Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love, Lonliness and Lodhi Gardens

It was wonderfully cool after the nightlong showers in Delhi. For long, we couldn’t decide where we should go in such a pleasant weather during that rare idle afternoon. Finally we zeroed in at Lodhi gardens. We laughed out loud thinking how odd we would look there. The place after all is known for being the hideout for couples and not for same-sex duo. We even considered how the newspaper headline would read tomorrow if we are spotted by a reporter. –“Lesbians spotted at Lodhi garden” or may be ‘Love in the times of lesbianism’ . We cursed our lack of imagination and vocabulary for we could not fit the most preferred adjective of Delhi newspapers -“sexy’ in any of these headlines. But we forgot about these things once we crossed the stone bridge to enter the place which is a curious mix of history, landscaping and well, loneliness. From snobbish bureaucrats to fretting Colonels, from cozy lovebirds to casual on-lookers, everybody flock to this garden to spend quality time.
Once described by Time magazine as Asia's best urban oasis ,today it may have become the Mecca of all the lovers, without places to go and extra money to spend in Delhi but its original purpose was hardly that . It was designed over two dynasties – the Sayyids and Lodis (15-16 th century) – to be a sort of everyone-take-one graveyard for their families. The scenes and sounds of the place offered amazing variety.
And there we saw her. She must be around forty five - a smart Delhi lady , must be a resident of one of the affluent neighbourhoods nearby . Her purpose of being there in the garden was different from anyone of us-us, watchmen and the lovers included. She was also on a date and as we could guess from the reactions it was a regular one too. She was not there for meeting a boyfriend or a girlfriend, neither for a healthy and fashionable walk. She was there to feed some 10-12 stray dogs who stay in the garden. She was calling them by names and they were obediently following her. The two of us agreed that however, eccentric some may find her ways, it is anyday better than whiling away time with tear jerking soap operas which most other women would be doing in her colony .
It is difficult not to fall in love with the place at once. The neatly manicured lawns make it difficult to believe that once it was a congested bustee surrounding the Tombs. How did the British managed to clear the land in 1936? Our very own Archaeological Survey has been trying to vacate the Clive’s house in Kolkata for donkey’s years. How could then the foreigners convince the villagers to move for preserving a forsaken burial ground of bygone dynasties? May be there was no persuasion, just plain and simple coercion. They even changed the name of the place to Lady Willingdon Park . but the change was not long-lasting .After the Independence it was reverted back to being good old Lodi garden. In 1968, the gardens were spruced and re-landscaped by JA Stein and Garrett Eckbo.Good that at least in Lodhi garden , we managed to keep it beautiful….green and clean. As there is little architecture from these two periods remaining in India, Lodhi Gardens is an important place of preservation too. We walked till the Tomb of Muhammad Shah, where except for some pigeons and a watchman or two , no one accompanies the tomb of this third ruler of the Sayyid dynasty . It is a typical octagonal tomb with the central chamber surrounded by a verandah having three arched openings on each side. There were several graves inside the tomb but the brief stone board could not enlighten us about the identity of the persons buried with the king. As always a ugly looking blue board was declaring it as 'protected monument' ...the protection however was either absent or was done in the most careless way. Ugly cement patches on graves and brush strokes of pinkish paint can be hardly taken as 'preservation'. Another octagonal tomb located in this complex is Sikandar Lodi's Tomb . Then there was a Bara gumbad also but the entrance was locked for some strange reason and all we could glimpse form outside was the beautiful red-stone wall surrounding it. But history is just the background of the place not its reason anymore. People do not visit the place for its historical importance. In fact most visitors will be in total oblivion of the facts related to the place.

Public parks have always doubled up as private spaces for romantic couples who cannot seek the joys of physical intimacy in any other place.. We smiled at the desperation to be together .It was funny how couples were making most of the few minutes of togetherness. It was equally sad too. In a country where there are no secluded and safe places for couples to meet and in a society which disapproves of such meetings, where can they go? They came from all strata of society-students from hep DU colleges, voyeurs , sex workers, homeless and middle class . We could see that at least some of them were married too. Probably small family homes crowded by family elders do not give them space to be cosy. Not that this haven was without the fear of Delhi police or the self appointed moral police. Rani exclaimed , how weird it is that people are penalised for being in love. There was a headline in the morning newspaper about another honour killing in Gurgaon. A father killed his daughter and her husband for marrying without his consent. The mother of the victim supported her husband’s doing. How strange that these social taboos can overcome the much glorified parental love too! We discussed about that but soon changed the topic to naming the majestic tall trees around us. There were ashokas, poplar, jamun, Chinar, Neem and Eucalyptus too. From bamboo to bonsai and from rose to water lilies the place has all the charms of flora of the region. But the medal goes to bright and sunny amaltas-which is at full bloom these days. It is after all, a portent of the season. Summer seems incomplete without the alternate colours of red-gulmohar and yellow-amaltas. We spotted beehives on some of the tallest trees, found a family of squirrels , green parakeets, black n’brown mynahs and finally a swimming training school of mama duck followed by her obedient daughters . The background music was provided by Cuckoo (koyel) ….as usual.
It was after good two hours of walk and discussions on world around us that we came back to the urban jungle usually recognized as New Delhi and were lost immediately as anonymous figures in the crowd of people and vehicles.


Advait said...

Can never stop wondering how you can manage to stay interested in life and all things that happen to be cross your sight. Especially since, all the people I know are too lazy to lift their heads up to pass a casual gaze beyond the next person across their cubicles.

This is a jealous friend.

Wishing you all the luck!

P.S.: One of your previous articles on vagarant proliferation of hedonism and lawlessness in Delhi ... I am sure you will begin to embrace it before you start on a new posting. :))

Atoorva said...

With friends like you...who needs enemies. Hate you for that prophecy. Hope I will prove you wrong.

alice said...

How strange that these social taboos can overcome the much glorified parental love too!

Don't have examples for patricide and filicide from our mythology and history?
Demon King H and Prahlada, Sage Parushram's father and his bro, and of course mughal history. Well..I don't actually feel shocked even if the father of Arushi was finally found to be the murderer. My father keeps saying that its impossible. But I guess I find it improbable but not impossible.
And ofcourse, you will definitely forget Allahabad and my favourite Kolkata and fall in love with Delhi for ever this time. I have the crystal ball with me, you see! :-)

telsto said...

Generally historians are never known to be social people. To unearth Tutankhamen's past, or what was the diet chart of Inca models or why Thomas Alva Edison did not receive Nobel prize, historians are always eager more to know about ancient socities than present ones. But if you join them we would get one at least with an sympathetic eye on "love in the graveyard" scenario. However, as usual u wrote another good one.
Will I give you one name that may draw your interest. Try Hazi Building. It is situated in Paharganj, opposite of Imperial cinema hall. The house is double that your last office premises, hosed at least 20 hotels, 5 nursing homes, 3 banks, numerous shops of every possible items, several thousad residents. Somewhere it is one storey - somewhere 5, leaning more dangerously than Pisa tower. You may have chana bhatura at Hotel Anand & Anand, very delicious, and may have a walk around the building . That will take your idle time.

I hope u will enjoy Delhi also digging out its beauties to its full course. Expecting another good article soon.