It’s winter in Nairobi now and I am daunted by that information. Around me are ridiculously good-looking men of various ethnicities, in progressive states of undress. I feel ugly and overdressed. Of course, I won’t be approached by anyone, I should have gone shirtless. This was a bad idea, I tell myself. I stare intently at the tea-stained rim of my favourite mug. I really need to get a grip on my life, I conclude, after a minute of staring. Just then, a woosh! Booty Call has messaged: “Hi! U bankrupt for real? lol”.
Okay, so this is working! “Just emotionally bankrupt,” I type, explaining my Grindr ID, BAnkrupt. “That’s the shizzle!” replies Booty Call. I punch the air in triumph, because, you know, that’s the manly thing to do. Now all I have to do is break it to Booty Call, the 27-year-old management student from Nairobi, that I am actually not in Nairobi but 6,174 kilometres and a hemisphere away in Kolkata. The fact that Grindr, the world’s largest geosocial dating app designed to help gay men meet other gay men in their area, shows that I am just 215 metres away from him, and could have misled the “6 feet bundle of contradictions” into thinking otherwise.
Why have I landed myself in such a situation, you may ask. Well, there are many reasons, and none of them seemed connected. But I assure you, all of them are backed by logic. For one, I am 35, single and I am in Kolkata. That itself is self-explanatory. In a city devoid of eligible, single people below retirement age, dating is a redundant concept.
When I log into Grindr or any other dating app in Kolkata, the first two rows of the “people nearby list” are occupied by mugshots of guys who have been 24 for the past decade. The next row has Fawad Khan from his pre-Bollywood phase. The next two rows have Fawad from his Bollywood phase. Occasionally, a Sidharth Malhotra or a Ruslaan Mumtaz makes an appearance. Then, there are men who want to know if you have the time and a place for a quickie. The next row of profiles are those from Bangladesh because there aren’t anymore guys left in Kolkata.
So there, you see. The only reason I am in my mid-thirties, balding and hopelessly single is because I am in Kolkata. I am crippled by this city. “Use Khadi’s paraben-free shampoo,” said a gay friend, he of luxuriously thick Anil Kapoor-mane. What about my love life? “Guys are the same everywhere. Trust me, I am in Philadelphia and everybody looks the same here. They all have the same issues,” he said over a long distance WhatsApp call. Yeah right!
But that got me thinking. If what he is saying is true, I needed to sample it for myself. All I needed was to sell the idea to my boss. I get to travel across cities around the world, check out the gay crowd of those places through dating apps, and then make astute observations about them, of course. There, a Pulitzer-winning article for only Rs 20 lakh.
Or, I could use a fake location app, informed a colleague. An app which would let me change my location to anywhere in the world, log into dating sites and, well, sample the local sights. A virtual portkey, a la Harry Potter!
As soon as I download the fake location app, I change my location to Lahore. Because, Fawad Khan, people! Surely, all Pakistani men look like him. As it turned out, all Pakistani men do look like Fawad Khan. Literally. Every other profile in the Lahore page of Grindr boasted of a Fawad Khan picture. The ones which didn’t were either picture-less or had pictures of bare torsos (Grindr has strict no nudity policy, so there are no X-rated pictures). Breaking Bad, 27, who had a poster of the TV series as his profile pic, wanted to know if I lived in Gulberg. “I am a visitor from India. Will you show me around?” I played the babe-in-the-woods card. “Welcome! Call me if you need anything. I have got exams tomorrow,” was his polite reply.
New York, I typed into my phone next. The cursor on the map swiftly moved to the USA, the red dot resting a little below Manhattan. The centre of the world, I whispered to myself. The guy closest to me was a 27-year-old Caucasian man called Matt. He had baby-blue eyes, a frank, welcoming smile, a somewhat squashed nose. His profile stated that he had the NYC marathon under his belt, worked in urban planning and lived in Brooklyn. He loved swimming, running, biking and yoga. He is the one for me, I told myself. Not outrageously good-looking, but pleasant enough. A guy I can have conversations with, without feeling too conscious about my double chin showing. I message him: “Hi, just wanted to start a conversation :)”. He replied: “Sorry! No oldies!”