So, it happened again. In the by-lanes of Khan Market with a styrofoam plate full of kakori rolls balanced on my knee, I once again described my kidneys — in great detail — to a complete stranger. It was an easy conversation to have, one that rolled off my tongue rather smoothly. “Tell me about yourself,” he said. “I have 1.5 kidneys,” I began.
It was sometime in April this year that I decided to date again — four months after a surgery that shaved off half my left kidney, leaving little crucifixes on my tummy. A switch had gone off in my head in that time. I had transitioned from sexy, a feeling about my physical appearance that had taken a decade to reinforce; to the kind of deep vulnerability triggered, for instance, by involuntarily defecating in front of hospital staff. I remember peering nervously under the bandages when I was fresh out of hospital, soaping around the scars so my nails didn’t scratch them and continue to pat away phantom pains during meetings at work.
But, I digress. So, I joined Tinder on a whim, that superficial app where success rates are determined by attractive photographs and words like “wanderlust” and “sapiosexual”. I had briefly experimented with a dating app last year while at university in New York and I had lasted all of 45 minutes. The boys (and men) wanted to know if the rainbow I was posing in front of was real. I wanted to know if they were for real. I had never done anything like this before. During my undergraduate studies in Australia, over a decade ago now, I could touch and feel the attention. “You have beautiful eyes,” was a common pick-up line offered to me. Now, I squint at my smartphone to see his.
I am a product of a love that was unorthodox. My father saw my mother’s “sexy legs” through her cotton sari while he was lying under a car attempting to repair it as she walked past. This happened in a leafy neighbourhood in Madras in 1980, where any match between people from two different sects of the same caste, like them, was ridiculous. My parents were 10 years apart; my father would visit my mother’s house nearly every day to “check” on a refrigerator that his father had sold to her family — my paternal grandfather ran an appliance store. He finally mustered up the courage to ask her out for coffee; when they were “seen together” by a relative, all hell broke loose. They married anyway and four years after they had my sister, I was born.
Today, 37 years after my parents first met, I am in my early thirties, single, still recovering from the end of a five-year-long relationship and facing a serious lack of opportunities to meet men in an organic way. But I have two apps on my phone that offer me a wide selection of men (also known as Bagels in some contexts) in an age group and geographical location of my choosing. I have been on three dates so far with a Kannadiga, a Marathi and a Punjabi.
I have discussed Zone-O of the Yamuna riverbed in great detail with one, and been yelled at for discussing politics on Tinder with another (“This is not the right place for such things”). I even had a date go sit at another table in the middle of a conversation since he coincidentally bumped into one of his other “Tinder girls”. He eventually did come back to finish his Red Bull.
In the meantime, all these serve as good fodder for a weekend conversation in a dingy journo-pub in Defence Colony. Like, for instance, this past weekend when a friend told me his Tinder story: “Dude, she said she is pretty sick of the app but she’d like to keep talking to me. So, she gives me eight of the 10 digits of her cell number and tells me to guess the last two digits. Then, she logs out!”
But a few weekends ago, I had had enough. So I crossed the border into Uttar Pradesh, where love itself is contentious, to seek out a couple who had once paddle-boated in the lake adjoining the Purana Qila, while one of them had been exiled in Delhi. They had met in the early Nineties, in a computer institute in the heart of Lucknow. She was a Rajput, he a Kayasth, a mismatch in castes that served as definite grounds for her family to disallow them to be partners. They are close family friends whose story I had heard many times before, but I was a child then, more interested in enlisting their help to tack a poster of Hrithik Roshan to my wall. Theirs was a love story I needed to hear as an adult. I was lonely, overworked, sick of superficial interactions with men. I wanted to be reassured that love could be simple, that all it took were ice lollies, PCOs, love letters and coy smiles, and, meeting in the flesh and blood.
Theirs was also a love story not easily swiped by fingertips across a smartphone. The way he looks at her, even today, is love that will last forever. Much like heartbreak these days, prolonged by social media updates from ex-lovers, that never lets you forget.
But, I am more than happy to let go of the apps on my phone. I am a romantic at heart and I plan to wear a cotton sari and walk down the leafy neighbourhood where I live soon, looking for men under cars.