The Helpline – Book Review by Ila Garg (Repost)

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The Helpline
By Uday Mane
Review By Ila Garg
 
The Helpline, a gripping narrative by the debutant writer Uday Mane is published by Frog Books (an imprint of Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd). The paper and print quality show that it is a publication house that we should keep an eye on. The cover designed by Yogesh Parab is apt as much as the title is and hooks the readers. It will instantly make you want to grab the book and read on.
 
Born in Pune and brought up in Mumbai, Uday Mane works as a Social Media enthusiast during the day and a storyteller during the night. He is an avid reader, and loves to collect classic books. The Helpline is his literary debut.
 
The blurb reads as, Samir is suicidal. Rachael works for a suicide helpline. Fate connects them through a phone call. And so begins Samir’s story of love, longing, errors, regret and a girl who changed his life.
 
As his story reaches its conclusion, Rachael will know the true reason behind his suicidal tendencies. But this suicide helpline is not any ordinary service. There is more to the mysterious and yet so convincing voice of Rachael. As this new mystery begins to unfold, Samir is going to discover three things:
 
What is The Helpline?
 
Who is Rachael?
 
What is Samir’s own identity?
 
Every year, several teenagers in India attempt suicide because of failing relationships, dwindling careers, parental pressure or the competitive world.
 
This story is about one such teenager, his early problems and the hurdles to cope with them. This story is about finding hope in the struggle. This story is about fighting for what you believe in and discovering your true identity. This is not a story about falling in love. This is a story of rising from a failed love story.”
 
Note: “Proceedings of Rs. 5 per book will be used for child welfare through The Rotary Foundation”
Needless to say it is a story of love undoubtedly; a failed love that led to self-discovery. Samir, the protagonist is well etched by the author who desires for a life with a girl who made him a changed man, but fate has only disappointments in store for him. He is a good person all set to lose his identity and re-create himself.
His best friend Neha is probably his only companion who stands by him through thick and thin. Later, she indirectly leads him to a life changing experience. In the journey of this book, Samir grows up, learns from his surroundings, love finds him when he is off guard and he embraces it as his whole life, only to realize that life is about struggles. It doesn’t always go smooth, he suffers and is rendered suicidal despite being a keen writing enthusiast.
The way Uday Mane has penned down this particular story is really appreciable. The author has described every emotion very beautifully. There are episodes in the book that make you feel so anxious for Samir. You almost develop an unsaid bond with him. Right from the beginning, you feel a connection that doesn’t let you put the book down.
 
The 252 page book takes you along with it and makes you realise that all that glitters is not gold after all. The story is quite meaningful and the main reason that I loved this book is the characterization. The narrative is tactfully written and the readers wouldn’t find it difficult to keep up with the pace of the story. The language is easy to comprehend and there would be no difficulty in understanding the various twists and turns in the novel. The author has skillfully used the helpline (as evident from the title, yes it does play a major role in the book) to create such a beautiful and heart-melting story.
 
The too many turmoil of Samir’s love life is just one of the reasons you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens in The Helpline. To find out whether he survives the misery of a broken love story, how he turns suicidal and who is Rachael, how she helps him through a suicide helpline, is he able to discover himself after all, how strong is his friendship with Neha, how long will she stick to him to help him survive, what role do the books play in his life, how significant is this mysterious girl Riya and her brother Siddhartha in Samir’s life, when the time comes will he choose to survive or go in an oblivion world; you will have to read the novel,The Helpline.
 
For a debut writer, Uday Mane has done it; he has proved his mettle and yes he is an excellent writer. The way he has captured all the intricate emotions of a dejected heart, kept me glued to this book.

Ratings: 4/5

Buying Links: Infibeam|Landmark|BOOKadda|uRead|Amazon|Crossword|Flipkart

Read the complete review here: Crumpled Voices

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The Helpline – Making of the Book

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The Helpline is my debut novel. It took me roughly 18 months to finish this book. The book underwent a lot of changes during the period. After writing 50% of the book in third person style, I realized it wasn’t convincing enough. So I switched the mode to first person and finished the book in roughly 8 months.

I sent the first draft to a few close friends. The reviews were mixed.

