We thought the only kisses appropriate to Parliament were reverent caresses to the threshold. But anything seems possible now that the opposition has called for a politics of transforming hate to love.
Even Delhi, which its critics think of as a dustbowl of rage, bears witness to this utopian possibility, of turning bad times into good. Taking inspiration from last week’s hug in the Lok Sabha, here’s a heat map of romance in Delhi.
There’s only one sight more common in Lodi Gardens than retired bureaucrats in knee socks grumbling to their Brigadier (Retd.) pals in berets about Arun Jaitley. This is the sight of love blossoming in summer, behind trees, under bushes, on the grass. In spite of an intrusive security presence, Lodi is one of Delhi’s sexiest gardens, if you can forget the possibility that Arun Jaitley could pass you by at any minute.
Delhi’s public parks and gardens are more conducive to love than most tidy, manicured colony parks and institutional lawns policed by zealous residents and their proxies. They are perhaps the capital’s most democratic spaces, often welcoming to rich and poor, refugee and native, straight and queer, to different degrees. This doesn’t make them oases of tolerance. But taking frisky-riskies is easier because everyone is simultaneously on display and trying to hide.
Also, something the rest of urban India doesn’t quite understand: Delhiites like to make out in forests, because we have a lot of them. Hauz Khas forest gets points from straight and gay kissers alike; so does eerie Jahanpanah, which we frankly thought you only went to to train for marathons and have your pocket picked. “There are always congregations of uncles chanting Hindu chants together and you overhear other uncles moralising along the way,” one person says. “I guess there’s an element of rebellion to kissing there.”
It’s always dusk in a Delhi parking lot, dusty, deserted, subterranean, perfect for Schrodinger’s Lovers. (“So what are we?”) The PVR Saket parking lot, where “creepy” and “deserted” overlaps perfectly, especially, at night, is a gleaming little zone of warmth for lovers perched on the bonnets of their cars. East Delhi and Noida, with its sprawling backlots, offered succour to canoodlers chased out of other quasi-public spaces. “Got caught making love in Sarita Vihar parking,” one lover regrets.
Something no one could have dreamed of twenty years ago, when muggers and assorted enemies of love lay in wait in its grassy shadows: Nehru Place’s parking lots, especially around its metro food court and INOX, are especially romantic. Talk about getting your circuits connected.
“Does a parked car outside Humayun’s Tomb count?” No, because inside a car isn’t really public space, and the guards at Humayun’s Tomb are irritatingly hell-bent on propriety. But there’s as much wildness as discipline in Delhi. Kissers self-report their adventures at Tughlakabad Fort (“on a weekday!”), Safdarjang’s Tomb (a bpb editor personally recommends the lax policing of the lawns in the afternoons) and the Hauz Khas ruins: “One of the jharokhas there is super-private because of its height and angle, unless someone comes up the stairs, which are so high that there’s time to fix what needs to be fixed.”
Purana Qila gets multiple commendations: “I’ve never seen so many couples making out at one go,” plus “It’s the first place you learn to go when you’re new in Delhi!” But Mehrauli ranks highest on romantic atmosphere - and why wouldn’t it, under the auspices of Jamali, Kamali and their jinns? (However, on the subject of jinns, we’d think twice before smooching on the battlements of Ferozeshah Kotla.)
Markets & Malls:
“Khan Market,” said one person. “I was a little bit in love.” Quoth another: “Khan Market! Gosh, what a slut I used to be.”
Middle Lane flashes red on the love navigator, of course: a sense of impunity is the least anyone can expect at Delhi’s richest market. News of kisses pours in from other shopping complexes around the city, usually huddled in the arcades around closing time. Malls are generally recommended for hand-holding and snuggles, especially if you are young and under-confident of getting away with bolder displays of affection. A desirable prelude, perhaps, to entering a movie theatre for more serious coochie-cooing.
Three people recommended kissing outside a McDonald’s, perhaps made giddy by the air-conditioning and the smell of soft-serve vanilla. The GK-I markets may be marked as especially warm and cosy in winters, like the razais in the N-block shops. “But never old Delhi,” a correspondent advises. Not with all those emperors and rebels sleeping fitfully under our feet.
Even Delhi, which its critics think of as a dustbowl of rage, bears witness to this utopian possibility, of turning bad times into good.
