I don’t mean to brag, but I’m somewhat of an expert on romance and relationships, especially the part where I stay single for years at a stretch. It’s like how camels can go without water for ages, because the water just wants to be friends with the camel but the truth is that it is secretly being lapped up by another camel. If I had to quantify it, then on a scale of one to ten, my dry spells are Vidarbha.
With credentials like these, it’s no surprise that I was invited by a popular Mumbai-based literature festival to be part of a panel discussion on — I kid you not — The Changing Face of Romance in India and The Diaspora. My co-panelists included a British-Indian author and journalist who’s written a book about his travails with arranged marriage. I haven’t read it, but I’m assuming it’s just photos of brown parents looking disappointed.
The other panelist was a writer and self-confessed romantic, who’s written India’s second Mills and Boon novel, and nope, I had no idea that those books were still around. I remember coming across them as a kid, and all the covers looked the same. There was always a flushed-looking woman in some stage of undress, lying in a meadow, looking up at a bare-chested man whose piercing gaze seemed to say, “Baby, let’s go indoors, so I won’t have ants crawling up my butt.”
So yes, at the start, I felt a little out of place, like a bartender at an ISIS party. The topic also seemed redundant, because you’d think that despite everything, love and romance don’t really change. Deep down, most people want a constant, someone they can come home to every night, someone whose presence brings them joy and satisfaction. My constant is the Mini Punjab delivery guy. It’s a relationship based on late-night kebabs, aka the 3 a.m. boti call.
But things have changed in the world of hearts and genitals. We’re dating, hooking up and breaking up way more than our parents’ generation used to, because they were nicer, kinder and more emotionally stable we have the options that they didn’t. Thanks to technology, it’s so much easier to catch an STD now.
For example, take Tinder. It is literally a menu of potential partners, founded on the classy Indian proverb, ‘Degi Toh Lega?’. For older uncle-types reading this, Tinder is an app that lets your kids hook up with random strangers based on their face and geographical proximity. If that sounds shallow, remember, you come from a time when it was okay for parents to push their kids into bed with someone just because they had the same surname and also other great qualities, like not being manglik.
It’s not just Tinder; with so many forms of social media, we’re just a few DMs, likes and favourites away from entering someone’s inbox, so as to speak. It’s a great time to be young and single, because everyone has the attention span of a fat kid in a candy store. That’s why you see so many people try out Friends With Benefits aka One Of You Is Gonna Get Screwed Over So Bad LOL.
The flipside is that tech will also jerk you around because it can. WhatsApp is great at this, first with the ‘Last Seen At’ and now the Blue Tick of Death. It’s the kind of thing that makes people go, “If you really want to ruin my relationship, why don’t you just get your app to sleep with my girlfriend?”
Tech also negates the point of break-ups, which is that exes should go away, preferably to another planet. But now they’re always around, their faces flashing across your newsfeed as if to say, “Look how well I’m doing without you! Here’s a photo of me with an attractive person of the opposite sex! I’m not doing this so you feel bad about losing me – I’m totally over you! No, seriously- SHIT SHIT SHIT I accidentally liked a photo of us from 2009 STUPID TOUCHSCREEN SHIT SHIT I DON’T CARE I’M FINE *dies of vodka poisoning*”
Everything said and done, you can whine about how complex everything is, or suck it up and keep looking for That Great Modern Love, which is basically two people checking their phones in comfortable silence. And if that proves elusive, let me know. I’ll put you in touch with this great guy from Mini Punjab.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 9th Nov 2014.)