Somehow, I knew there was room for improvement. So I opened the manuscript and started rewriting the whole thing again. Somewhere between the second draft and final manuscript, there were long, scary patches of uninvited blocks and what-the-fuck-am-I-doing phases. Chapters and characters were deleted, scenes eliminated, sentences annihilated; it only reminded me of 3 words…Kill Your Darlings.

It was late April 2013 when I had, convincingly, finished the manuscript and started sending it out to publishers. The book was sent to 25 publishers across India. I never heard from 23 of those publishers.

One publisher based out of Delhi called me up and expressed his opinion on the book. The publisher recommended some changes in the climax before accepting the book for publication. I wasn’t convinced. So I moved on.

A couple of months later, I received the letter of intent from Leadstart Publishing and things soon began to fall in place. On 29th March, 2014, the book was launched by Padma Shri Paresh Rawal at Sivaswamy Auditorium in Chembur – thanks to Tushar Gangoly of Rotary Deonar Club.

Several people have asked me – Is it based on your life?

I have always answered with a NO on my lips and a YES in my head.

No, the scenes in the book are not based on my life. All the situations and scenarios from page 1 to page 252 are purely fictional.

Yes, a part of the book is inspired from the people I have met and observed in my life. For instance, the character of Aslam draws a heavy inspiration from a 12-year-old boy living on the streets of Shivaji Park. This kid was sharp, smart and extremely passionate about studying. He went to a local municipal school and mostly struggled with English. We spent an hour everyday studying English lessons from his school textbook. This kid also became a reason why I decided to donate a part of book’s sale (Rs. 5 per book) as a charity for child welfare through The Rotary Foundation.

Some people have told me that the concept of the book is unique and wonder how it came about. The answer for this too has a relevance to an incident in my life.

It was the summer of 2007. I had recently had a breakup and being an emotional fool,  I took shelter among books. I spent my entire day in crosswords engrossed in books. I lost count of how many books I had read that summer. While on my usual routine at crosswords, I met a girl. I was surprised how easily we hit it off. A few days later, I asked her about the scars on her wrist and she confessed to having attempted suicide and several reasons behind it.

That incident somehow etched in my head. I had not discovered writing until the end of year 2008. When I did, I knew what my first book would be about.

The Helpline is not only about suicide issues among teenagers though. At the heart of it, The Helpline is a romantic-drama set in modern times. It is about relationships that bond and strengthen as well as of those that weaken and wither. It is about selfishness and selflessness. It is about failures in life. Above all, The Helpline is about self-discovery.

The Helpline is Samir’s story – his struggle to come to terms with unfortunate events in his life and his willingness to fight back. The Helpline is Samir’s journey towards his self-discovery.

You can buy the book here:

Flipkart: http://bit.ly/TheHelpline
Snapdeal: http://bit.ly/SD-TheHelpline

Read it. Review it.

 

The Helpline

An Open Letter to Bigots and Everybody Else

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Dear Bigots and Everybody Else,

I was diagnosed with polio when I was two and spent most of my childhood limping to school and back. One of my biggest scare during those days was to board a bus. I was afraid that the driver may move the bus before I board it, resulting in a fall. I had a friend who would accompany me to the bus-stop every day. We would wait for the bus. When the bus arrived at the stop, he would let me get in first and pretend to board behind me. When he was sure I was inside, he would quickly get down, wave a good-bye and go his way.

During my college days, I use to hang out in cafeteria with a friend. This friend had come from UP to pursue engineering. His dream was to settle in Mumbai with a good job to his name. A fascinating thing about this friend was that he was an excellent poet and wrote amazing shayaris. I was so inspired by this friend that every time we met, I requested for a shayari instead of a traditional hello.

Two years ago, I started working on a book. I quit a full-time job, took up free-lancing and worked on the book during the night. During the first two months, I did not land any free-lancing project. It made me nervous. Did I make a wrong decision by quitting a full-time job? “This is the best decision you have made. You are destined to be a writer,” a friend showed the belief I was lacking and convinced me otherwise. Two years later, I did what I was set to do and it would not have been possible without the enduring support and constructive criticism of that friend.

There. I gave you a glimpse into three facets from my life. Apart from being good people, what is common between these friends? They are all devout Muslims.

