On any given afternoon, Chandigarh’s Leisure Valley park in Sector 10 buzzes with activity. Scraggly attendants are taking well-fed dogs for a walk, elderly couples in matching fleet-boots trot around the pavement that encircles the grass lawn, confused tourists are herded out of buses and abandoned in the parking area as their driver takes a lunch break. Suddenly, the serenity of the tableau is broken: a gigantic SUV, indistinct bhangra blaring through its windows, thunders through the parking lot, turns down onto a dirt path, zips around inside the park, drives back up, and continues on its way. The attendants roll their eyes, the old folk are scandalised, and the tourists are even more confused. Their tour-guides would be well advised to indicate the park marks an endpoint on the city’s infamous ‘geri route’.
A Chandigarh institution, the geri route — “geri” meaning “to make a round” in Punjabi — is central to local college students’ social lives. A group dedicated to the cause on social-networking site Orkut has attracted over 21,400 members since 2006, and sundry maps plotting the route are available online — the most popular geri route runs from Leisure Valley to the Sector 11 market, through to Punjab University. It’s not unusual for casual observers to note a car or motorcycle tearing along in one direction and, ten minutes later, the same vehicle racing the opposite way with equal urgency.
Regular geri-goers, like 21-year-old Vicky (who didn’t want to give his last name or identify his school, lest authorities — or even worse, his parents — get wise to his antics) say the route is an opportunity to parade themselves. “It’s just for fun,” he says, as he parks his Mitsubishi Pajero by the gazebo-like hut in the centre of the park. “We come by sometimes for lunch, or when we bunk off class. Girls from our college come here also to do the same thing. It’s basically about getting together with friends and showing off.”
Sporting fashionable stubble, hair swept back and dressed in a powder-blue shirt, Vicky discreetly withdraws to check on when the rest of his party are arriving. On returning with his friends, he collects his order from the park’s café — called “Stop ‘N Stare” — hops back into his car and drives off with his entourage, tracking an enormous cloud of unhealthy-looking dust behind him.
But the geri isn’t exclusively male territory. Harleen and Jas, a pair of 21-year-olds from Government College for Girls, say that young women are as game for geri life as the boys. “Girls don’t whistle at the guys, so maybe we aren’t as visible,” laughs Jas. “You don’t really have boys harassing you,” adds Harleen, “because most people come in groups of friends anyways. We’ll come to the park to chill or eat and then go for coffee in Sector 10 or 11.” “Some people try to show off, but geris are basically a social thing,” Jas agrees.
Social or not, many residents and police take exception to these youthful larks. In the past, Valentine’s Day celebrations — typically marked by boys dancing in cars festooned with heart-shaped balloons — have been curbed by an increased police presence and strategic barricades.
20-year-old student Rahul, originally from Kanpur, sips coffee in the Sector 11 market’s Café Coffee Day and grins. “Even if you don’t know about the geri route when you come here, you’ll find out about it from other people in college,” he says. “It’s students having their fun. It’s part of their life here. It’s not about ‘romancing’, it’s just something to do with your friends. The point is to impress everyone watching you — with your clothes, your car, your hair.”
Vanity, then, thy name is a geri perm.