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Valentine’s Day: Beating Around The Bush In Lodhi Gardens

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The season of love is round the corner. And by that, what I really mean is that the season of appropriating a medieval saint’s name – who helped couples elope – to make commercial gains, is round the corner.

It’s also the season when Aphrodite’s son, Cupid gets busy. He has to pose for pictures that will go on cards and boxes of chocolates and bouquets. You get my point.

It’s odd that an angelic, cherubic, child, who shoots arrows – please make your own analyses about the violence inherent in love – is the poster boy for romance.

However, to come back to the point, the season of pink and red is here. ‘Tis the colour of love, you see. Valentine’s Day is here.

Also here, is the season of stumbling upon young love in various compromising positions, on benches, under trees, behind bushes.

Basically, if, like me, you take your daily exercise to Lodhi Gardens, or any park, for that matter, you see a lot of scenes that you could do without seeing.

Lovers in Lodhi Gardens are nothing new. They’re a daily fixture. The one place where policemen stroll past couples making out in public, without batting an eyelid.

Where figures of authority briskly walk past public displays of affection and say nothing.

Sometimes, I get the oddest of feelings that the brisk walk is partly motivated by the desire to get away from the couple tossing flowers at each other. The shock of seeing couples openly making out might just jolt old hearts into working better.

However, as Valentine’s Day approaches, there is scarcely a tree under which people cannot be found. For a country that frowns on public displays of affection, that frowns at the merest mention of ‘sex’- the horrors if it is premarital – Lodhi Gardens offer you a novel place to catch up on all sorts of coochie cooing.

It is odd that a garden full of tombs is the last place you’d expect to find lovers. However, in India, that is precisely where they are most found. A place characterised by death helps create new lives. Oh, the irony!

However, I digress. I was talking about Valentine’s Day in Lodhi Gardens. If it wasn’t inappropriate or rude, I’d take pictures of the couples.

I advise you, dear reader, to not let your mind wander into the gutter. I don’t mean those sort of pictures. Just normal pictures.

I’d go up and talk to them. Once upon a time, in a faraway land, (okay, that was just exaggeration) but a couple of years ago, a friend and I, decided to play a prank. We went to Lodhi Gardens, and, every time we passed a couple PDAing, we broke into very loud, very off-key singing, passing right past them.

We sang some of the bawdiest songs we could think of. It was fun, in a perverse sort of way, to see couples break apart, bewildered.

Now, I’m older, hopefully wiser. Also, I didn’t have my partner in crime. It’s no fun going past couples making out, singing bawdy songs when you’re alone.

This time, I merely tried to keep my laughter in check and gave thanks that in real life, unlike comics, no thought bubbles appeared to embarrass me and anyone trying to read me, with the constant commentary.

So there, I spy a couple making out under the bushes, along the wall that runs along Amrita Shergill Marg. It seems like a terribly uncomfortable posture to me, but who am I to judge.

Oh, I’m sorry. I should have said the whole wall was interspersed with couples in various phases of love making. I wonder if I ought to suggest that they just get a room, but think better of it.

The lawns are full of them too. To the boy sitting under a tree on a landscaped hill, you are very visible and your hands are most certainly under the girl’s sweater.

You’re not as invisible as you think.

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from bursting out laughing. An uncle, a regular here, has just given them the evil eye and passed by me, muttering under his breath about falling morals.

Just behind them, sit another couple. The boy’s pulled the girl onto his lap. I wonder faintly how long it’ll take him to lose all sensation in his legs.

Next to them, sits a girl with her boyfriend/partner/husband’s head in her lap. I wonder how long before it starts getting heavy and she shoves him off.

I see all sorts. The ones just sitting on the grass and talking, tearing up the grass. The ones where the boy has matched his green pants to his girlfriend’s green kurta. The teenagers, definitely still in school. The uber stylish couple, who would’ve looked more at home in Khan Market. The couple dressed in velvet. She’s wearing a golden velvet gown with brown suede boots, he’s wearing a black velvet jacket. I wonder if velvet is back in fashion.

From the corner of my eye, I see an uncle toss his half eaten cone into the bushes. From the bushes, with an undignified squawk, emerge a couple, the girl trying, unsuccessfully, to wipe ice-cream off of her hair.