So when someone shares an anti-religious post on social media platforms, they hurt a friend’s sentiment. They hurt my friend from school who cared about me. They hurt my friend from college who shared his passion with me. And they also hurt my friend who has supported me in my bad days. Every time someone points a finger at a religion, they point a finger at my friends.

The concept of freedom is often misunderstood. We have freedom to express our opinion. We do not have the freedom to hurt a religious sentiment. History stands witness to several massacres over past centuries. Each time a man has tried to attack another religion to establish and instill his own, millions have died. Among these millions are children who quietly suffered and questioned; why are men are slaughtering each other over whose God is greater?

The definition of terrorist is also often misunderstood. Hitler’s agenda against Jews was as much an act of vandalism as was Bin Laden’s agenda against Americans. Hitler was a terrorist and he was not a Muslim. To simply put, every Muslim is not a terrorist and every terrorist is not a Muslim. Is it really difficult to fathom that? Of course, there are bad Muslims. But then, there are bad Hindus and bad Christians as well. If you take away the religion from last two lines, you are left with bad people alone. There is no bad religion, only bad people.

Social Media has taken freedom to a whole new level. One minute you see a post and the next minute you are expressing your precious opinion to a dozen strangers. I am not saying sharing posts of your choice is wrong. By sharing, you spread the knowledge to masses. However, I fail to understand how posts such as these will help our fellow countrymen and generations to follow. I fail to understand how it will bring peace to our civilization.

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Every time you share a post, you will make somebody smile or break somebody’s heart. Of course, the choice is yours and no one can take away that right from you, except may be, Cyber Crime Cell. The point, however, is that next time you want to share a post, ask yourself, should I make them smile or should I break their heart?

There is so much good to do in our world. Go help a blind cross the road. Go help a poor sate his hunger. Go help an old lady with her bags. Offer your seat to an old man. Do all of that and post it on social media. Share those posts with your friends. Let those things be viral. There is a lot to do in this world apart from pointing at each other’s religions and questioning their Gods. If we, as humans, are not greater in our being, then we are not worthy of being in the first place. Let’s prove to ourselves that the only planet with life form is indeed worth living on. How do we start? Stop spreading (sharing) hatred, especially, religious.

We have witnessed enough riots over these debates. Haven’t we? So when is enough really enough?

You must be wondering why I am writing all of this. I believe that one thing always leads to another. The freedom Social Media offers comes with immense power and responsibility that we are yet to fully understand. Let us not misuse that power and be an irresponsible citizen. Every anti-religious post we share with others may just lead us into another uncalled massacre. You never know what form terrorism comes in. We need to ask ourselves; do we really need another embarrassment for our country?

Finally, I want to deliver a personal message to all my Muslim friends. When someone points a finger at you, your religion or your God, remember that there is a Hindu and a Christian on your side. Let us live in peace and harmony. Let us not raise unnecessary questions against each other. Let us have the freedom to choose our Gods. Let us have faith in each other’s Gods. Let us be. We have right to choose. We are men of great intellect. We are human. So let us act like one.

Thank You,

Yours truly.

The Young Man and the Sea

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A young fisherman lived by the port
Ambitious was he, but stuck in a rut
With the sun he rose and prepared his skiff
To sail deeper into the sea, he wished only if

The legend of Santiago, an old man at sea
Long dead before him, and gone with a plea
Spare deep sea fishing, the old man said
Don’t sail unprepared into the sea, till you wish to be dead

So the young man set his net, closer to the land
The same fish he caught every day, the same he sold canned
By sunset he grew angry, for his life seemed so dull
He cursed the old man and the sea, on his luck he mulled

His meal was the same that he cooked in much scurry
He slept through the night, only to wake up in same worry
Will I ever catch a fish, oh so big and heavy?
Or is my life about the same bowl of rice, fish and curry?

