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

Posted by Priyamvada Asthana in Society
February 13, 2017

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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