Monuments have always been intimate to Delhi and lovers in the city. For a year, all that most friends, lovers, couples knew were WhatsApp messages, video calls in between work from home, online classes, and chupke-chupke calls on terraces or balconies. Covid had forced us all inside, some with little or no privacy. But online intimacy can’t match walking in the Sunder Nursery holding hands or lazying around in the Qutub Minar complex in the winter sun.
After two lockdowns, people in the capital are slowly rediscovering intimacy in these monuments, and are back to reclaim their spaces of love. Families, couples, lovers are sitting in the sun in these historical sites again as pandemic restrictions ease.
Love is an intrinsic part of any monument in India — it has always been. These monuments were made in memory of people and loved ones. And now are lived spaces. A young married couple from the US, who were exploring the Mughal architecture of Humayun’s Tomb, found it amusing that the monuments were filled with couples hanging out. It was the third monument they were visiting since they landed in the capital.
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The modern lover is also leaving their mark on these monuments by scribbling or vandalising them. So, Kavita and her lover may not be together anymore, or she may have not accepted his love, but he chose to declare it on the walls of Muhammad Shah Sayyid Tomb in Lodhi Gardens.
Delhi’s lovers mostly come here Monday to Friday. On the weekends, families and friend groups take away their spaces in the corners, under the trees and inside the monuments.
Two bank employees came to Sunder Nursery with office bags, but they did not have office documents or laptops — the bags had bedsheets and food. They spread a flowery bedsheet on the freshly cut grass of Sunder Nursery, and lay down under the Delhi winter sun. Their families did not know about this blooming love that was shaped in office conferences. They said, “We were exhausted from working in the pandemic months. Life was only the office and the home, and we could not meet because of work pressure. It has been tiring.” Their friends recommended Sunder Nursery to them. On a Wednesday morning, they decided to lie and enjoy their afternoon together.
For young lovers, the monuments in Delhi have been a sanctuary. Pocket-friendly ticket prices, clean, open spaces, birds chirping, and warm sun. But due to Covid, there was a sense of emptiness.
We spoke to another couple. A student who was visiting the Safdarjung tomb with her boyfriend. It was their first time together in Delhi, and first time visiting a monument. They were in a long-distance relationship that survived the wrath of covid and the online world. They dated for three years and met almost after a year. “I was irritated with video calls, I wanted to meet him so badly, but he was in Kerala and I was in Delhi. Somedays, it was even difficult to look at the screen, I missed holding hands.”
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The lockdown had also taken a toll on mental health. There was a growing frustration because of the limitations on where we could go. The intimacy and happiness that a physical meet brings were no longer available.
A couple from Rajouri Garden brought the man’s brother on the date to Humayun’s Tomb too. The man said distance from his lover made him anxious, which affected other aspects of his life and made it difficult for him to concentrate at work. They met after three months, when the lockdown was eased. “Inki ankhein dekhkar pata lag jata hai inke dil mein kya chal raha hai, par lockdown ke wajah se inki maan ki baat bhi nahi samajh pa rahe the,” he said.
Jawaharlal Sharma has been a tour guide in Delhi for over 20 years now. He noticed that the Qutub Minar was seeing more couples than usual. “Since the lockdown has lifted we see a lot of couples, especially young ones roaming in the monument complex,” Sharma said.
A documentary filmmaker, who had come to Safdarjung Tomb with his friend, said that couples love open spaces. “Monuments are breathers for lovers.”
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)