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Sandeep Sahu

On a stroll in the park near my home this evening, I was struck by the number of young, smartly dressed, lovey-dovey couples in the crowd. They were all over the place: walking together holding each other’s hands, occupying the many games and exercise facilities inside and sharing the warmth of each other’s body while whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears on the cement benches strewn all along the unlit or dimly-lit jogging tracks, blissfully oblivious of the joggers passing by every few seconds. On the return path, it was amusing to find almost all the benches, which were close to the road nearby and therefore fairly well lit, empty. [No prizes for guessing the reason!]

Not that it was a major, eyebrow-raising discovery. People of Bhubaneswar (and other cities too) have long got used to more or less similar scenes in parks, restaurants, roadside eateries, tourist places and even temples – in short, just about any public place. They have also taken in their stride boys and girls zooming around the city in glitzy bikes, the girl holding the boy in a tight hug from behind and occasionally caressing his neck or back, unmindful of the danger involved. Gone is their old way of sitting sideways with both legs on one side. Now, the two legs are neatly split on either side of the bike. Bowing to the ‘requirement’ of Gen Next, automakers have redesigned their bikes in a way that makes sitting apart well nigh impossible!

How things have changed!

On the way back from the evening walk, my mind inevitably went back a few decades back to a Bhubaneswar where a girl holding a boy in a tight embrace while riding pillion was a scene as uncommon as snowfall in the Thar desert! If a daredevil couple did do something of the sort, it was bound to invite the attention of the passers-by and provide fodder for amused gossip among people assembled at roadside tea and paan stalls. Boys and girls, when they did travel together, took enough care to ensure that their bodies stay well apart so as not to invite unwanted attention. In tune with the social mores of the times, the ubiquitous two-seat Bajaj scooter was designed in a way that required an effort for the girl to get physically intimate with the rider. In any case, with both legs on the same side, the girl also ran the risk of getting thrown off the two-wheeler if she attempted anything like the New Age girl does these days.

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Just about the only place available for lovers to get cozy in those days was the movie theatre since there were hardly any parks or places of amusement that dot the city now. In the darkness of the cinema hall, it was bliss to savour the warmth of each other’s body, whisper into each other’s ears and occasionally steal a kiss while others had their gaze fixed on the screen. But once out of the theatre at the end of the movie, the boy and girl would behave as if they did not know each other lest someone known to them noticed them.

Love then was something to be hidden from the prying eyes of the society, not something to be displayed – and even flaunted - as it is today. Of course, you did share your intimate moments with your closest buddy, but only if you were sure that s/he would not ‘spill the beans’ and make you a butt of ridicule in the process! The tender feelings of love were expressed in long, hand written letters in those pre-mobile days, to be read and re-read by the recipient several times before writing an equally long letter by way of reply – a far cry from the “Love you Jaanu” messages, accompanied by an appropriate smiley, icon or GIF on WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram or clicking and sharing selfies while hugging each other that are very much the norm today.

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People of my generation would perhaps be justified in feeling a little jealous of the freedom of expression enjoyed by the new generation lovers. But they should take comfort in the fact that they enjoyed greater freedom than their parents’ generation when a sly exchange of looks was all lovers were entitled to in a public place and many a love story proved stillborn because there was no way to express their love to the beloved. Every age develops its own social mores. Like most other things in India, films are a trusted barometer of the changing mores. We have obviously come a long way since the time when love on screen was expressed through bees and flowers. These days, passionate kissing – and even love making – on screen is passé. One has to keep moving with the times. There is no point grudging the new generation because that’s the way things have developed across generations.

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