City Hangout – Happy Bench, Friendship Park
The cheery spot.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One of the most hauntingly beautiful park benches in Delhi is in Lodhi Garden. This is the one under a dead tree, its back picturesquely turned towards the Sheesh Gumbad tomb. The tree’s leafless branches spread over the bench like the wailing limbs of a grief-stricken person. Decades ago, novelist Anita Desai famously posed for a photograph on this bench—the place has already been featured in these pages.
But another equally beautiful park bench can be found in the so-called Friendship Park, adjacent to Aurobindo Marg in south Delhi. The park isn’t famous. But it’s a happy bench, and looking at it is enough to cheer the heart. Its back too is picturesquely turned towards a centuries-old stone monument—Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad. But the tree that stands above is not a long-dead corpse.
Rather the opposite.
An amaltas tree is standing behind it, currently in bloom, entirely covered with golden yellow flowers. Two gigantic Bougainvillea creepers, dense with pink flowers, complete the picture.
And then there’s the partially glimpsed monument, bringing a touch of frowning stateliness to the extravagantly colorful setting. Indeed, the sight is too unreal, almost vulgar in its luxuriousness, like a nouveau rich drawing room crammed up with imported chandeliers and marbles. If an artist had recreated this setting on her canvass, the work might have been dismissed as over the top.
Most of the year the bench enjoys the company of the bougainvilleas and the monument only, and it still looks plenty and pretty. But in the summer months, when the amaltas joins the show with its dream-like blossoming, the bench acquires the soul of a fairy tale.
The fact that the rest of the park is ordinary makes this spot even more special. As if the bench wasn’t made for the park, but the park was made for the bench and its leafy soulmates. In any case, the bench ought to be experienced by leaving it empty. No point in sitting on it and having your back turned to what makes the whole point of it.
A few more weeks and the golden flowers will vanish. The bench will then be stained with just the bougainvillea pink. Its specially beauty will come back after a year. This realization abruptly makes its present appearance less joyful, more fragile, and thus more beautiful.
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