Some years ago, a friend described his parents with great affection as people who like to have fun. At that point, I thought to myself: “Big deal. Doesn’t everyone like to have fun?” I was still young enough to be in close proximity to those afternoons where your friend or your brother starts laughing and you start laughing and then you can’t breathe. I was still young enough to be part of exhausting, pointless activities that left you panting happily, like a dog with its tongue hanging out. Now though, I finally understand what he meant.
For one thing, I have seen the parents at work. Their careful pursuit of snacks, encouraging the grandchildren to use a garden hose and bucket to cool off in Delhi summers, dancing whenever there is a chance, singing loudly in restaurants, their thorough approval of other people’s frivolities. Fun fuels their days and weeks. But the thing that makes my friend’s image of them clearer to me is the fact that I have grown older and have become rather less fun. I laugh less easily and the anchor of my to-do list and my to-worry-about list makes sure my ship rarely floats off into giggles.
My friend’s parents stand out as unusual entities for me mostly because I have come to accept that our nation is often in a state of anhedonia, an inability to enjoy ourselves. Our mascot could be a sourpuss. Any sign of plain enjoyment must be either straight up prevented or be governed by rules that tell you to suppress your pleasure in service of a higher motive—religion, status anxiety or good old power. When you are a child, you must run “to come first”—the three magic words of everyone’s childhood. When you are an adult, you must only move for fitness. Recently, I was stuck in a conversation with a physical therapist which went like this in a loop. Me: How can I learn to do a dead hang? Him: Why do you want to do a dead hang? Me: To learn to do a pull-up. Him: Why do you want to do a pull-up? Me: For fun. Him: Not for fitness? Me: No. Do you know how to do a dead hang? We didn’t get to the dead hang but we both walked away hangdog.
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Complex versions of this conversation exist for all realms of our lives. A performer friend told me she has quit multiple dance classes because the teachers were obsessed with straight lines, her moving too much, and, in one case, the possibility of her underarm sweat. This is why Chennai-based dancer Nrithya Pillai’s ongoing discussions about the casteist history and present of Bharatanatyam classrooms will send shockwaves of recognition in your dance-class dropout body. Some of that schooling was genuinely about form perhaps but some of that schooling was about separating you from your trust in your body’s knowledge of pleasure.
In a strongly hierarchical community like ours, pleasure is a very suspicious character. And free pleasure, a cheap thrill, if you will, is a suspicious character who must be arrested right away. All of which is my long garden path to explanation for why Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park has some ridiculous new rules. Every few years, some anhedonic set of people bring new rules to Cubbon Park. In the late 1990s, young people visiting the park lived in fear of being arrested or at least blackmailed with the threat of arrest under prostitution charges. Trans persons were picked up all the time for existing.
The latest rules are a perfect mixture of the traditional and modern, just the way we like it. No photography. No sports because they will somehow damage the sprinkler irrigation system. No tiffin boxes and picnics because it will attract rats. No couples because they will attract snakes. Okay, this last one, I need to clarify. A news report quoted an official as saying that on the day of the report, a couple in Cubbon Park had been moved from where they were because of “snake movement”, not because the park is against couples.
However, the body of uncles known as Cubbon Park Walkers has been quoted as saying that they have personally asked the horticulture department to act against couples. The combination of uncles and snakes and couples has brought to mind many Biblical jokes that I will now suppress in the spirit of ongoing anhedonia. I will suppress also the memories of reading news reports about MLAs enraged back in the day that they couldn’t build more homes for themselves inside Cubbon Park.
Instead, I will continue to explain what Cubbon Park uncles are worried about. One, children being embarrassed by gambolling heteros expressing affection for each other. Two, and this is a big one. Foreigners. According to S. Umesh, advocate and president of the Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association: “Cubbon Park is an internationally recognised park with visitors from different parts of the country. When they witness these couples in physical intimacy and indulging in obscenity, it will cause a major embarrassment. Hence we requested the horticulture department to take action against such couples and announce warnings through loudspeakers against such act.”
Now think of the innocent foreigners who will fall into a dead faint at the sight of a kiss but will be revived by Umesh, Suresh and Ramesh in sylvan surroundings yelling through a loudspeaker, “Red T-shirt Bwaay and Pink Shirt Gurrl, please stop being assiduous under the semi-deciduous.” Oh, the poor foreigners and the Instagram reels of pomposity they will be forced to make in Cubbon Park.
Let’s, therefore, keep our postage-stamp sized neighbourhood parks open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Let us ban children, sports, singles, couples, footballs, dogs, music and laughter (unless it is the laughter club laughter). I will strive to forget the Cubbon Park Sundays of badminton aunties and roller-skating six-year-olds and friends holding props while the bride and groom pose for yet another photograph, and peanuts and tea flasks and cotton candy and the sheer, ridiculous beauty of Cubbon Park. To quote the underrated lyrics of Grease 2, let’s do it for the country. It’s the One Nation, No Fun policy.
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.
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