City Life – Green Benches, Lodhi Garden
A readers’ collective.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Not many might register their absence if they were to suddenly disappear from the park. So many of us anyway prefer to lie on the park’s cool grass.
Even so, the green benches of Lodhi Garden are as much a part of its ambiance as its many monuments, flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, dogs, kettle wali chai vendors, guitarist-singers, VVIPs and conscientious joggers. Some of these benches exist singly, many others are thrown together in great numbers, as if placed there to host a mega-match-making session (check the yard beside the Rose Garden—20 face-to-face benches).
The most distinguished bench is also the most picturesque, ensconced under the garden’s famous dead tree, in front of the Sheesh Gumbad monument. During her brief visit to Delhi in February, a Nobel laureate sat on this bench (see photo), prompting some to label it as the Annie Ernaux bench.
Long ago in 1984, another illustrious writer posed on a Lodhi Garden bench. Anita Desai’s iconic black-and-white portrait, by Ketaki Sheth, traces the photo’s location to the lawn in front of the Bada Gumbad monument. No such bench exists on the spot today. This muggy evening, a friendly band of elderly women are picnicking on the same lawn’s two corner benches. Close by, an amorous couple is huddled on a bench half-hidden under a leafy tree. Close to it lies the bench where the Hindi-speaking Lithuanian ambassador Diana Mickevičienė was recently spotted pouring Long Jing tea into two mugs (using an indigo Fabindia cloth, she briefly transformed the simple bench into an elegant tea table).
Most Lodhi Garden benches are placed at the park’s more scenic spots. But they themselves turn their back to these panoramic scenes. Sitting on them isn’t as much thrilling as gazing at them. The exception is a row of five benches laid out along the edge of a sprawling lawn that overlooks both Bada and Sheesh Gumbad monuments, as well as the famous dead tree. It is an experience to sit on one of these benches, and pretend to read a Booker-winning novel, while secretly checking for the ‘likes’ on Instagram posts.
The evening delight is a bench near the duck pond that directly receives the twilight sun. The seat gets dappled in a misty halo of amber, circled by pools of gold light.
Then there is an assortment of benches enjoying a privileged position under the garden’s celebrated bougainvillea trees. These days the pink flowers aren’t in season and the benches look as ordinary as a supermodel in pajamas.
A most amusing sight is of a bench facing the park’s only table-tennis table—rarely used for sports, picnickers exploit the table as a lunch counter.
Meanwhile, the Annie Ernaux bench is taken over by a Thomas Mann reader—pretentious poseur!
The benches of Lodhi Garden
1b. (Lithuanian ambassador Diana Mickevičienė)
10a. (When bougainvillaea is in season)
10b. (When bougainvillaea is in season)
20. (Annie Ernaux)