Some years ago, I went to a wedding reception at an unusual venue – the Botanical gardens on Seminary Hills Nagpur. (The bride was the daughter of a very senior Agriculture officer and the groom’s father Director of a leading agri-inputs Company so the venue was a fitting one).
The place was lit up most beautifully but what stood out was the way the Decorator had used the backdrop of the Telenkhedi lake imaginatively. He had created a very realistic ship on the stage where visitors had to climb to the ‘deck’ to greet the newly married couple. The whole concept of the garden and the way it has been created to have walk ways that overlook the lake was novel and unlike anything Nagpur had seen. Plus it had some really varied flora that attracted equally varied fauna – exotic birds.
An year or two later I took some out of town guests to view this beautiful garden of Nagpur and was in for a shock. I and my guests had to make a hasty retreat because now the garden had been overtaken by ‘birds’ of another category altogether . Love Birds behind every bush and tree and plant.
On my way out I confronted the staff at the ticket counter and those managing security and asked why they had let a park like this deteriorate and become a haven for such activities.
“As long as they purchase tickets and go in, we are not bothered with what they do and who they are” was the indifferent reply I got. Another guy, more sympathetic to the ’cause of the young’ said “if not to gardens, where do these couples go for some privacy?” And I thought then – yes, we should be more permissive and understanding of the young ones.
Today, the situation has gone so out of hand that my friend Vijaya, who has been taking her dogs for an evening walk on the Ambazhari embankment for years now laments that the ‘action’ is getting more explicit.
“First you saw them cuddling, holding hands or smooching. Now you see them lying on each other. It has become so embarrassing that I have stopped taking my walks there – though walking dogs on busy streets is very hazardous” she complained.
A mom of two sons Uma Kulkarni recalls that when she took her young 9 years old son to Botanical gardens the first time they saw a couple in such a compromising position that it made her cringe! Her son looked at them and burst laughing – he thought something very funny was going on. Since then whenever her son insists on an outing she takes him to some restaurant for fast food. She realizes this is a very unhealthy trend since her little one is already showing signs of being addicted to pizzas and burgers and cold drinks. She says angrily “evenings are times when kids should be playing and enjoying the outdoors at some public garden. But where do I take him?”
Mr. Tiwari, who is the father of two sons says it is not just heterosexual couples you see in gardens – there are many homosexuals too and if his sons view such activities and begin asking too many curious questions he wouldn’t know what to do, so he avoids taking them to any garden any more. (NT means no bias to homosexuals here, it is just that Hindi movies have at least exposed kids to boy-girl romances but how to explain to young gullible kids why two grown up boys were kissing each other in public?)
Mrs Chaya Akotkar has a scary experience to share. One Sunday sometime last year she decided to take packed lunch and have her kitty party at Ambazhari garden. “As a school girl growing up in Nagpur, I had been to this garden often for picnics with my friends and their mothers, so I thought having a kitty party there would be a good idea. No sooner had we laid out the lunch and were going to begin eating some young guys came towards us and started saying lewd things and making indecent gestures. When they saw we were scared, one young man actually picked up some dirt and pebbles and threw it at our food – and then they all began laughing. What was shocking was that later on we saw some girls hanging around with these boys too. Why are such people being allowed into the garden? What are the security guards being paid for?” She asks angrily.
So WHO are these youngsters we see hanging around in such places? To my post on this subject on facebook I have many friends taking up for them and demanding of me that I show “some heart” for lovers. “Where will lovers go except to parks?” is the refrain. But you look at these ‘couples’ closely and you will realize that hardly any of them look like students studying in Nagpur’s colleges. They do not even look like newly married young couples who do not enjoy privacy at home.
An activist who probed police on this score learnt that such public places see much more ‘action’ than meets the eye. It is not just a place where illicit pairs hang out – matters have got more serious. Difficult to believe ( or may be not so ) but our parks have become popular haunts of sex workers and thriving ‘trade’ goes on behind some of these bushes. Not just this, drinking and gambling are also rampant. In two years Ambazari police have booked over 300 cases of indecent behaviour, gambling , drinking and other illegal, anti social activities there.
The news about this was published in many local papers too in the recent past , but when NT called P.I. Khade today he told the undersigned categorically that ‘ he himself has once been to inspect the parks , since he received many such complains and feedback from people, but when he went there he definitely saw many couples but saw nothing “objectionable!”
A college student I spoke to said defiantly ” no one you find in such places doing such activities is a Nagpurian and most definitely not a collegian. We have different hang outs and would never be seen kissing and smooching in a public garden. At least that is what I would like to believe…”
The atmosphere is generally so vitiated that genuine love birds, like just engaged couples, do NOT dare to venture there. Shruti and Sumant,(names altered) the day after their engagement had gone to a garden early in the evening. They were sitting on a bench talking and trying to get to know each other better but the sight of all ‘intimate’ couples started making Shruti uncomfortable and she wanted to leave. It was beginning to get dark too. But just as they were walking towards the exit some men stepped into their path and before they could shout for help had grabbed Shruti’s new gold chain and made away with it. It was a chain gifted by Sumant’s parents. When the couple went to the police station to lodge a complaint, the P.I. instead scolded Sumant for taking his young fiancée to such a place.
“Don’t you live in Nagpur? Don’t you know what kind of elements hang around in such places?” He scolded the young man.
Believe it or not, this happened a few years ago… imagine what the situation would be like now.
As Khushroo Poacha, who has two cherubic little daughters commented ” forget parks . The action has moved to lanes and by lanes now. I live in New Colony and when I am walking anywhere with my daughter I see these couples sitting on parked two wheelers, indulging in heavy PDA. They see my daughter and wave out! She waves right back, what do I do?”
It is not that given the will this cannot be controlled and gardens not restored for public, and for children. Traffic park in Dharampeth is a favourite haunt for children of all ages and foodies too since a wide variety of street food is available outside. Last Sunday, this garden hosted a widely attended garden show too. When I was complimenting Mr. Prashant Dharmadhikari a person associated with this enterprise he told me that they were very strict about not giving entrance tickets to the ‘bush people’ as he called them.
“It is not that we do not allow young couples in. But we have also learnt to discern who is legitimate and who is not. Anyone objectionable looking is strictly restricted – this is a park where the whole family comes to hang together. We will not allow our park to go the way other Nagpur parks have done.” So strict is the management about this that security guards and even vendors who run adventure or food stalls inside have been told to strictly prohibit couples parking themselves anywhere for PDA activities. They are politely asked to leave. Even the visiting families are asked to report such activities that would make them uncomfortable in the presence of their children.
I would like the final word to be that of the Architect who designed the Botanical garden – Mr. Mukul Kulkarni who also owns a very popular hang out place for young Nagpurians called ‘The Breakfast Story’. He says when he sees what has become of the Botanical garden today, he feels both angry and sad. He had designed the garden to show case rare and exotic plants of India. They had wanted it to be a place where students could come and learn Botany….. now it seems to be place where they come to ‘study’…. Anatomy??