Down the free love movement may have been, out it definitely is not. It has survived, only to make a second war—40 years after it hit the world in a gale—in care-worn Calcutta. And if these born-again warriors of LOVE(Lovers' Organisation for Voluntary Exhibition)—nothing like their spiritual forerunners, the hippies of the '60s—have their way, this war zone might be transformed into a zone of love.
LOVE, "the only one (organisation) of its kind in India and perhaps in the world", in a letter to mayor Subrata Mukherjee, wants exclusive zones reserved for lovers. Certain areas of the crowded metro—like Maidan, Victoria Memorial and the banks of Hooghly—which are the favourite haunts of lovey-dovey couples, should, the letter reads, be declared "Free Sex Love Zones" (sic) and should be off-limits even for the police, though they must be there outside these areas to ensure safety.
Mukherjee, however, says: "I met somebody long ago with such a proposal. Recently, I haven't met anyone from the organisation and if there was an application as they say, it can't be traced." Admitting that he hasn't met the mayor, Rupak Banerjee, founder-president of LOVE, shows the copy of the letter (receipt date 7/12/2001) with the official stamp of the Calcutta Corporation. The letter, though, is signed Rupak 'Manush' (human), instead of Banerjee.
Rupak says the demand for a 'lovers only' zone isn't a frivolous one. Says he: "Today, we see violence and anti-social activities among the youth because they're starved of love. For love to flourish, we need a peaceful atmosphere. But couples often get harassed by the police or local goondas." LOVE's choice of the ubiquitous Valentine symbol—two hearts with a Kamadev arrow piercing them, with the message "Love is the fuel of Life" as its logo—makes its intent clear.
As of now, there are about 750 members, between age 18 and 45. Married couples can also join up "as they too lack the privacy to discuss their problems and many marriages break down". Sunil Gangopadhayay, whose works have often been about man-woman situations, agrees.
Rupak claims LOVE's prominence has attracted hundreds of calls for membership from the districts too. But opponents of LOVE fear unrestrained demonstration of affection could make prostitution an easily camouflaged affair. Rupak, however, insists that their demands will, on the contrary, serve the "social cause" of healthy sexuality well. Says he: "We don't believe in suppressing love, but we aren't for the physical-only style in vogue in the West either. We believe in the middle path, and India with its long tradition, going beyond even the Kamasutra, can take the lead." LOVE runs a counselling session to foster healthy sexual life. Homosexual love is a strict no-no, though.
The first band of LOVE devotees is a varied lot. Says teacher Piyali Samanta: "I've joined because I've seen among my friends a breakdown of trust and respect followed by a sense of insecurity due to misunderstandings." Gopa Basu, who is regularly exposed to court battles between married couples by virtue of being a clerk in a law firm, has reasons enough to join LOVE. Entrepreneur Keshab Chakraborty, also active in group theatre, has discovered that his ideas are pretty close to LOVE's philosophy.
But much as the lovelorn try to make a case for reserved areas, it's likely to remain wishful thinking. Says former police commissioner Tushar Talukdar: "You can't ask public space to be demarcated just like that. Tomorrow a religious faction may want a separate corner." He feels the demand is an emotional response to desperation.
Meanwhile, LOVE has lot of plans. To encourage a more intimate communication in the present e-mail raj, LOVE plans a love letter-writing competition, start a "love library" storing legendary love letters and put up a stall at the forthcoming Calcutta Book Fair displaying appropriate titles.
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