When the sun rose again, he woke up determined
Enough of this life that holds me back and confined
Into the deep sea, I will travel in my boat
To catch them all and bring them back to quote

He befriended a tortoise, his guide into the sea
I will show you the way and lead you for free
In his skiff, he sat and he rowed against tidal flow
Till the land behind him looked as small as his toe

They stopped at a few miles and anchored the boat
Prey here, said the tortoise with a hint of gloat
The Young man cast his net on the calm surface of the sea
Caught them fish, among the school of the porpoise

He cut one out in the middle and ate it raw
It gave him strength and delicious it was
If you sailed deeper into the sea, the tortoise said
Bigger and tastier they will get, if you caught them

The sea was calm and the young man adamant
He had not seen enough of his prey, oh so scant
Masked by the greed, he steadied his oars
Deeper into the sea, said he, I will find preys more

He rowed faster and cut the water clinical
Reached the middle of the sea till the land was invisible
Again, he cast his net far and wide,
Caught a fleshy marlin in a direct tide

He savored this one slowly with the salt
Took his time, enjoyed his halt
There are better, deeper into the sea
Said the tortoise again, simply follow me

The land was lost, the young man so greedy
Time was on his side, his needs too dreamy
So he rowed some more and was lost in the sea
Only if he stopped rowing in such ghastly spree

Once again, he cast his net far and wide
This time he caught a shark, too big even for his ride
The shark was young and determined, as was he
Several times it banged against skiff, till it broke into splinters

The young man, scared of his own wits
Pushed the shark away with his oars in scurried hits
His skiff was broken and no land in sight
The night was nigh, and his life in great plight

The skiff floated aimlessly, the oars lost in fight
The young man cried, and broke at his helpless sight
What pains you, asked a dolphin floating
The story he narrated so quickly, no longer boasting

You have learnt your lesson, the dolphin said
Let me show you the way for the price you have paid
Swim to the North, don’t stop at anything
Before sunrise, you will be back for early eating

So the Young man swam, till all his strength was drained
He stopped at nothing, no matter how it pained
The sun was rising, his body giving away
The land was just in sight, at the break of the day

He dragged his feet, walked through the door
Tired and hungry, he dropped to the floor
Pulled himself on to the chair, reached for the bowl
Relished the same rice, fish and curry, finally satisfying his soul

A Reason to Smile

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I had a dream – a flashback.

It is strange how memories work. You believe that you will forget something over the period but in reality, all those memories are stored somewhere in the back of your head. They pop out of nowhere and take you back in time to the place you were once in. They say you cannot go back to being a person you once were. I believe you can, through those memories within you.

I had a dream – a flashback. I was twelve again. It was just another day to school. I packed my school bag checking twice for my tiffin and crossed over to the other street. Even in the dream, this street was still so familiar to my eyes, nothing had changed. The boardwalk was occupied by a long line of zopadpattis. The family members living in these houses made from plastic tents mostly dwelled on the street throughout the day. Their morning began with bathing from a hot water bucket on the street near a naala. Then the women would set up their portable kitchen in a corner and start cooking for the day.

I walked on this street everyday towards my bus-stop. I walked carefully, keeping my distance from the slums  that reeked of all sorts of garbage. I walked paying no heed to these dwellers who I thought had no sense of living. Then I crossed a woman who sat with her legs tucked together, blowing air through a long pipe into her temporary choola. She tamed the fire to heat the vessel filled with water. To her right was the main ingredient for their lunch – chicken feet. Surprisingly, she cooked the same dish every day.

I always almost puked at the sight of the chicken feet. Gross, I thought. How could they eat the same thing every single day? To top it all, the smell of it was worse than the garbage can just around the corner. I covered my nose, held my lungs and crossed the woman. I paced ahead. I wanted to get as far as possible. I wanted to run away from that filthy smell she called her lunch. I did not breathe till I had reached my bus-stop. Then I turned around to look at the woman who was now adding the chicken feet to the boiling water.

This little encounter of ours was a daily thing. She cooked the same thing at the same time every day. I ran past her holding my breath trying to get away every day. Of course, she had taken a note of our morning encounters. She would simply smile at me every time I walked past; her partly stained teeth beaming in some pride. I wondered why.

In the recess, I opened my tiffin. Mom had cooked bhindi for lunch. I hated bhindi, and the smell of it. I frowned at this sabzi in my tiffin and involuntarily, the woman’s smiling face flashed in front of my eyes.

When you are growing up, you forget things easily. We moved to a new place and I forgot all about the woman and her smile. Or so I thought.

