In a metropolis always rushing ahead, how does timeless romance — and its expression — keep pace? Four Delhiites chronicle memories of past loves and hopes of new possibilities.
There is a part of Miranda House that is forever Patna. Perhaps that is stretching it a bit too far since the ‘part’ I mention was a lowly piece of ochre coloured sack-cloth spread on the pavement bang outside the Miranda hostel backgate, by the ice-cream seller for prospective customers, and which I with the extreme self-possession of a beggar had appropriated for the autumn and winter terms at DU.
1993 between 6 and 7.30 pm each evening. There I would sit in samadhi and smoke with my friends, those other beggars of love, and soon, as it was widely heralded, fortune would smile on one of the braves and he would be transformed into a prince.
He wouldn’t grace the sack-cloth anymore and with nary a glance at us, his erstwhile friends looking enviously on, would fly to the university garden, past the university cooperative stores, past Meghdoot hostel with a princess with the Sinead O Connor haircut on his back, hanging on for dear life.
Later we would see another beggar dust the ashes off his tail-coat, and then tap-dance past us like Gregory Hines with a posy of roses in his hand to knock on the Miranda back door. 1993 would prove to be the summer of love for my mates and the winter of my discontent.
Chattra Marg seemed aglow with love at all times, even when the street lamps didn’t work. But I didn’t give up, as each week I lost a friend to Chattra Marg, my resolve acquired a Buddha like determination. Enlightened women perhaps would call me a stalker today.
Come to think of it, many did even at that time. But I didn’t waver, didn’t let off my lonely vigil. I wouldn’t abandon my sack-cy back from Kamala Nagar. I for one couldn’t even afford a lolly-pop.
And at that moment a trilby magically alighted was on my head and Miles started to tune up his trumpet. I was blind.
Siddharth Chowdhury is the author of Patna Roughcut and Day Scholar, shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Old, modern love
Haan, haan, jahan college ke ladke ladkiyaan jaate hain na?"asked the auto driver as he looked at me and Mrs Singh with an understanding smile last week.
I had difficulty remembering the name of this Mughal era monument where we had parked our car as we didn’t find any parking space in Khan Market.
Come to think of it, the most visible lovelorn couples that you see around are college kids, bunking that boring History class and heading, migratory bird-like, towards the nearest medieval tomb, of which there's one every half a km.
I wonder if a foreign tourist ever questioned the guide’s version by pointing out that actually the mutilated walls speak of a love story between a Neha and a Sanjay.
Having grown up in Kolkata, young love was about walking on either side of a bicycle, sharing an egg or, on pocket money payday, a chicken roll.
Imagine my dismay, when, upon landing in Delhi, I found that the city had no tradition of the eminently shareable roll.
Cycles too did not seem to find favour with the city’s youth. The zippy little 800, with blackened windows was everywhere.
Occasionally, an autorickshaw with curtains on cold and foggy winter days was employed for a joyride with the beloved to CP and back.
It seems Delhi’s tradition of auto guys charging whatever comes to their mind, began thus.
The legendary Buddha Jayanti Park was a haunt both of couples desperate enough to steal a quick you-know-what as also with members of the security establishment bent upon stealing a quick buck or a hundred from these unfortunate souls.
Apart from the ‘thulla’, the other guy who made merry and money at the dating guy’s expense was the moongfali wala.
This voyeur-like weasel wouldn’t leave an amorous couple alone till a packet of peanuts was purchased. Not for peanuts, too.
Soon, however, with Manmohanomics, came the malls. Now you could take your date to the nearest chrome and glass, air conditioned place, share a burger and an ice cream. And guess what, you could hold hands without a cop stopping you for harassment.
Young love: 1. Cops: 0. Applause.
A step ahead of the mall, is the modern multiplex. All you need to do is arrive and pick a couple of tickets for the most third-rate movie and let the reclining seats take over. They'll even serve you burgers and coffee in styrofoam cups.
This method, considering the spate of 100-crore plus hits, seems to be the most in vogue nowadays.
Luckily, for married couples in Delhi, space is not much of a problem. The kothis and large four-bedroom houses are why you won't find anyone humming that Bollywood number ‘ghar ke andar ammi abba, bahar duniya haye rabba; kahan mil kar karein hum pyaar.’
