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What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

What Do You Think of Love? A short story from India.

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.


Delhi’s imposing Red Fort came into view long before we reached it. ‘‘Its towering red sandstone walls extend for two kilometres and vary in height from eighteen meters on the Yamuna River side, to thirty three meters on the city side’’ I read. Not that Allan was listening. Rather, he was busy trying to swat a persistent fly. 

“Red Fort!” exclaimed our rickshaw driver exultantly, arms aloft, as if he’d just built the thing himself. Thankfully his hands quickly returned to the steering wheel and seconds later we gurgled to a stop outside the entrance. While undoubtedly excited at the cultural explorations that lay ahead, my overriding emotion at that moment was one of pure relief. After all, we’d actually made it in one piece without the passenger door falling off along the way, me tumbling after it.

Visit The Red Fort New Delhi India.

The Red Fort, New Delhi. March 2004.

Allan dropped some crumpled notes onto the dashboard and we jumped out, denying our excitable chauffeur the opportunity to contest the fare. Which is exactly what our sneaky taxi driver had done the day before. Quoting one price in the beginning and then hitting us with an extortionate fee upon arrival. Moreover, he’d even had the audacity to insist that we’d misheard” him. Allan and I may have only been in New Delhi a matter of days, but we were learning fast. 

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

What Do You Think of Love

Wading into the crowds at the fort’s entrance and the inevitable onslaught hit us head on. “Which country?” yelled a faceless voice from my left. In the meantime, to my right, a bony hand clamped down hard on my shoulder. “Yes please, red for postcards!” giggled a gaunt looking man, performing a delirious dance around me.

Having caught our attention, he proceeded to unveil a sorry pile of faded cards that looked as though they’d gone into print fifty years ago. The top postcard presented a group of middle aged tourists, surely long dead. Thumbs up, wide smiles, as behind them The Red Fort loomed large.

Looking the hawker squarely in the eye, I could see he was totally ignorant as to what a piss poor product he had. “Yes?” he grinned hopefully. “Red Fort!” screeched another opportunist, stabbing a finger towards the colossal construction before us. Just in case we were somehow confused as to where we were. “Tour only 500!” he continued, hopping from foot to foot.

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

The Red Fort Lal Qila New Delhi India.

The Red Fort, New Delhi.

Ignoring all the attention, Allan and I pressed on. Until that is I felt a pair of hands grab hold of my head from behind. Before I could react, a hairy contraption of some sort had been expertly hooked over my ears. “Indian beard make you look lovely jubbly!” chuckled the seller. “Only 30 Rupees!!!”

Speechless, I found myself rooted to the spot while Allan howled with laughter. It took a few seconds for the cold hard truth to sink in. That I had in fact been attacked with a fake beard. It suddenly struck me that from time to time, against all logic and reason, they actually sold some of this pointless tat. Why else would one bother getting up every morning?

What Do You Think of Love

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

Highly amused but ultimately beardless, we made it inside, ready to lose ourselves in a few hours of Indian history. Reaching The Red Fort’s vast courtyard, an information board informed us that construction began in 1638 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The dude who was also behind The Taj Mahal.

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

Emperor Sha Jahan India.

Emperor Sha Jahan.

Photo courtesy of Chester Beatty Library.

The fort took a decade to build and was an integral part of Sha Jahan’s plan to move his empire from Agra to Delhi. Sadly for him however, this dream was never realised. This was due to the fact that he was deposed and imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb. In fact, legend has it he ambushed his old man with a group of renegades while in disguise. Quite possibly utilising a 30 Rupee fake beard. Lovely jubbly!

Red Fort New Delhi India.

Hall of Public Audiences, Red Fort.

With the street pests banned from entering the complex, we were able to explore the grounds in peace. Subsequently, we passed through The Hall of Public Audiences (Diwan-e-am), The Royal Baths and several impressive marble mosques before resting at a colonial teahouse.

Several scones and a pot of brew later, we made for the Museum of Archeology. Chiefly to seek respite from the burning afternoon sun! Inside we got chatting to a group of friendly locals. A curious collection of male teenagers who seemed absolutely fascinated by us. The questions came thick and fast:

“Which country?’’

‘‘How many girlfriends?’’

‘‘How much money you making?’’

‘‘Who killed Princess Diana?’’

“You liking Indian woman?”

‘‘Do you know Beck Ham?’’

The Red Fort New Delhi India.

Romeo & friends.

After all lines of small talk had been exhausted, an awkward silence fell over us that screamed out for a “soooo…”. Right on cue. the group’s leader stepped forward. He was a handsome, moustachioed boy called Romeo who reeked of aftershave and carried an acute nervousness.

What Do You Think of Love?

What Do You Think of Love? – a short story from India.

Allan and I exchanged glances, sensing an important moment had arrived. “Sir… tell me” ventured Romeo, right hand raised imploringly. ‘‘What do you think of love?” I allowed myself the most discreet of smirks as, awaiting my response, Romeo placed his hand on his chin thoughtfully. A few of his posse even leaned in closer, as if I were about to give them the key to the secret garden.

What Do You Think of Love? A short story from India.

