and celebrate the joy of having someone to love, let us spare a thought for these kids who may not know the story behind Valentine’s Day, but perhaps exemplify its spirit in the truest sense. — O.A.