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Loving and living in Mumbai

The path of love, as the poet says, never runs smooth but the Mumbai police have been giving this truism their own, oftentimes comic, twist. Ayaz Memon writes.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2013 01:36 IST

The path of love, as the poet says, never runs smooth but the Mumbai police have been giving this truism their own, oftentimes comic, twist.

Rattled perhaps by public reaction to crimes against women - as they should be because laxity in implementing law and order has been among the biggest reasons for this - some of them decided that the best thing to do would to make sure that no couples were to be seen loitering about.

This was missing the woods for the trees. But when law enforcers decide to implement policy without adequate study or understanding it is not difficult to believe. Then after the general public - not to mention the couples themselves - objected, good sense dawned and the directive was reversed.

Yet police reaction and response to public display of affection is only a subset of the larger socio-cultural milieu in the country. Even if Mumbai is arguably the most liberal city, India's cultural moorings always meant that love often had to be hidden. In other cities it has been worse: remember young lovers being beaten by cops in UP some time back?

Mumbai, of course, also has a peculiar problem which compels lovers to express their sentiments - at times ardour - publicly: space, or more pertinently the lack of it. Cramped living conditions, with many family members living cheek-by-jowl in one or two rooms, allow little privacy even for married couples.

Those who were around in the 1970s will remember that charming Basu Chatterjee film Piya ka Ghar - lovers looking for privacy in Mumbai is an old, old story. Film buffs will know it as a remake of Raja Thakur's Marathi film Mumbaicha Javai.

The cost of housing from the 1970s has changed from lakhs to crores of rupees today, but life in the city hasn't changed that much for people seeking their own little space. But even if space act is restricted and with the police and other moral vigilantes creating problems every now and then, couples are hardly likely to be deterred.

This is hardly a Mumbai or Indian issue, rather to do with human nature. As society evolves, social mores and lifestyles will change. To ensure that it is not to the detriment of the majority, there are enough preventive provisions in the law, for example, the Obscenity Act.

But these have to be applied sensibly. The yardstick cannot always be some ill-defined glorious past. As President Pranab Mukherjee observed in his Republic Day speech -albeit essentially about how we view women -the moral compass of our society has to be recalibrated to be in step with the times.

But to come back to some favourite spots of lovers in South Mumbai, Marine Drive remains the perennial favourite: for the walk along the long promenade or sitting on the rocks along the shore with their backs to the world.

The tree-lined lanes of Fort, around the University and High Court, Horniman Circle, and the edges of Azad, Oval and Cross maidans all have their little "nookie" spots. Further south, there's the end of Colaba and Cuffe Parade, around Navy Nagar which used to be a great favourite once upon a time till security concerns mounted in the past two decades.

Even given the prejudices faced by the gay community in India till recently, the Cooperage gardens were something of a haven for gay couples in the 1980s and 1990s. People walking from Nariman Point to Colaba would scurry past. Those days are gone, I would imagine.

On Malabar Hill, when Cafe Naaz was still around, couples found a great hideaway from the city's buzz and from disapproving parents. You could look down on the city but it couldn't look back at you!