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The hangout for art-loving romantic couples.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Little did Mr Joseph Allen Stein, the architect of India Habitat Center, must have imagine that the five restaurants, four galleries, one auditorium, amphitheatre and a sprawling atrium in his well-ventilated, well-lit designed complex would be so well-exploited by Delhi's young people to schomooze with their lovers.
The Capital's cultural hub known for hosting plays, book readings, music concerts, dance performances, art exhibitions, corporate luncheons has also become a place for -- where's your partner? -- dating. The art galleries that are already booked for the next two years now freely exhibit public display of affection.
Mr Muhammad Khalid, a khadi-clad Edward Said-reading activist, prefers to meet his boyfriend on the stairs behind the Stein auditorium. "We discuss the growing communalism, trash Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilisation and hold hands," he says.
Sex, of course, is universal. Playing around with a lover's body gives the same pleasure -- whether you do it behind Nehru Park bushes or behind a canvas at IHC's Visual Arts Gallery. But the aura at IHC -- created by the soft combo of sculptures, paintings, classical music concerts and dance performances -- makes the experience more sensual.
"We do not meet here just for kiss-and-grope sessions. We also get a high by watching Shovana Narayan's dance performances," says Ms Anupama Mittal, a Fashion Designing student who comes here often with her love interest. A perfect case of the carnal meeting the cerebral.
It helps that IHC is funky. Unlike the conservative members-only India International Center with its grey-haired historians and pesky security guards, IHC is indeed more youthful with its college-theatre fests and inexpensive food joints like the multi-cuisine restaurant Eatopia.
Theater director Mr Rudradeep Chakraborty, an IHC regular, has often noticed couples sitting there all day long particularly if it's a breezy, cloudy day. "IHC has a higher status than Mandi House and attracts youngsters from elite backgrounds", he says.
However, is it really the class or the cultural difference that decides who kiss at the neighboring Lodhi Garden and who lip-lock at Stein auditorium?
"Most Delhi lovers meet outside since they don't have a place but we are very different from garden lovers," says Ms Poorti Singh, who was enjoying a date in American Diner, the popular eatery in IHC. "We don't meet just to do that. We like doing other things too like visiting galleries, watching shows and eating food." It helps there are no thullas or hijras to harass. "IHC is frequented by sophisticated people and they leave couples to their coupling," says Mr Chakraborty.
On its website, IHC claims to provide a "physical environment which would serve as a catalyst for a synergetic relationship between individuals… and therefore, maximise their total effectiveness". It almost succeeds.