While it has been known as the land of the bhaiyyas, being a brother is hardly on the minds of men. Growing up in Uttar Pradesh meant an unlimited supply of samosas, milch animals and roadside romeos. Springing out of a narrow gulli on a cycle, perched on a bench, leaning against a paan shop, or just standing by the roadside, they were indefatigable suppliers of love and affection. All of it, unwanted.

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The modes of expressions varied. The kissing romeo used the loud smooch: a lurid ‘ppsssuuuch’ hurled towards a female. The musically-inclined romeo expressed his undying love through rendition of latest movie songs. Then there was the interrogative romeo who posed questions: ‘where are you coming from? Will you come with me? Can I come with you? Will you be the aunty of my nephew?’ Finally, there was the jovial romeo who’d crack a joke: for instance, ‘why are you wearing a red dress – it will annoy the bull.’

Irrespective of the type of comment, crony laughter would always be in ready-supply, provided by co-romeos. There was never any dearth of young men supporting each other in the mission to stalk, badger and tease girls. We girls, in the meantime, were coached to ‘avoid’ and ‘ignore’ them. I have spent most of my teen years walking around looking at my toes. And if in a rickshaw, I made sure I sat right in the centre of the seat so that romeos passing by could not reach in and pinch me from the side.

We girls dressed in accordance with the guidelines set by society so as not to provoke the fragile restraint of the romeos. The prescribed dress code was ‘salwaar-kameez’ with a duppata that, under no circumstances was transparent. The approved materials for the duppatta were: coarse cotton, jute and tarpaulin.

While we were careful to adhere to the guidelines, I remember, on one cold December morning, we crossed the line. Three of us stepped out of the classroom and stood in the sun. That was it! The romeos walked up to us, and after some ‘ppsssuuuch’ and singing, they warned us not to repeat this mistake.

So, now, if some people are working towards removing these romeos from the lives of girls in U.P., I give them all my blessings and love. If they persist, and do make it happen, I will sing them a song. And, maybe, also throw in a loud, grateful ‘ppsssuuuch’.

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