For long, I wanted to visit all the monuments and the ruins of our glorious (debatable) past in the vicinity of Delhi (NCR). The age barrier and then the other responsibilities kept me away from an organized travel to all the hot spots (unorganized travel was always a part of life). Recently, I decided to break the ice almost the hundredth time and do what I love the most. I got the opportunity and the time to start with Safdarjung Tomb in the heart of the modern-day Delhi, the national capital of the largest democracy in the world, the 2nd most populated country (very close to no. 1) and the 7th largest country in the world. But an offbeat experience (more so reality) was waiting for me on the doorsteps of the glorious late Mughal architecture from the 18th century.
It was late afternoon, around 3:30 PM, normally a time when most of us are either busy busting our arse in the office or spending leisure time at home after a heavy lunch. The sun was out in the sky, but smog and approaching winters were restricting its rays to reach the ground in their full magnificence and warmth. There weren’t many cars parked in the parking right outside the three-domed mosque beside the remarkable entry gate to the tomb. It was easy to assume that there won’t be much crowded inside the tomb premises.
Engrossed in capturing each and every stone and arc of the tomb and its surrounding structures through my lens, I went inside, step by step, adjusting the light and the composition of the perfect photographs registering themselves by the click of a button in a tiny yet Herculean memory card of my digital camera. I paved my way in the central char bagh noticing the colorful architecture of the entry gate, admiring the lush green garden, and cursing the Sun for being right in the front, blocking me from taking the perfect shot of the tomb. And the smog added to the photographer’s misery.
The main structure of the tomb looked magnificent but bland in comparison to the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s tomb. But then, Safdar Jung was merely a Prime Minister of Northern India for only 5 years between 1748 and 1753 AD. It is surprising that he even got a tomb built for himself when most of his successors and predecessors went into an unknown abyss away from the clutches of mainstream history.
As I moved ahead, I decided to go to the farthest side of the char bagh to get a good shot of the tomb. I was gobsmacked to see a stream of couples sitting together, on each other, beside each other, jacketed under a sheet of cloth, under the open sky, under the shade of a tree, and under the shade of a row of solar panels. They were practically everywhere in the last two sections of beautiful Char Bagh. The green and well-groomed grass and the wet smell of the post-monsoon clay must have added to their pleasure.
I reacted to the scene of stray couples intermingling in front of me like any other reactionary Indian would do. I said to myself, ‘Have they no shame?’ but soon my mind returned to me after a short trip to my knees and I realized that this is who we are. This is love, exactly how I feel when I listen to Symphony 40 in G Minor by Mozart. I realized that this is how we have been behaving since eternity and it would remain same until we reach the stage of an ultimate bliss of equal standards of living for all (but even then there would be some heroes and heroines).
I hesitatingly took a round of the garden to reach the farthest gate of the tomb boundary. There were some movements on the grass, some hesitation to remain in the intermingling state as I moved in the otherwise couple-only garden. But some remain unaffected by a stranger looking at them, holding a giant camera in his hands. They had already planned this day for long, moments of togetherness in the world full of moral policing and parents even deciding the man/woman they have to marry and the time of their marriage.
I finally reached the opposite end of the tomb and took refuge with my camera trying to click the perfect shot of the tomb (Oh, don’t raise the standards too high!). I couldn’t help but notice couples for I longed to understand their psyche and reasons behind moving into a garden to be with each other, physically. As oxytocin, testosterone, and estrogen were flowing like water in the char bagh, I realized the conservative attitude of our society. The same society in which one genius wrote a book named Kamasutra, the guidebook to sex. The same society in which the temples of all over India are full of sculptures with men and women are having sex, Gods and Goddesses having sex, and even men and animals having sex. If that isn’t vulgar, then how can a real man and woman lip locking each other under the open sky is vulgarity? Also, there is a reason why we pray to shiva lingam. Lord Shiva is the God of Fertility and Shiva Lingam is the symbol of fertility for the Indian identity. The pious symbol is a combination of Lingam (Phallus) and Yoni (Female genitals and the base of the symbol). Our way of thanking the God for giving us the power to reproduce, to create life ourselves without depending on external factors. But how many of you already knew this?
Most of the young men and women who decide to go to peaceful and romantic places like Safdarjung Tomb are either students or lower-middle class population with decent salaries who do not wish to go to decrepit and rickety hotels where hotel staff stares at you like you are about to commit the biggest sin of your life which they would love to watch you doing if given an option. And these couples do not have the money to pay more than a thousand rupees (minimum) every time they want to get cozy with each other. Another reason for going to parks and monuments is the conservative attitude to sex, developed in most of us after years of conservative conditioning from our parents. Most of us actually think about sex before marriage as a sin. But is it? This attitude forces couples to roam around in parks but never go to hotels or their houses because you cannot really have sex in a park (so, no sin committed!).
It isn’t that sex under the open sky should be permissible in a diverse (both religiously and age wise) society. But we must not cringe at every couple holding hands and wanting to kiss out of the love for each other pouring out of them.
At this point, Oyo Rooms and StayUncle seem to be doing their bit in providing cheap accommodation to couples. The StayUncle concept of allowing couples to only pay for the day or the night stay in a hotel is revolutionary. But then, you read the news in which adult members of the Resident Welfare Association in a posh Gurugram society barge into a rented apartment of a guy to throw out his woman friend who could either just be his friend, a college, or his partner. But how does it matter to anyone? When will this change? More importantly, how will you change this moral policing attitude in people?
I have no answer to these questions. We already have laws that do not allow people below 18 years of age to book hotel rooms or enjoy booze. And pragmatically, this is how it should be. But we are talking about adults in their 20s and 30s. Why would someone moral police them? Why do we have an obscure and unclear law which says that vulgarity in public is a crime? How would one define vulgarity when what most people consider vulgarity is so easily accessible to watch on our holy temple walls, and when we pray to the Shiva Lingam every day thanking God for the boon of reproduction granted to humans?
Some say PDA corrupts the mind of children if by chance they happen to see it. Are you sure? When Shiva Lingam isn’t corrupting the mind of your children, when YouTube isn’t corrupting it, when movies aren’t corrupting it, when reading 50 Shades of Gray isn’t corrupting it, reading biology books isn’t corrupting it, sex education in schools isn’t corrupting it, a visit to Bhutan’s famous phallic town isn’t corrupting it, then how can an adult couple kissing each other would do that? The point is what your children see is your responsibility. If you don’t like them to see PDA or watch adult movies on YouTube or watch A-rated movies, you have to make sure of it. But that doesn’t make the PDA a criminal offense.
I could see an aged man in the 50s or 60s, perhaps an ASI officer coming out of the ASI building inside the Safdarjung tomb premises, moving out of the tomb without disturbing any of the couples. When he can tolerate it, nobody should have any problem with this thing.
[Text and photos by Ayush Kaushik]