Then I had a dream – a flashback.

The Lost Princess

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Note: This blog is a guest post by Neelam Mirchandani. My sincere thanks to her for the time and efforts.

I could feel the soft skin on my arms. There was a warm rush in my heart, as warm as the blood running in her veins. My joy knew no bounds. I had waited so eagerly for her, and now, she was finally here, right here in my arms. I couldn’t stop smiling. She smiled too. I couldn’t take my eyes off her beautiful face. Her looks … mesmerizing! Beady eyes, small red nose, cotton-like chubby cheeks, silky smooth thick hair. Wow!

She was fresh, smelling good; I didn’t want to put her down. I didn’t want to hurt her skin. She was mine, all mine. There was one and only one person I wanted to share her with. Her father. She had my looks and his eyes. He took her from my arms, carefully; smiled an eternal smile. His face flushed, eyes watered. The tears  in his eyes were of joy. His blood, skin, bones. A form of life he helped me get into this world. He gazed at her, as if endlessly. It was the most beautiful moment of our lives.

Her first birthday. A red dress, net. With satin flowers. She looked nothing less than a princess. A tiny diamond crown gave a perfect finishing touch to the look. She was loved and admired by the whole neighborhood. She was the reason for most of the smiles around her. She was a gift, not only for us, but everyone who came across her, even for a short while. This love for her brought many a people to wish her on her birthday. They got her gifts, presents. To everyone’s astonishment, she accepted only flowers. Such beautiful was she, even from within, at such a tender age.

Her teachers never complained about her misbehaving in the school. No one even dared to trouble her. Such was her nature and aura.

One day she returned home late from college. There was a sudden feeling of unhappiness in me; as if someone suddenly hit me hard in the chest. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. She didn’t seem as happy as she usually did. I could feel a certain fear creep into me. My better half, my only support, held my hand tight. His touch consoled me, usually, however not this time. I wanted to speak to her, but words didn’t seem to leave my lips. Did I go mute? What was wrong with me? I started to hear voices around me. What was the commotion all about? I could sense panic in the air.

A warm drop of water fell on my cheek. And another. Yet another. Someone was crying. Who was it? My eyes seemed heavy to open. They felt as if they had cried before. I tried my best to open them. My vision was blurred. He was crying, bitterly. I tried to get my head off the pillow to hug him and ask him what was wrong. I felt severe pain in my stomach, as if someone had cut through it and taken away a part of me. It was strange feeling of emptiness and pain.

Before he could reach out to me to calm me down, I had figured it all out. I had lost her. We had lost her. Lost her much before she could come into the world, much before she could fulfill our dreams, much before she could spread smiles. It hurt. Hurt more than my womb did. My heart was pierced, soul was lifeless. My dreams were shattered, my princess was lost.

By: Neelam Mirchandani

Author’s Personal Blog: Lost World Found

Story of a Valentine

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Emperor Claudius held his royal staff in his left hand. His body leaned towards the right, his elbow on the arm chair bearing the burden of his weight. The Emperor wore his ceremonial “trabea” entirely covered in purple. What was it that he was celebrating with a wide smile across his face?

His eyes had settled on a man who kneeled before him. The man bowed before the Emperor not out of respect, but forcefully. He had no fear in his heart, no regret on his mind or guilt on his soul. In the silence of the court, the only sound that echoed the corners of the court was that of the King’s staff tapping against the royal floor. Courtesans looked in curiosity for the Emperor to deliver his verdict. Most were not in his favor. But then, who were they to judge the King who ruled several realms of Rome?

The man who kneeled before the Emperor was known to one and all. He was the most beloved man of Rome, the man who touched a million hearts and summoned words that spoke only the language of love. His name was St. Valentine.

And his guilt was to only have spread love without the Emperor’s consent.

“Do you confess to your guilt?” the Emperor questioned pointing the staff at Valentine.

To this, Valentine only nodded in denial. Nothing could more aggrieve the Emperor than a foul criminal’s ego. No one could stand challenge to the might of the Emperor.

“So be it,” said Emperor Claudius. “Your debauchery has cost me gravely. You decimated my army with a single word, love. I, Emperor Claudius, banish you from any freedom Gods can offer. May you rot and die in the dungeons of my prison when the time be right. From thus forth, Rome will never see a marriage.”