Does a bar’s permissiveness correspond to its poshness? Sometimes. It’s confirmed, for example, that the dance floor at PCO heats up, especially around closing time. More than one handsome Delhi woman has fond memories of being kissed at Turquoise Cottage, or TC’s. “Pubs in Hauz Khas are generally quite chill,” we’re told. We haven’t yet heard of PDA at PDA - but of course, Defence Colony’s most famous “dive,” and the sidewalk outside its door, has borne witness to a million hearts, torsos and all, conjoining.
“Don’t judge me,” a lawyer of taste and discretion says defensively of this venue. “I was young and and 4S was all I could afford.”
If Connaught Place didn’t exist, Delhi’s lovers would have to invent it. We go into mazes to get lost, Walter Benjamin said (in a discourse about another set of arcades): in CP’s airy interplay of dark and light, lovers go to find each other. Every part of CP, from its gloomy corners to its bright shop-fronts, seemingly holds a memory of sweetness and freedom for somebody.
Not that all Delhiites are lucky in this regard: a person who fondly recollects hiding away to kiss a date on the dark staircase of Rajiv Chowk metro station nonetheless remains disappointed in the quality of Delhi’s straight men, and would “shout it from the top of the flagpole in the middle of CP if I could.” And yet, from Palika’s legendary status as a cruising spot, to auto drivers who won’t bat an eyelid upon bearing witness to a clinch, this is Delhi’s wedding cake and honeymoon in one.
This, on the other hand, we don’t understand. But in keeping with its name, the springtime of love is always greening the lanes of Vasant Vihar and its surroundings. “It’s Priya Cinema, yo,” a greying gentleman enlightens us. “Pre-PVR, 35 rupees a ticket, balcony seating.” But the park outside Priya, too, holds precious memories for many, as does the walled fortress of Vasant Vihar market, which people remember as a discreet haven in the days before its habitués swanned about in bandage dresses. And the park at Basant Lok has witnessed, in broad daylight, at least one episode of “lots and lots of necking.”
Reader, the metro network forms the love-lines on Delhi’s hand. From Ghitorni to Jahangirpuri, from Moolchand to Mujesar, from platforms and escalators to moving trains running at full capacity and adjoining parks, no part of Delhi seems simultaneously freer and safer for lovers. “Getting caught necking in an isolated place is a lot scarier,” a kisser reasonably points out. “There are lots of small parks, like the one next to the INA metro, which isn’t full of staring men OR couples,” says another.”
Tip for beginners: there’s “that one pillar behind the CCTV camera on the violet line metro stations which is a blind spot (only people on the moving metro can see you and can't do shit about it).”
Parda Bagh: We haven’t heard of anyone making out here yet, but ladies who love ladies, this is a walled garden into which no men are allowed. Need we say more? (Yes, actually: it’s overlooked by the balconies of an apartment block, if you care about that sort of thing.)
North Campus: “Random parks,” “cuddling all over” and other tales of puppy love are inscribed into DU’s past and present. We’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Garden Of Five Senses: “Used to be good in 2003-2004, when the ticket price was nominal and it wasn’t full of fashion shows and pubs.”
India Gate: Lots of divided opinions: on the one hand, there are wide open gardens and low, shady trees. On the other: armed police, tourist families, and a general atmosphere of grave sobriety. (Just to say: there’s more than one way to honour the people who fought for our freedom.)
India Habitat Centre (and not just the auditoriums): ‾\_(ツ)_/‾
Gurgaon: “Shockingly, people are a lot more comfortable here,” a recent entrant to the city informs. “Leisure City is couples central,” we hear. “The metro stations are huge and full of restaurants that are always full of couples,” says a third. Indeed, we just heard that the Afghan restaurant at HUDA City Centre recently bore witness to an arranged marriage date: congratulations to the happy couple, who will marry later this year!
In Delhi, tomorrow generally looks better than today. “And PDA is far easier in your forties than in your twenties,” says a friend dating a silver fox. “Also, gray men can get away with anything in this country.” We know: Parliament just told us both these things. We can only carry on the good work.
Thanks for their insights to Ramana, Veena Venugopal, Siddharth Singh, Karnika Kohli, Samyak Sibashish, Prerna Dewan, Dhrubo Jyoti, Harsimran Gill, Naomi, Natasha, Siddharth Agarwal, Sourabh Gupta, and many others who preferred to remain anonymous.
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