Updated: August 27, 2021 2:24:17 pm
Apart from juggling between his busy career as both a Tamil actor and a fashion photographer, there is one more thing Chennai-based Sunder Ramu did in the year 2015 — he went on a date every day.
Over the past few years, he has gone on a total of 335 dates. But the magic number he wishes to achieve is 365.
“I want to date 365 women,” Sunder proudly says.
There’s only one rule for the date. The women will have to ask him out, plan, choose a place and most importantly, pay for the meal.
Sunder’s idea of wanting to go on a date with 365 women is quite different from what one would expect. Though he says that he is “always looking for love” in his life, his mission is not to find love but is part of his bigger mission to address the societal issues in the country and his wish to raise awareness on women’s rights in India.
The idea behind the “365 meal dates” project
Born in Bangalore, Sunder came from a very forward thinking family, with no gender discrimination and where women were treated well with respect. He later moved to Chennai to pursue his education in Visual Communication at Loyola College.
“Moving from Bangalore to Chennai and stepping into the real world was a huge culture shock to me. I saw how deeply rooted the gender difference was in our society,” he said.
The turning point for Sunder, was when he read about the 2012 Delhi gangrape.
“The Delhi gangrape shook me. I had many sleepless nights,” he says. “I realised that if people don’t care about people, they are not going to even care about climate change, or animal issues.”
Sunder also recollects how every time he travelled abroad, people would associate India with the country that “treats women badly” or “has rising cases of rape incidents.”
Sunder decided he wanted to make a difference in society by creating awareness.
“We often brush off the problem by thinking it’s the job of the government of NGOs to fix it. But I began to wonder how I can make a difference?”
That’s when the idea of ‘365 meal dates’ occurred to me.
“I decided to meet women and start conversations about it,” he said.
Speaking about the significance of “365”, he said, “If you want to create change, you will have to work on it every day, just like how you eat and work every day.”
Sunder announced the 365-meal dates project on December 31, 2014 on Facebook.
His first date was on January 1, 2015, with a close friend of his. “My friend called me over for lunch and cooked for me. We had such a good time and I found out things about that I didn’t know before, despite knowing her for so long,” he said.
The process of Sunder’s dates
While going on dates, Sunder follows three rules; He will not reveal at first that the date was for a cause, the girl must decide the place, and also pay the bill.
“We live in a world where a man feels entitled and powerful when he pays the check when he is with a woman. We always believed it should always be the man who should take the upper hand during dates. I wanted to break that stereotype,” Sunder says. The money that he saves on the dates is used to buy food for charities.
The first 20 dates for Sunder were with his friends. He gained more attention after the press covered his story. He was called “the serial dater,” and “the dating king.”
For Sunder, age, profession, caste, and socio-economic levels were irrelevant for dating.
“Anybody can date me. No one needs to ask me if they are eligible,” he says.
From actress Shriya Saran, dancer Rukmani Vijayakumar and Chief Minister MK Stalin’s wife Durga Stalin to his 109-year-old grandmother and a 90-year-old nun, Sunder has gone on meal dates with all.
The actor has also dated women from across countries including in Paris, Vietnam, Spain, France, US, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
While Sunder admits that approaching a woman abroad was much easier, he talks about how some of his best experiences had been in India.
“Walking up to someone and asking them if they will go on a date with you, let alone if they will pay for the meal, is not easy. “ It certainly wasn’t for Sunder with 60-year-old Krishnaveni, a watermelon juice seller in Chennai.
“When I walked up to her and asked her to give me the juice for free, she initially laughed at me,” he says. “It took me some time to make her agree to this, but once she did, the conversation was worth it.”
He also shared a meal with Sister Loreto, a 90-year-old Irish nun at a convent in Chennai, for whom it was the first date.
Though he feels all his dates were special, the date with his 109-year-old grandmother, who passed away two years ago was his best. “Even though I had known her all my life, it was the first time I had spent so much time alone with her and the conversations we had were one to remember forever.”
Steering conversations towards equality
Sunder often gets asked if this project is a way to show off that he knows a lot of women. People, including his friends, have called him a playboy.
“It doesn’t matter to me what other people think of me. The idea is to start a conversation, ask questions, and get another person’s perspective. My final objective is to achieve gender equality,” Sunder says.
Sunder firmly says that he does not have any agenda behind going out on these dates. “I think this is something that women understand, especially because I am open and honest, and that is why they agree to be a part of it.” Sunder documents every date of his, with the permission of the other person, and he says that “if I were a playboy, I wouldn’t be so open with documenting it.”
When the IndianExpress.com asked Sunder if he was able to execute this project only because of the privilege that comes from being a man, he said, “I 100% agree that I am privileged and entitled.”
“But, that shouldn’t and doesn’t stop me from having conversations about it and finding solutions for it,” he says.
“Men are the problem, but we also have to be part of the solution.”
Sunder also believes that gender equality was not only restricted to women’s equality, but also to transgender’s and non-binary equality.
Though the aim was to date 365 women in a year, he stopped with 335 in 2015, as Chennai was affected with floods in November 2015. Post that, he resumed it, but decided to take it slow.
“I put forth the point that I was trying to make and decided to move on to the bigger mission,” he says.
“My next step is to address all college students and youngsters and sensitize them about sexual harassment. I want to change the mindset of people when it comes to these issues.”
Sunder is planning a project where he creates awareness amongst taxi/auto drivers and delivery boys, as he believes that they form a large community of men who could help voice out gender issues. He is currently working on a one-hour-documentary and is writing a book where he is documenting his dates and the perspectives of multiple women.
Sunder, however, believes that the change he has made is a very small one. “The dent I have made in society is very little, but at least it’s a start.”
“The issue of gender inequality is one that will take generations to fix. But that doesn’t stop me from trying today. If I at least try to find a solution today, maybe tomorrow, someone else will get inspired and take over and work for a better tomorrow,” he says.
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