(By Oindrila Mukherjee)
An unnatural hush, deserted roads, forlorn balloon sellers and unhappy faces. This year’s picture of Valentine’s Day on the celebrated Geri Route was a stark constrast compared to the revelry of previous years. Loud music, youngsters zooming around in cars, balloons sticking out of sun roofs were replaced with police nakas and strict checking at major entry points of sectors 10 and 11.
“Turn right on to Azaadi Route,” said Google Maps, pointing in the direction of an internal road at Sector 10 that was chock-a-block with cars. All the diverted vehicles from the Leisure Valley area looked as if they were escaping from the road once designated as Geri Route by the internet giant. However, police interpreted azaadi on their own terms this year.
“Boys and girls create a lot of mischief in this area on Valentine’s Day. We want to ensure that there’s no freedom to indulge in hooliganism,” said a senior police official, standing at the entry of the road in front of Government College of Art, Sector 10. Police did not allow vehicles to be parked on the CITCO stretch. They also installed checkpoints in front of DAV College, Sector 10, and Post Graduate Government College for Girls (PGGCG), Sector 11. Also, gates 1 and 3 of Panjab University were closed to outsiders with strict checking at Gate 2.
“I’ve been visiting this area since my days in school. But it’s a bit of a dampener today. We thought of coming here as it’s Valentine’s Day and the place is usually alive and buzzing with activity,” said Rajvir, a businessman who came with wife Sonam. “How can the police or a name change reform society overnight? There’ll be nakabandi today, tomorrow, but it will again be the same story,” said Sonam, adding that she was aware of the fact that the name of Geri Route had been changed to Azaadi Route.
The name of the road did not really matter to youngsters, who just wanted to have a good time. Many were spotted entering the Leisure Valley road in their cars, only to turn around as the road was barricaded from the main road end. Sangia, a fine arts student from Government College of Art, said, “The word azaadi gives a sense of freedom, but that freedom should be there everyday. There’s no point being strict on a day when people want to enjoy with their loved ones.”
Her friend, Satish, said, “Stalking or hooliganism does not have anything to do with geri. It’s the mindset of the people that matters. A sick mentality is not limited to a space.” Many balloon sellers said people were buying balloons, but the police were taking them off the cars. Though there was no such change in their business pattern, the rush was limited compared to last year, they added.