“You come to the Lodhi garden to get your head fixed. Like when you are down and out—lost a job maybe, a girlfriend, or are struggling to understand the meaning of life. Not that you will find answers to these permanent agonies that plague men and women alike, but the trip helps. Don’t ask me how. Certainly not what a resolution the morning after a night of frustration-induced-binge-drinking can do though.” Says the fellow writer I have invited for a walk—November in Delhi is superb for outdoors was the only excuse I could proffer when he asked why—and though we have met in the city bars before, save one literary festival, he quite surprisingly agreed— and now he shares this wisdom as we saunter along a paved walkway, giving way every few seconds to the exercise-seeking, rich-and-important day-walkers in clean sneakers, the residents of Lutyens’ Delhi who like wearing, I notice for the first time, tight track pants for some reason.
The fading light of the late afternoon blurring our vision, and the fact that the guard will soon be asking people to leave, is making the couples seated strategically closer to the bushes more adventurous. I see a few of them kissing passionately, others have wrapped their arms around their partners, and still others are whispering into each other’s ears, of which there is clearly no need as the birds are at their frantic best, chirping at their top volume. By the time I get my attention back to what my friend is saying, I’ve missed a lot.
He seems to know a great deal about this garden, certainly more than me. “This was earlier called the Lady Willingdon Park,” he says with a great flourish by the wave of his hand, a fact that I already know but choose not to comment, “and it was only in the late sixties that J.A. Stein, the American architect who also built the India International Centre right next door, gave the garden its present character.”
His talk fades once again as I stare at the tombs of the great fifteenth century warriors, the arched doors in the stone buildings of which are lined with blue tiles. There is definitely love in the air and the November wind that sweeps through the Cedar, Eucalyptus and the Palo Boracco, or the Silk Floss tree as the last one is called, now in its full autumn bloom, is cool on the skin.
Later, after my friend has gone, I walk around the tombs in awe to look at the monuments more closely but end up scaring couples who look at me with hate in their eyes. I must stick to the main walkways I assert to myself and sit on a bench close to an old man who doesn’t respond to my smile.
“Do you come here every day?” I wait for a response, but he gets up and walks away.
He is back in a few minutes. “I’ve a problem you see,” he says, waving in the direction of the toilet.
I must ask him now, I decide. “Sir, someone said people come here for a quickie in the dark. Is it true?”
I am being too straight, rude maybe, definitely not civilized, and my only escape, if the old man reacts abnormally, is the visiting card in my pocket which claims that I’m a writer. And that I hope gives me a bit of a license to prod people with uncomfortable questions.
I find it difficult to match the gaze of the old man as he sizes me up, but after a while when he eases down further on the bench and begins to speak, I know I am closer to getting my answer.
“The eunuchs descend here in the night,” he says, “letting the couple do a quickie for a small fee as they look out for the guards. That’s how it works.”