For someone who has been to Marine Drive, Mumbai in the evenings would agree with me that it is a beautiful place to hang out. We get to witness a group of colleagues in their office attire hanging out, some men colleagues, while some only with their female colleagues. Of course, we also get to witness couples, college youths, friends sitting and chatting and those who are on for evening walks, jogging and others. It is really nice to see how everyone else is busy with their conversations with no one to disturb them, as they are enjoying the breeze, the surroundings and privacy. There are many cities in the country that are blessed with such places where one does not need to shed a pie to sit for hours in a particular place to hang out with people that they are comfortable with, which is why Apartments in cosmopolitan cities have provisions for Parks for people of the society to utilize the space for socializing.
There is strong evidence to support claims that an active social life can improve mental and physical health. This includes decreased stress, improved mood, faster illness recovery rates, better cardiovascular health, and more. A little quality time with your best friends forever (BFFs) is like food for the soul and apparently, there is actual scientific evidence to back that up. According to research conducted by the University of Oxford, you should probably plan to hang with your pals twice a week – it is good for your mental and physical health. People with larger friend groups are less likely to suffer from illnesses; they recover quicker from surgery, and in general, are just less likely to have lesser life complications. The figure of twice a week comes from the findings in this study. Professor of evolutionary psychology Dr Robin Dunbar told the Huffington Post “For both sexes (no surprise), having a large, well-integrated social network has a significant impact on both their physical and emotional health” (Schaltegger, 2019).
In a place like Shillong, where the influence of western culture is really picking up, the younger generation, as well as the working class, does express the need to take breaks after a day’s hard work and stress. With an individualistic kind of mindset, most would prefer privacy and to be around people who are like minded. However, going to popular food joints and cafes becomes even more stressful as the crowd makes you want to leave the place sooner than planned. In such a scenario, many choose to hang out with friends by going to a quieter place where they can sit and talk, sip a drink and smoke. A guy who has just approached a girl and who intends to get to know her better may take her for a short drive so they could converse and feel comfortable. A group of lady friends who wants to chill themselves out after work would perhaps do the same. For instance, girls respond to stress better when they have friends. It has a lot to do with a hormonal factor: Oxytocin, aka the “love hormone,” is omitted in our brains when we spend time with people we love. Of course, this is not just a female thing. For guys, bonds can be formed through a range of activities from team sports to male banter – or simply having a pint with your pals on weekends, to meet up and do stuff with people close to you.
An interesting news item in the Times of India entitled ‘Is it a crime to be in love?’ covers aspects of youth expressing that couples shouldn’t be fined for public displays of affection. A youth went on to say that “Authorities should stop moral policing and leave it to youngsters, as long as citizens and people in public places are not complaining”. If coming out in the open to socializing is not encouraged, then what do young minds do indoors? In a place like Dimapur, where everything is shut down by 7 in the evening, how do places flourish, both from the revenue point of view and for that matter how would one feel a sense of a healthy environment to be around in. The nightlife in Shillong is improving but sadly we don’t have enough space to hang around. All spaces that are free in the evenings are patrolled with high chances that you will be questioned which would eventually lead to unpleasant consequences. Though there is a small section that feels fines should be imposed on the guilty, manhandling is a strict no-no according to all. I could still recall the incident which took place a few years ago in Police Bazaar – Khyndai Lad area whereby citizens hanging around in the evening were picked up left right and centre and were interrogated as though they were criminals. The same came out in the news for all to see. Very unfortunate indeed!
Public nuisance such as littering, vandalism and noise disturbance are caused by teenagers in a variety of public places, such as school squares, sports squares and shopping squares in cities, towns and villages. In the past three decades, hanging around in public space has been criminalised; it has been related to public nuisance, sexual harassment, criminal and gang activities, which may not always be the case. This criminalisation of hanging around has been paralleled by a demographic shift in who is doing the hanging around in such places. Hanging around as passing time may be a common conclusion, while not giving meaning to the interactions they were involved in. Ironically, we all have this inborn desire to make steadfast conclusions of things that we see around us. If we witness a boy and a girl sitting in a car in a not very busy place, we immediately jump to a conclusion that they are couples, and that they are there with an intention to get intimate. If a group of boys/men are sitting in the car, somewhere in the city, we immediately conclude that they are indulging in drinking… not to talk of the conclusions that will follow if girls are out late at night.
Let us keep in mind that not all sections of the society can afford expensive restaurants to meet, and to wine and dine. Rather not all like to meet in a formal set up all the time. The social value of public space is wide-ranging and lies in the contribution it makes to people’s attachment to their locality and opportunities for mixing with others, and in people’s memory of places. Places can provide opportunities for social interaction, social mixing and social inclusion, and can facilitate the development of community ties. People interviewed for a similar study shared that their regular visits to the street market provided a ‘feel-good’ factor due to the buzz of activity, though they also appreciated ‘places of retreat, such as parks, a cemetery, or footpaths that are close to water provided opportunities for reflection, or the chance to escape from domestic pressures’ (Dines and Cattell et al., 2006).
Coming to Shillong, the question still remains – where do we hang out? Have restrictions tightened and narrowed down the space to move around beyond a certain boundary in the city? Or has our mindset been the outcome of such a scenario where there are absolutely no places to go, but perhaps only to bars, cafes and restaurants where everyone meets everyone else. The bigger lot would rather choose to move from office to home feeling more suffocated for the day. We are then left with only two choices, we go to common places and spend our time there or we stop meeting friends completely due to too many restrictions surrounded by the fear of uncalled conclusions. The latter seemed to be more applicable. In the words of Alice Walker – “What is always needed in the appreciation of art, or life, is the larger perspective. Connections made, or at least attempted, where none existed before, the straining to encompass in one’s glance at the varied world the common thread, the unifying theme through immense diversity, a fearlessness of growth, of search, of looking, that enlarges the private and the public world. And yet, in our particular society, it is the narrowed and narrowing view of life that often wins”. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])