You could have heard a pin drop as Allan turned to me with a raised eyebrow. Clearly doing his best to prevent his own smile from breaking out into something more disrespectful. ‘‘I’m gonna let you answer this one’’ he said. “Um… I think… love… is… good” I offered, desperate to avoid further eye contact with my Scottish travel mate.

Thankfully, I seemed to have provided a pleasing answer, as they signalled their agreement with solemn nods, low mutters and one enlightened ‘‘Aaaaaah’’. “Love is good… indeed…” agreed Romeo, stroking his moustache. “But also a little strange. Yes, love is strange”.

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‘‘God bless you sir!” cried Romeo, giving me a hearty slap on the back. He then shook my hand passionately, his companions following suit in what rapidly bloomed into a festival of self congratulatory hand shaking, hugging and back-slapping. Finally, a museum guard came over and told us to take it outside.

‘‘Oh dear’’ laughed Romeo with a goofy grin. ‘‘I think we make this man grumpy. The Red Fort is not a place for glee’’.

By this point Allan and I were getting peckish. So we exited and broke for lunch at a nearby restaurant. With the rest of his gang having dispersed, Romeo was keen to join us for more chat. As we ate, he gave us a few city tips and plenty of insight into the challenges of life in New Delhi as a working class local. “Enjoy my India!” he said at the restaurant door, before turning away and disappearing into the buzzing crowds outside.

I saw countless amazing sights and met many colourful people throughout my time travelling around India. And right up there with the best of them was Romeo and our brief but memorable male bonding session in Delhi’s Red Fort.

‘What Do You Think of Love?’ is the third installment of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library otravel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Mary

    I laughed out loud more than once during the reading of this story. Entertaining. The “beard” picture in my head will be with me all day.

    April 26, 2015 - 11:00 am Reply
  • ONGO

    touching little tale, hope Romeo ended up with more of the good than he did the strange

    April 26, 2015 - 11:57 am Reply
  • natty4t

    Reblogged this on natty4t's Blog.

    April 29, 2015 - 12:05 pm Reply
  • I-FREE

    So Mr. Lignon, forteen years later and I feel I have to ask… what do you think of love NOW?

    June 20, 2018 - 3:24 am Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Hey, thanks for reading! Wow.. you’re hit me with a curveball there. Fourteen years later I’d say that love is… still good.. and… still strange. Amen.

      June 20, 2018 - 4:31 am Reply
  • Andrew Blackadder

    In India they say, “Love the one you marry, but dont marry the one you love”… Indian logic.

    April 28, 2020 - 3:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Andrew, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. This saying is a little sad and similar to one I’ve heard in China.

      April 28, 2020 - 4:02 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Would very much like to visit the Red Fort one day but I’ll pass at a false beard for any of my male travelling companions! Great instalment. Hope your weekend is going well Leighton.

    January 9, 2022 - 10:50 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Marion, I think you’d look rather fetching in a fake beard. Are you sure you won’t reconsider 😉 Thanks for reading, the weekend progresseth and we are keeping ourselves busy between teaching, blog duties and maintaining the log fire. Have a great Sunday!

      January 9, 2022 - 11:01 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    Poor young Indians, entangled in their traditions while looking at a western world with so much ‘freedom’.

    January 9, 2022 - 11:29 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I think you’re right that a lot of the young Indian people I met felt trapped by certain traditions and expectancies within the family. I remember several people saying they “admired” me because I had so much freedom. I wanted to tell them that it’s just luck. The luck of the passport and my background, which encouraged me to do what I want with my life. And then a bit of free spirit on my part sprinkled on top. But I don’t think I successfully conveyed this. Thanks for reading!

      January 9, 2022 - 11:33 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I’ve never heard of a fake beard before. I wonder how many people actually pay for something like that!

    January 9, 2022 - 1:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It did strike me as a very random and unlikely product. How does one come to the conclusion that this is what they need to sell outside one of Delhi’s richest cultural sights? Thanks for reading!

      January 9, 2022 - 1:29 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Hilarious story Leighton, just glad it was not happening to me. Maybe, the fake beard was required, so you can safely pass through all the street hawkers and urchins or perhaps it is a signal that they found a live one. Maybe the question What do you think of love? should have been met with another Why do you ask? Thanks for the morning laughs. Allan

    January 9, 2022 - 2:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m just relieved my weak answer went down so well ha ha. Hope you’re staying warm Allan and that your new year has gotten off to a good start.

      January 9, 2022 - 3:21 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Haha! Great story Leighton. We had an Indian trekking guide ask us how long after we married did we fall in love? He was told that love only comes after a few years of marriage. Maggie

    January 9, 2022 - 5:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      What a brilliant question, how did you answer that?

      January 9, 2022 - 5:11 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        We were really taken off guard. We explained that in Canada people fall in love and then decide to marry. We started to say that just by living with someone you won’t necessarily fall in love, but it wasn’t going over very well and we didn’t want to spoil his hopes as he was not yet married. Different perspectives.

        January 9, 2022 - 5:20 pm
      • Leighton

        Ha, classic stuff. Different perspectives indeed.

