Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lovers on Lake Side

It was my friend who told me that I should go for a walk on the banks of Lake Kali Baari at night. He had gone there several times and he said there was something very interesting going on every evening once the darkness descended from the skies and roosted on the branches of the trees that girdled the shore of the lake.

Standing in front of the famous Birla Akademy of Arts, Kolkata, I wistfully look at the road filled with vehicles, especially those Ambassador cars painted in garish yellow color. To reach Lake Kali Baari, I should cross the road. To cross the road here, you need special skills. Jay walking is the only possible way as there are no zebra lines. A traffic constable stands in the middle of the road and tries to ease the traffic flow.

With quick steps I cross the road, wait for a few minutes near the divider to find a gap in the flow of traffic from the opposite direction and then reach safely at the other side. There is a wicker gate in the long wall that separates the garden and lake from the main street. I squeeze myself through it and enter the garden, where, according to my friend, several pleasurable scenes waiting for me.

Darkness falls early in Kolkata as it is an eastern city and not to mention, dawn breaks out quite early here. I look at my watch and find it is just 5.45 pm. The trees have already become thatched silhouettes. People move around look like fluid shadows that have been peeled out from the ground by finger tips and set into vertical motion. I too turn into a dark mass vertical mass, a heavy shadow doing its ghostly prowl in an eerie twilight zone.

Walking ahead I strike a paved path that goes around the lake in zig zag motion. The pathway has concrete benches made on either side of it. And there it is- the vision that my friend has been talking about!

I see the benches filled with people- no I should not generalize them in such sweeping terms. Each bench is filled with at least five couple in various stages of caressing, patting, embracing, kissing, squeezing, kneading, intertwining, murmuring, moaning and doing their very best to suppress the uncontrollable orgasmic shrieking.

Now I understand what my friend was talking about. This is a lovers’ den. By evening, all those couple who cannot find a space to cozy up in the busy city, reach here religiously, play out whatever they could do with their clothes on.

I walk forward and find each bench full. These benches which can accommodate four people of normal body size, now carry five pairs- ten people. Each couple is separated by a hair thin space of air. But each couple has a world of their own. They don’t encroach in others’ privacy.

I realize a simple concrete bench can accommodate five republics; each with its own rules, its own ups and downs, its own fights and flings, its own passions and wars.

In between I see people who walk along the pathway ogling at these interlocked couple. It is an open orgy, consciously but helplessly thrown out for an intruding public. At times I find a lonely male figure sitting in between these couples, as if he were contemplating the movements of the lake lying before. He could be a pervert, or a loner without a partner, finding pleasure in the sights and sounds taking place a few inches away from his skin.

Why can’t these couple chase these perverts away? No, they can’t do that. Primarily, they don’t have time to engage in a verbal duel with a stranger. The girl has to go back to her home or hostel. So is the case of the boy in action. Second, it is a public park, nobody can ask someone to move away from his rightful space. If the couples have the rights to be there, similar rights are given to the perverts and peeping toms.

Suddenly, I find myself a peeping tom, watching at the life and death struggle of these lovers before parting.

They are not teased by anybody, I realize. Later I probe my friend on this. He tells me:

“They are protected by a parallel law system. The police constables collect ten rupees from each couple and it is a protection money.”

Yes, if you have ten rupees, a partner and no place to ‘love’, welcome to Lake Kali Baari.

I have seen this before. Perhaps, I have done this before. In Delhi, I have seen couples sitting behind the thickets and bushes in public parks like India Gate, Lodhi Gardens, Hauz Khaz Garden and so on. In Mumbai, along the Marine Drive, I see couples sitting ‘into each other’. But it happens in day time under the light of sun.

In Delhi and Mumbai, these couples sit showing their back to the street or to the people who walk through the pathways. It is a highly symbolic act. The lovers’ ultimate rebel and defiance against the society. We show our BACK to you. Get lost.

But in Lake Kali Baari, these couples face the world from their private republics. They do not shy away from the prying eyes. East is blessed with the early disappearance of the sun. Darkness protects them from the society.

In the darkness, I see a strip of white flesh glittering. I listen to a suppressed giggle. I get the vibes of an orgasmic throe from these benches. But then a sudden sense of pathos engulfs me.

This ten rupees protection money system, this urgency of the couples to share their love in open wet darkness, this shamelessness, this sudden fall into disgrace covered with the grace of love are a result of an economic system that exclude these have-not couples from enjoying the mainstream privacy in malls, in coffee shops, in multiplex cine theatres and in cushy hotel rooms.

Most of them are students from the lower middle class. Or they are the people with small little jobs. They have to reach their homes in suburbs before it is too late. And it is the only place where they can find some privacy for that small little sum of ten rupees. They cannot afford to sit in a coffee house that sells one cup of coffee for seventy rupees. They cannot spend their time together in the air-conditioned privacy of a cinema hall.

One chunni (the shawl that the girls wear with their dress) can create a room for them here on the bank of a lake. A chunni can stop the peeping toms. And the same chunni can hide all what those inquisitive hands do to each other.

I know the pain of this pleasure as I had also done the same in Baroda’s Kamati Garden. The stroll in Lake Kali Baari brings back all those memories in me. The insult that I faced from a beat constable, the abuses that I heard from passing by perverts and the disgrace in undertaking sinful journeys under the cover of a chunni.

May be I am wrong in my take on the Lake Kali Baari lovers. They all must be enjoying their time the way they want.

I walk back to my friend who is waiting for me in a posh restaurant.

Kolkata covers me with its black chunni.

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