The couples in love that I love are the been-there, done-that ones who’ve long retired, have grand children and can be seen walking hand in hand in places like Lodhi Gardens with the sun’s first rays in the morning.
To them, I say ‘muah’. And keep it up, Uncleji & Auntiji!
Satbir Singh is an advertising professional
twitter handle @thesatbir
Flaws of attraction
My friend Faiz, 33, and I are sitting in 4S, Defence Colony, a cheap dive for infinite jest and wisdom. We’ve drained three rounds of beer and find ourselves returning to old conversations on love and heartbreaks. Faiz is a poet, but he doesn’t write poetry.
He falls in love every once in a while, and when he falls out of it, he disappears into the mountains with his bike. Most recently, we met a girl at the Jaipur Literature Festival. She is tall, wears light eyeliner, sports short hair and faded blue jeans.
He’s tall and dark with brooding eyes. She lives in Mumbai, he lives in New Delhi. Faiz takes to her as a rainbow trout takes to a silver spinner in shadowy cold waters of Himalayan rivers, cautious yet irrational.
He finds her irrepressibly attractive, he tells me, but suspects I like her as well. Next day, he sees us sitting silently together filing stories for our respective newspapers and walks away disappointed when I don't introduce him to her. He doesn’t believe me yet that I haven’t spoken to her.
Faiz now finds a more reliable friend to reach out to her. He seems inconsolably drawn to her, but she seems distant, distracted and dreamy. The friend detects something is amiss and tells Faiz about his apprehensions. He is politely ignored.
Faiz and the girl seem to get along like fire and ice. They share an unbridled passion for poetry, the road and more.
When they part, they exchange email addresses and promise to look each other up when they visit Mumbai and New Delhi next.
But he seems mildly dissatisfied when she’s gone. He plans to write a letter and wants to know more about her. So he searches for her on the Internet only to find she’s a ‘feminist, queer and journalist’.
Faiz is not heartbroken. He says after a certain age your heart doesn’t throb the way it would in some college romance.
Instead, it grows stubborn and churlish. He likes to take his Enfield to long, winding roads of Kumaon to clear his mind and exorcise his demons.
To remind himself that there are bigger and darker things to be afraid of like the fear of death and being alone. Then, he returns to the city of ruins to look for love again.
Jairaj Singh works with the Hindustan Times.
Other half loves too
One of the most enduring monuments to love in this scraggy city of ours is Jamali-Kamali, the 16th century mosque and tomb in Mehrauli which houses two graves, said by many to belong to a Sufi Shaykh, poet and traveller and his lover.
Jamali-Kamali has for long been a favourite city ruin of mine, ever since I discovered it on a conducted heritage walk years ago, and then included it in my own, less formal Delhi walks for my friends.
The poet and his lover lie side by side, a paean from long ago to the city where men walking hand-in-hand is such a familiar sight that I laugh out loud when someone tells me by way of unnecessary explanation, ‘They are just buddies, you know.’ No, they are men in love, men expressing love, making love, to each other.
Not far from Jamali-Kamali, in posh Chanakyapuri, every Tuesday, Pegs and Pints bar brings on its Gay Night. My gay friends love P&P.
For years, I have been privy to their narrations of exciting encounters, of parties in safe, ‘familiar/l’ environs with their minds at rest, and the sheer euphoria of being able to be totally oneself in this haven of alter-sexuality.
And now and then, there is also a story like that of my friends, Tushar and Jagath, who met in P&P in 2007 and are together still.
In rainy August, for one week a dusty-musty auditorium in Lodhi Estate opens its doors to the film screenings that are part of the annual Nigah Queerfest — young people hold hands through the erotic scenes, and weep openly as the movie turns sad.
As they walk out of the auditorium, they reach out to others, clutching their hands as tightly as they had held their lovers’ only moments before, hugging and smiling, declaring that they are family to each other.
Since Gay Pride became an annual event in the capital in 2008, for the rest of the city, Queer Delhi seems only to live on that one day.
But queer Delhi lives and loves all the time, in our alleys and buses, in posh restaurants and backlane dhabas, on the Metro and in taxi backseats, it throbs, sighs, makes promises, breaks them and keeps them, as its inhabitants celebrate their right to love whomever they please. What’s one kind of love got to do with it? Nothing.
Arpita Das runs an independent publishing house, Yoda Press, and bookstore, Yodakin, in New Delhi.