Public Space: Letter to a LOVER
In these cloistered, impersonal, dusty tropical cities, give us a space to walk, to write a letter, to sit, to meet, to talk, to share, to read a book, to drink a cup of black coffee, sip a chilled beer, a glass of red wine. Can she/he write a letter to a lover in the quiet of a public space, out in the open, spontaneous, yet crafting every word? Where is that space?
Give us a space where we can be alone and yet together, private and yet public, invisible and visible, modernity's cosmic capsule in the urban time-machine, a leaf in a leaf storm, a flower in spring, a graffiti on the wall, a tick, tick, tick on the silent watch. If a city's inner soul is designed by its public spaces, where are the sacred spaces of the shared moment, a solitary withdrawal, the daily walk in the capital of India, or in its other metros? Where?
Lutyen's Delhi, beautiful, pristine, guarded by ancient trees and armed cops and barricades, with wide roads - who walks there? Not even the VIP, with his Z security. Not civilians with Zero security. Not lovers who should care two hoots for security. Not even students and youngsters who should walk meaninglessly, without direction or destination, drifting through time and space. In this soulless solitary social structure, where is the public space to share a moment with someone or alone, in a coffee house, pub, bar or open space or hide-out, without an obscenely loaded wallet in your pocket?
And where else can you walk in the artificial post-Commonwealth Games beautification streets and pavements, still strewn with obsessive malba and mud and garbage, men pissing all over? On which stairs can you sit and smoke a cigarette and read a book of poems by Jorge Luis Borges, or a masterly crime fiction by PD James? Or just be there, in peace and quiet, not wanting to go anywhere, prove anything.
Check out Amsterdam, San Francisco, Vienna, New York, Seoul, even Kathmandu, even the small towns of Europe and the US. Sunshine soaked pebbled streets. Neat, simple chairs and tables, in open-to-sky open spaces, with the wind swaying with flowers of the four seasons. The smell of coffee and morning in the air. Ah, the great pleasure of reading Granta or New Yorker sitting all alone here. Or, the original scripts of Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Alfred Hitchcock and Andrei Tarkovsky. Or simply, the daily newspaper.
In Kolkata and Mumbai, you can still find open and public spaces which don't cost a dime and where you can redefine your mind. Tea shops, coffee houses, bookstores, 'rock' addas in residential crossings in Kolkata. Even pubs in Mumbai where the underworld won't even look at you.
Public spaces as visual and tangible experiences of urban detachment and being. A zone of possibilities. With that strange sense of not being watched, becoming a stranger, completely responsible for your own freedom, state of inner joy, pessimism, togetherness or loneliness. Walking into the night with a whistle on your lips. Or, holding someone's hand, warm in your pocket, as the fog becomes frozen in the air. Or a back of the beyond pub, with stars on the roof. Like a black and white postcard picture from an old movie.