It is also a place where you will find couples, who find privacy in this most public of city spaces.
Some months ago, I was in an autorickshaw, zooming noisily past a whole string of these couples. I could see the driver looking out at them, so much that I almost told him to focus on the road ahead.
Almost, because he speaks before I do. More accurately, he screams. He leans out of our speeding put-putter and screams: "Saale chootiye! Line mein khada kar ke ek-ek ko goli se maar dena chahiye!" (Loose translation: "You bastards! You should be lined up and shot dead one by one!") He looks fierce enough that I'm afraid he'll jump out and do it himself. He screams loud enough that some of the couples actually turn to see what this is about.
When I recover from this blast, I ask him where this viciousness came from. He lets fly with an angry torrent of words, some of it impossible to understand, especially above the noise of the vehicle. Though I do catch "sanskriti" and "parampara", said often. Culture, traditions, all that. Yes, this foul-mouthed driver actually believes these cooing, necking, hugging couples are doing some ghastly immoral things to his culture.
Which means, of course, that he must spit abuse at them, not forgetting death threats.
Impatiently, he dismisses any more argument from me. "Woh sab chhodo!" he says. "Yeh log bahut galat kaam kar rahe hain! Maar dena chahiye saalon ko!" ("Forget all that! These people are doing very bad things! They should be killed, the bastards!")
Speaking of bad things ... I find it hard to imagine a worse thing than screaming filth and death threats at innocent people. (Yes, even if they are necking). But then, I don't have to imagine. In Meerut, the police actually went beyond abuse and threats. Quite far beyond.
Protecting our sanskriti and parampara, those police in Meerut? Yes?
Well, in 1987, police in Meerut went some distance further still beyond abuse and threats. Don't take my word for it, nor even that of the writer of that report. As you will see, the police themselves admitted to the court that the men concerned
- "were taken in the PAC truck URU 1493 to the Hindu Canal (Village Makanpur) and the Platoon Commander and PAC men shoot [sic] them dead ... the incident and human right violations [are] not denied."
Forty men shot dead. Protecting our sanskriti and parampara, yes?
And as a postscript, here's how one young man who was a 10-year-old in Meerut at the time wrote to me to describe how he felt then:
- We would have discussions of what to do ... My dad was given instructions to kill my mother and me and my sister if [there was] an invasion by the PAC (Provisional Armed Constables). ... As a young child it had a profound impact on me. You feel that the Government cannot defend you and you stop trusting the institutions. After spending my childhood in Meerut I became very disillusioned with India."
Protecting ... and all that.