Love cafes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2006, 12:00am

It is frustrating to be young and in love - but to have very little money - in this city. Couples need somewhere to sit uninterrupted for a couple of hours, but restaurants cost money and even meeting over lattes in a cafe can add up every month for hard-up students or the not-so-affluent.

But lovers' ingenuity always finds a way, and in New Delhi, the solution is the cybercafe. This has become established as the most private, and cheapest, venue for amorous couples.

Because only 15 million homes in India have a computer, and of these only 5 million have an internet connection, there are cybercafes at virtually every street corner in New Delhi and other cities.

They are tiny and cramped but, for a small fee, you can sit at a terminal for an hour without anyone bothering you. A couple can sit and chat, maybe even canoodle a bit - depending on the owner's tolerance - without having to worry about the bill.

For young Indian women, even more than the bill, it is the secrecy afforded by cybercafes that is crucial. Despite fast-changing social values, dating is still frowned on in India. Pre-marital relationships are forbidden.

If a young girl is seen walking with, or having a meal with, a man who is not a male relative, word will get back fast to her parents. They will be incandescent: her 'reputation' will be in danger and so will her marital prospects.

But girls will be girls, and they will have boyfriends. The romance, though, must be conducted clandestinely. That is why popular parks such as Lodhi Gardens - where members of the Lodhi dynasty lie buried in picturesque tombs - are so packed with lovestruck couples that it is hard to walk without stumbling over them.

Sitting close on benches, sprawled on the lawns, leaning against the tombs, and sometimes almost half-inside the rhododendrons, lovers whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears.

But in parks there is always the danger that a crotchety person might call the police - asking the couple to be arrested for 'public indecency'. And the weather is hot.

That is why cool cybercafes, tucked away in alleyways where no auntie will chance upon you, are perfect. Most have cubicles, or cabins, which offer a limited degree of privacy for couples to browse the net and chat.

Nor has there been any moral drive in New Delhi - at least not yet - against couples courting in cybercafes.

A few months ago, in the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, the police launched an 'anti-immorality' campaign to stop couples romancing in cybercafes. They ordered the owners to remove the opaque glass doors from booths, putting a sudden end to unknown numbers of innocent trysts.