Friday, 18 December 2015

An afternoon in Lodi Gardens #whyloiter campaign - Vani Viswanathan

My jaw dropped when I entered Lodi Garden on a Friday afternoon, looking for peace, quiet and me-time. It was swarming with people. What did so many people have time for in the middle of an afternoon, on a weekday, I wondered. I’d just quit my job, and had spent the last week oscillating between feelings of exhilarating freedom and unproductivity. I’d planned for this Lodi Garden trip to be my little escapade, a chance to stretch in the winter sun. And, at the back of my mind, was a niggling thought to test out whether that space was open to a woman by herself – not jogging, but doing nothing.

A long line of students walked past me near the entrance, all girls, in green salwar kameez for uniforms, some with a mustard brown sweater on. Continuously jabbering, walking in small groups of three or four, I noticed with amusement that each group went stiff and quiet when they walked past an open gym, where a bunch of young men were exercising. The men, flattered at the attention, returned the favour.

Lodi Garden seemed to be the flavour of the day for schools. Little boys in navy blue school uniforms run amok, screaming, weaving through the broken monuments in the garden. Girls and boys didn’t speak with each other – the presence of a teacher probably had something to do with that – but I felt sad that mixed-gender discussions had to be kept clandestine, outside of school boundaries.

The cacophonic school groups had taken up most of the initial parts of the huge garden. My dreams of lazing about near a centuries-old monument had to be forfeited. I walked ahead… As the garden began to quieten down, the grass began to be dotted with couples in varied stages of engrossed discussions. Some cuddled, some had the partner lying on the other’s lap, and in another, a woman kneeled on the ground with her hands on her partner’s lap, as if she were trying to hard explain something and seek his understanding. One woman fed mouthfuls of food to her partner (I assumed), until a third person came about to join them.

I settled for a spot in a corner of a grassy slope that offered a vantage view. I saw so many pairs of men and women walking around; girls I groups; men in suits lying on the grass, soaking up the sun; garam pakode and chai for sale; two people with cameras slung across their shoulder; another photographer duo who were carrying flowers, and I wondered if one of those cheesy pre-wedding shoots was going on (I sighed about being judgmental); several foreigners, a bunch of international students – kids from across the world – who were running about screaming; a man with a dog (that looked like it had starred in an ad for Pedigree) that he cuddled and played with; a group of men who’d dozed off with scarves for pillows. A pair of eagles chased each other, swooping by very close to the ground near me, making me draw back in shock and fear. A stray dog jogged up close, trying to be friendly. A group of women in bright, rainbow-coloured kurtas and sweaters walked about, clearly enjoying an extended lunch what looked like working women on an extended lunch break to celebrate the end of the week.

I got myself a cup of tea from the passing chaiwallah. It was sweet beyond words, but the heat felt soothing. So far, nobody had as much given me a second glance for being a lone woman dawdling about on the grass. I was surprised; jogging in the park near my home, only a few kilometres away, would have earned me a few stares. How was the Lodi Garden miraculously free of this gaze? Maybe it’s the presence of women in general, be it with other women or men. Or maybe it was because there were enough women feeling free enough to pose: the bride-to-be (I was right about the pre-wedding shoot!), girls taking selfies and women posing away for their male and female friends to click. It felt liberating. If only all of Delhi could be this way!

But all the while, I had one thought I wasn’t giving enough attention to. So far, I’d not ventured to lie down on the grass like my fellow lone male Lodi Garden loafers. Did I dare? I looked at my watch. I’d spent close to two hours simply looking around and occasionally writing in my notebook. The group of men who’d dozed off with scarves for pillows got up to leave. Taking that as a cue, I walked up to a mound of grass, lay down and pulled out my Kindle. Why not?

Vani Viswanathan is a feminist and co-founder/editor of the online literary magazine spark. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Enjoyed reading it. Lodi Garden is a city park situated in New Delhi and is a hotspot for morning walks for the Delhiites. In the middle of the garden is the Bara Gumbad also called Shisha Gumbad for the glazed tiles used in its construction. It is an important place of preservation. For more details check Lodi Garden .