At a time when many public gardens are cracking down hard on lovers lost in each other while sitting under trees or occupying park benches, the 175-year-old Empress Garden is backing such young couples and promising to stand by them.
Love in the air: Couples at the Empress Garden located off Solapur
Road. Pic/Krunal Gosavi Pics/Vivek Sabnis
The new motto for 73-year-old garden secretary Suresh Pingale is: "Love birds don't worry, come and sit on our branches." It seems the garden, which some time ago took a decision to disallow marriage functions on its sprawling premises, is all right with the courting that comes before marriage; Pingale is happy to allow young lovers on the garden's 40-acre premises.
Love in the air: Suresh Pingale, honorary secretary of the Empress
Garden Agri-Horicultral Society of Western India
"Protecting these couples from any social evil is the need of our time and that is what I am doing," Pingle said. "These couples need some privacy to interact with each other. What is wrong in allowing them to love each other?" Pingale said he was moved by the predicament faced by young lovers, who do not find a safe place to be with each other in and around the city.
"I have a deep concern for these young couples. We read in the newspapers that such couples have been robbed at remote places like NDA road and Dehu Road. These couples are looted at knifepoint, which is really tragic," he said. "As Pune is already becoming a metro city, lovers find it difficult to find a private place to sit and chat with each other. Therefore, I am with these couples to support and even protect them whenever it is required."
Pingale said even married couples sought the refuge of the Empress Garden to spend time with each other. "Young married couples from slums also come to the garden for some privacy and we should allow them the small pleasures of life as they don't have space (at home)," he said. Pingale said he was aware that other citizens might not like his stand.
"Sometimes these lovers cross their limits and are spotted hugging and kissing each other. This is certainly embarrassing for the senior citizens and children who visit the garden," he said. "I believe in decent love. Also, I want to invite those who fell in love at the Empress Garden and subsequently got married to come forward with their names."
Ulhas Shedge, treasurer of the Empress Botanical Garden, supported Pingale. "If a young couple wants to meet, the lovers have to spend Rs 200 to sit at a dhaba on the outskirts and this is expensive. This is wrong," he said. "Anybody can come to the garden and sit with his or her spouse by spending Rs 5 each by way of entrance charges."
Police Inspector Sushama Chavan from the Cantonment police station disagreed with the stand taken by the garden. "Any garden is a public place and such things affect public life. We book about 40 to 50 such couples under the Section 294 of the IPC (engaging in obscene acts in public view)," she said. "If the lovers are very young, we hand them over to their respective parents."
Sandeep Khardekar, a BJP activist who has played the role of cultural police in the city, said: "In true Indian culture, love is not for display at a public place or garden. Hugging and kissing at a public place is not our culture and therefore we are also opposing Valentine's Day. If love is real, you do not glorify it by kissing each other at a public place, but you do it within confined space of four walls,"
The Empress Garden management had announced the availability of the place for marriage functions, but after just 10 weddings the decision was withdrawn as it was found that the functions had made the garden dirty and there had been much noise pollution. "All over the world people like to get married in big gardens, but it was impractical at the Empress Garden. And therefore, we banned marriages on the premises," Pingale said.