        January 9, 2022 - 6:09 pm
  • Travels Through My Lens

    What a fun story! I love the fake beard. Thanks for the inspiration as well; I posted one short story over a year ago, and have a few more to share. I think I’ll get busy and finish them up.

    January 9, 2022 - 5:14 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you liked the story! You should absolutely try to finish a few more short stories. Do you think you’d have enough for a series of some sort?

      January 10, 2022 - 11:33 pm Reply
      • Travels Through My Lens

        Thanks for the encouragement! I don’t have quite enough yet, but I’ll have more time for writing after I retire.

        January 11, 2022 - 1:19 am
  • Rebecca

    Romeo is a fitting name for a man who wants to learn about love; I hope he took your advice! 😉

    January 10, 2022 - 12:09 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Probably married by now, utterly miserable, three kids under his belt ha ha. Seriously, I hope he’s doing well, wherever he may be.

      January 10, 2022 - 12:31 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    This brings back memories of our time there. The Red Fort, New Delhi, was a spectacular place to see .

    January 10, 2022 - 3:15 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely Anita, thanks for reading!

      January 10, 2022 - 9:23 am Reply
  • Memo

    Another great story. You get all the good stuff because you take time and dine with the right people. Good love is – Yoda Lignon.

    January 10, 2022 - 3:16 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, you’re a card Memo. I think I need to work on my ear shape.

      January 10, 2022 - 9:26 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    I read a blog yesterday about an advice column in the WSJ that said at parties people should avoid small talk and raise deeper questions like “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?” Supposedly such questions lead to greater satisfaction and happiness compared to normal small talk superficialities. I’d never ask questions like that of someone I just met and would not want to answer them. Your friend though and Dan Ariely are on the same page.

    January 10, 2022 - 4:10 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Nice, John. I wonder how many people Romeo asked that year, or if it was a question reserved just for me. All these years later and I’m still baffled by how pleased he was with my flimsy answer.

      January 10, 2022 - 9:39 am Reply
  • ourcrossings

    Yet another fantastic story, Leighton – keep them coming! Seeing the Red Fort in person must have been an experience of a lifetime. When I lived in Edinburgh, I worked with a few people from India. One of the guys fell in love with a French girl and they both ran away to France despite his parent’s strong objection. It’s amazing how most Indian families still prefer marriages arranged within their religion and caste, and how marriages outside these rigid boundaries have often led to violent consequences, including “honour” killings. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    January 10, 2022 - 10:46 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Aiva, appreciate your dedication to this series. Yes, the issues of caste and arranged marriages is a troubling aspect of Indian culture. Perhaps, in the back of his mind, Romeo was struggling to come to terms with his own situation, whatever that may have been. I have read a bit about honour killings and…. well… words fail me. Hope you’re managing to stay warm!

      January 10, 2022 - 2:26 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Wow. I can’t say no to buying a Big Issue so by your posts I’d be coming home with pens, clean ears and now a few fake beards as well! haha!

    January 10, 2022 - 5:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Sounds like you’d be returning home with all the essential souvenirs of a trip to 2004 India!

      January 10, 2022 - 11:43 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Wonderful story and a beautiful background with it! Definitely better to have a fake beard than a metal rod in your ear 🙂

    January 10, 2022 - 6:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Fake Beard 1 Metal Rod 0. Thanks for reading Meg. What would you have said to Romeo? 🙂

      January 10, 2022 - 6:27 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        I think I would have said that love is good and wonderful, but also sometimes complicated and infuriating, but more often than not its found in quiet moments when we feel grateful to have to have each other.

        January 11, 2022 - 12:19 pm
      • Leighton

        It’s a better answer than I gave Meg. But one that would have probably put Romeo’s head into a spin ha ha.

        January 11, 2022 - 2:42 pm
  • Jyothi

    Hehe… what a fun story, Leighton! Great sharing, thanks 🙂

    January 11, 2022 - 1:03 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Jyothi!

      January 11, 2022 - 9:22 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Come on Leighton … your story is not complete!! I would have loved to hear what your answers were to some of THOSE questions 😁. I think there is a Romeo in every country – we have met a few of “them” and it’s always those conversations that stay with us for a long time after visiting a new country (or even a new town in our own country)!

    January 15, 2022 - 11:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I wish I could remember my answers to those other questions ha ha. I’m guessing I would have said: “The UK” (Which country?) “0” (How many girlfriends?) “I am unemployed” (How much money you making?) “A drunk driver and chasing paparazzi” (Who Killed Princess Diana?) Indian women are beautiful” (You Liking Indian woman?) “I have never had the pleasure of meeting David Beckham and Posh Spice” (Do You Know Beck Ham?)

      January 15, 2022 - 12:14 pm Reply
      • wetanddustyroads

        👏 … now, it’s complete!

        January 15, 2022 - 12:51 pm
  • Toonsarah

    Another great tale! I love the way locals in India are so interested in chatting and also happy for you to take photos of them. We met a fair few on our trip but no one quite like Romeo 😆

    February 2, 2022 - 4:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah I’m with you about the chattiness and often wide-eyed nature of genuine everyday locals with no agenda. It really made up for India’s less savoury elements.

      February 2, 2022 - 5:43 pm Reply

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