This story begins when I was a bachelor. I had just landed in cold Manchester and almost lost my hand to the winters. Thankfully, I had a glove layered with a dead animal’s fur which saved me that day. I reached the row house where I was supposed to dwell and one of my very vivid memories of that first day is of a directionless drizzle of snow and one of my roommates asking me – “Have you ever kissed your wife in a public place?”
I reminded him that I wasn’t married. I thought he was missing his wife who left UK a few days back and these were his hormones that were talking.
“Oh you must! It is a great feeling!” he chirruped.
I rushed to the bathroom before my head could bang itself on the wall.
I had never before seen men and women entwine on roads and exchange the secretions from their salivary glands. I had never seen couples holding hands like two lost kids in a jungle. In India, the man is always walking two steps ahead of his meek wife. In UK, there was an opposite unabashed display of affection. Couples kissed at bus-stations before they departed to work, they kissed inside buses before they went their way, they kissed in the evening when they met on a bus-station, they kissed while shopping, while eating, while roaming, while watching a movie. The only place I was comfortable watching couples kiss was in a cinema hall. After all I had spent an entire movie figuring out the location of a guy’s head while watching a movie in India.
This world was overtly sugary for me. Why do they have to hold hands all the time? A month after landing in UK, I went to Scotland. One of my friends took his pregnant wife with him even after the doctor disapproved because he had already paid for the tickets. Then on top of it, both of them sat at the front seat and had a glorious view of the Highlands as we went in search of the Loch Ness monster. The wife got dizzy and smeared the front of the bus with her lunch. Amidst shocked looks, the tour operator scrubbed the mashed vegetable sandwich from the floor and politely asked the couple to exchange seats with a newly wed Spanish couple sitting 6 seats behind. As the Spanish couple settled in the front seat, their lips locked like two opposite poles of the magnet. I could see their lips from the gap between their seats and it was a very pleasant ride after that. I don’t remember much of the Highlands post the exchange of seats.
A few months into it and I was now used to the sight. I even smiled at times. During Summer, as hundreds of variety of flowers bloomed all over Manchester and covered the city with a beautiful mesh, the sight of couples holding hands and smiling at each other made me seriously rethink my I-shall-die-a-virgin strategy.
That was the time I started talking to Geet.
After I got married, I remembered those words of wisdom told to me on my first day in Manchester. Now was the time to test the theory. I did not want Geet to slap me in public, so the timing had to be perfect. I took her to Paris on our honeymoon. My plan included Eiffel Tower – the hideous iron structure on top of which it was mandatory for the couples to kiss and vow for eternal love for each other.
“Wow! That is one ugly piece of iron,” Geet said the moment we landed at the tower. That was not a very romantic start.
As we ascended the haphazardly put structure in a lift filled with eager tourists (which included an Indian woman telling her 3 year old son that he was very fortunate to visit the tower at such a tender age), I wondered if this was the correct choice. As we reached the top, I realized that it was taller than what I had anticipated and one shove would have landed me in the tranquil Seine.
The top of the Tower greeted us with bellowing winds. It was as if a twister had hit it. People were holding their heads and running helter-skelter. We managed to walk to the other side where the winds were negligible. The scene was out of a poem. There were couples all around us, some of them dreamily looking into each other’s eyes, some of them kissing. I clasped the iron bar in case Geet decide to fling me over. I looked deep into her eyes and kissed her, thus taking to conclusion our first official kiss in a public place.
It tasted of freedom.
During our stay in Manchester, both of us turned into one of those insufferable couple who indulged in public display of affection, who could not walk without holding hands. She used to wait for me at the bus-station and we used to kiss as I got off the bus before we walked to Tesco. She used to walk with me till the main door of our apartment building and we kissed before she watched me walk away to work. We realized for the first time that expressing yourself in a public place wasn’t abnormal as we were always lead to believe. It wasn’t looked down upon. We weren’t looking around like criminals and making sure that no one was watching us before expressing ourselves. It was rejuvenating.
In India, you will be penetrated by a thousand eyes if you show a bit of an affection towards your partner in public places. It somehow attracts all sort of losers. You might be beaten up. We love creating noise over simple acts of affection. In the past couple of years things have changed. I see a lot more couples holding hands in malls and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. It is a good change but of course, it is limited to the cities. A lot of us look down upon public display of affection as if it is a disease. But think about it. Don’t you feel instantly warm and affectionate when everyone around you is feeling the same? The very air you breathe changes. You feel good about the world.
The good times ended when we came back to India. Now Geet and I are confined to holding hands in public. I sometimes miss those days of carelessness, those days of fearless freedom, those days of magic, those days when there were no restrictions and I could kiss my wife on a busy road and no one gave a damn.
p.s. Try the Eiffel Tower at night. It is like Cinderella. The fairy godmother of electricity turns it into a beauty without equals.
[all the photographs are taken by me]