And so it was decided. Valentine was thrown in a remote cell where not a speck of sun’s light could touch the walls. Not a soul wandered or a whisper lingered. The man of love spent his days in a corner, only wishing the Emperor could understand the essence of love. So he believed that God’s angel will send a cupid and the Emperor will be diagnosed of his hatred and filled with love and only love. He pondered over those he had secretly married off against the Emperor’s will.

Days turned to months and months to years. He was reduced from muscles to bones. Soon his time would be due, he knew for sure. And one day, what had not happened in years, was about to ensue. An echo fell on his ears, one that he had not heard in a long time. The footsteps were soft, gentle, like a breeze touching a leaf. His eyes searched in the dark until they found a figure standing outside a cell.

She had long hair. Her eyes did not look into his but he could tell the color of them.

What game the mind plays in my dying days? He thought.

He closed his eyes wondering if this was a dream, and opening the eyes would make the figure in front of him vanish. Not that he wanted her to go. No man in his right sense would want to stop looking at a beauty as such. For a brief moment he pushed his mind to focus, to relieve himself of this beautiful dream.

When he opened them again, the beautiful lady was still standing in her place.

“She is my daughter,” said the guard approaching the cell.

Valentine had not spoken in years. But the love inside him was still afresh. He smiled at the new face. For a day, he had seen too many good faces. He could only ask for more.

“You may not remember me,” the guard continued. “Long time back, you had secretly married me to a girl, against the will of the Emperor.”

Valentine had married off thousands of couples. In fact, more men than there were in the Emperor’s army. This was the reason he was where he is. Not once he regretted having married off those lovely couples. The love in the eyes of the groom, the bride in white shinning gown and the blessing he showered in whispers. The secrecy he never revealed to anyone, the promises he kept for the couple, and he never regretted any of those. His years in this cell were worth each of those moments.

“It is because of you that I am blessed with a beautiful daughter as such,” the guard was in tears now. “You do not deserve this for the blessings you bestowed upon us. When I narrated your story to my daughter, she insisted on meeting you. I could not keep her away. How could I deny her from meeting a man so full of love?” He turned to the entrance and back to the cell. “I must leave you two alone here. I will stay guard by the door.” Saying so he left for the door.

When Valentine turned to the guard’s daughter, he looked directly in her eyes. She had dreamy eyes, a strand of hair fell across her face. It was as though he was rewarded with a second life. It was not until she spoke her first word, that St Valentine’s heart was overwhelmed with such happiness that his weak body could bear no further. Streams of tears began to roll down his cheeks. Not since his birth had he cried like a baby.

“My love,” she said reaching through the cell rods, “what injustice the Emperor does to a man who knows no hatred?” She reached for his hands and held them firmly in hers. Valentine was coming back to life again.

As days passed on, the guard’s daughter frequented her visits to Valentine. For hours they would talk. She would describe to him the happenings outside the cell. She would cook for him healthy food. She would stay by his cell till he had had his food and drifted off to sleep holding her hand. She would then leave for her place, only to look forward for her next meeting with Valentine.

Daily and slowly, her presence lifted Valentine’s spirit. When he felt retrieved in his prime, with the help of the good guard, he started secretly marrying more couples. This he did with the help of his lady love. He taught her the rites which she performed secretly outside.

But as fate had it, the Emperor was relieved of the treachery one day. His heart was filled in such rage and hatred that he decided to finish the tale of Valentine on the same day. The day was the fourteenth morning of February, 269 AD.

In a public gathering, the Emperor held captive the guard, St Valentine and his love. Not a moment he spent in beheading the guard with his own sword for his treachery. He turned to the St. Valentine, “You dare defy the words of your Emperor. No more shall I let your love prevail. Your last wish?” he asked.

To this, Valentine produced a piece of paper. Turning to his lady, he read through it,

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

That day, St Valentine and his love was sacrificed on the altar of hatred. Years later, we still continue to celebrate this day, to spread the love that originated in the heart of St Valentine.

Note: This is my version of the story of Valentine. The story may defer as per the source I read from.

Poem Courtesy: St Valentine.

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