A little further, I see a boy offer his lady love a bite of his ice-cream. At the last moment, he takes a bite of the ice-cream himself. She swats him forcefully on the head. He chokes on his ice-cream and has to be thumped on the back for a minute, before he’s able to swallow his bite. That time, I laughed.

There’s a girl with a rose tucked into her hair. I hope she’s dusted all creepy crawlies off it, before donning it.

The couple under the arches, just because you can’t see anyone doesn’t mean that the world can’t see you canoodling. To the two couples making out on the same bedsheet, openly, I wonder if you’re in a polyamorous relationship.

The cricket players are the worst for these sort of lovers. Twice, I duck as a ball comes flying my way. Twice, it hits young lovers.

There are pre-wedding photo shoots happening. You can tell them from a mile away. There’s the girl in a red gown twirling under the trees, while her fiancé looks on admiringly. There’s the girl in the gaudy sari, massaging her foot, while her fiancé holds her sandals and the cameraman waits.

There’s a photo opportunity right there, I want to tell him.

There’s the couple where the boy has lifted the girl clean off the ground. She’s about my weight, I guess. His arms falter for a moment, the cameraman urges him to lift her higher. I want to tell them that those arms will ache later. She’s got the same built as me, so I ought to know.

There’s the couple standing over the bridge, while the cameraman, standing under the bridge, tries to get a good angle. And then, there’s that one couple, the girl holding a placard that declares, “He’s mine”.

She catches me trying to suppress a smile and, embarrassed, hands the placard to her fiancé, who’s been trying to take it from her for quite some time, now.

Barely a stone’s throw from them is another couple making out, right in front of the old, paunchy uncle working out.

Go make out in the tombs, I want to tell them. Unless the Syeds break free of their centuries of slumber, no one will disturb you there. However, I say nothing.

There are others too. The sort who make you believe in lasting love, and not just fleeting romance. That couple, sitting on the bench, the girl burqa-clad. Her companion and she are arguing about what to cook for dinner.

The young, newly-married couple, trying to take a selfie. She’s clad in a seedha palla (falling to the front) sari, the parting of her hair stained bright orange with vermilion, the wrists too full of bangles. She tries to adjust her palla, even as her husband tugs at it, trying to pull it off her head. “Sirf photo ke liye”, says he. “Hatt!”, says she. But she giggles all the same.

The couple walking side by side, one finger each in the palm of the toddler toddling away between them. They exchange side-long glances at each other.

There are uncles and aunties who walk here every day. They bicker as they walk. Discuss life issues, while taking care of their health.

The old Afghan couple, the gentleman assisting the lady. At one point, she stops to catch her breath. He offers her a seat at the nearest stone bench.

The Panditji in his dhoti, the tripundra clear on his forehead, the Panditaayin briskly walking at his side.

The old couple in the lawn, with a bedspread. The gentleman is flat on his back, eyes closed. His wife, I presume, leans against him, knitting needles clacking.

The expat couple, sitting under the neem tree, reading. Her head comfortably tucked into the curve of his shoulder.

The girl who’s just burst into peals of laughter, while her companion smiles bashfully. The couple playing badminton.

The couple too tired to do anything more than call after their toddler as he runs away from them, cackling with glee.

The couple strolling comfortably, while their two older children help the youngest in jumping across the stones that line the walk way.

I wonder who these people are. What drives them to find privacy in a park? What are they like when they are outside of this moment? What stories do they carry within themselves?

It’s easy to identify the heterosexual couples. The same-sex couples, not so much. And in some sense, that provides them security.

You can’t tell if the girls taking selfies or the boys walking together, fingers looped, are just friends or more. They subvert the system. Because no one suspects them, they are free.

Everyone in that park, in that moment, is free. They are unshackled by societal expectations. They carry that burden the rest of the time, but in that moment, in my mind, they are unbound.

I still say that Valentine’s Day is a commercial creation, too saccharine to be digested easily. And in any case, people shouldn’t need a day to celebrate love.

However, what I’ve seen also tells me that in a world full of romance, I shouldn’t be too jaded. That love exists. Whether on Valentine’s Day or not, is a different matter altogether.

But when romance fades, love persists. And perhaps, that is what the world needs. Perhaps, that is why we have Valentine’s Day.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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