In India, we date in English.

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I was researching dating apps in India and stumbled upon videos created by some of the big players in the space – this was a combination of testimonials from real success stories and other promotional content. As I watched most of the videos on a particular youtube channel – I found a huge disconnect between the real people who’d found success on this app and the actors from the promotional videos who were portraying potential users of the app. The most apparent difference was that these two sets of people were conversing in different languages – the real people in English and actors in Hindi.

Fortunately or unfortunately, for having learnt English for more number of years than any other language (Kannada/ Telugu/ Hindi/ Sanskrit/ Japanese/ Spanish), and for also having grown up in a house where the mother tongue was Telugu but the spoken word was Kannada, my preferred language of communication is English. Given that I am a native English speaker, it was easy for me to not relate to the app but I wondered if you would relate better as a native Hindi speaker? The real people from the testimonials all had “hindi speaking” surnames, so why were they all speaking in English? Do we prefer to speak in English when we talk about love/ dating?

In order to test my hypothesis, I quickly re-watched a few Hindi movies that popped up on top of my netflix page – Raja Hindustani, Jab we Met and Kabhie Haan, Kabhie Na. Barring the last one (given that this was based in Goa, where people do speak English quite commonly!), the other two are classic hindi heavy movies. In both movies, the first words/ conversation between the actors is in English, especially when they recognise the other person as a potential interest. Maybe we prefer to date in English?

This is not surprising, given that dating has not been a part of our culture atleast for the last 200 years, and it has come around as a result of western influence. Thanks to penetration of western television, and Titanic, we like to now “date” in India, and date in English. If someone texted me on Tinder and said, “Hai wanna hav sex?”, I’d still prefer that to someone saying “oye chodhna hai?” or “yenema keyonva?”, despite the spelling mistakes (Yes!), because we like to date in English. The countless hindi movies in the 90s, early 2000s that had the hero pull off some English stunt with the heroine when he was hitting on her, have made it cool to date in English in India.

Now, if we like to date in English, why are these apps making ads in Hindi? Do they even get their customers? For all the apps that are stagnating at less than a million unique users in India, remember that we date in English – whether we are from Bangalore or Bhatinda.

 

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Can we just be humane sometimes?

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I frantically finished work early to go pick up my daughter from her nursery, so I could reach home before a call with my mentor at 6:30pm. I arrived at the nursery door only to realise I didn’t have the access key with me, which is normally in the same bunch as my house keys. Thankfully, there was another parent walking ahead of me, who had opened the door and I ran in behind him. My mind was now racing as it was busy calculating the time it would take to go from Farringdon to Victoria (where my husband’s office was) and then to Ealing (where I live) all before my call at 6:30. I had about an hour and a half, so it was almost impossible to make it back home in time, and so I decided to ring my husband up while I walked behind the other parent as I hoped to be let in through the door behind him.

The man in front of me just stopped, and stepped aside. As I stayed on the phone hearing my husband’s number ring without being answered, I asked the man if he could let me in as I didn’t have my access key with me. The man looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am sorry, I don’t know who you are and I can’t just let anybody into the nursery like this.” At first, my mind was too pre-occupied to even comprehend what he was saying because I wasn’t expecting him to say anything but “of course”. Now, if this man had never seen me before, I would still be okay with him saying that but we had seen each other almost every day when we both went to pick up our respective children from the nursery.

When I finally understood what he was saying after a few seconds, I wanted to scream at him asking if he is completely out of his mind to say what he just said given that he has seen me picking up my daughter several times before, but I was too shellshocked that anyone could be so rude to say anything at all. Thankfully, before anything else could happen, someone from the nursery came in from behind the door and let me in. But I couldn’t stop thinking about why that man said what he said. Was it just a lack of decency? or was it racism?

I don’t know, but sometimes I wonder what stops people from just being humane? There’s way too much hatred in the world already, thanks to the comment section of any piece of writing on the internet. Why can’t we just be nice to people we can physically see in front of us? It’s not like I was asking this guy for his kidney, all I was asking was for him to let me pass through the door behind him.

There are so many parents I see everyday when I go to the nursery, and we all acknowledge each other in some form or the other – hello, smile, half-smile, nod, etc. You wouldn’t do that if you saw the same people on the tube or even in your own office every day, but you would somehow do this with other young parents – almost in a “I get your pain” sort of way. It’s nice, even if this is short lived. It’s nice to know that there will be intermittent phases in the life of a human being where we can all relate to each other irrespective of class, colour, creed or religion, just like we did as little babies. It gives me hope.

You live only once!

I was listening to a podcast the other day about correlation between our childhood and political views during adulthood. Given that we are governed for the very first time at home, our political preferences are very much shaped at home. I have mostly been a very obedient kid at home, where I’ve constantly feared the consequences of being otherwise. Having said that, I have done my share of sneaking behind my parents back to do things that they’d have never approved of, but everybody does that.

I have seldom challenged this invisible rule book for an acceptable format to life  – You study, you get a job, you get married, you buy property (more than one is preferable), you have children, you attend all family functions, you organise a few yourself, you go on foreign vacations, bring back presents for family, you continue to keep your job, go on business trips, bring presents again, religiously market your life on social media and so on. I may not have necessarily followed this myself, but I acknowledge the need for such rule based existence.

Naturally, when Karthik left a stable job within the first year of our marriage, you can imagine how distraught I must have been. I could never come to terms with his need to “take a break” because I was raised to slog my ass off in the hope of a post-retirement hibernation when I’d be free from all my familial duties. Karthik and I fought lots, not because he didn’t have a constant source of income, but just him sitting at home all day, everyday was just not healthy for him or our relationship.

The only way I knew how to get him to do what I wanted was to threaten him, and obviously, that didn’t work and we fought more. Sometimes it got very ugly, but none of that convinced him to get back to a job. He was so stubborn because life had been so unfair to him in the last few years that he genuinely believed he didn’t owe anyone anything. But I wouldn’t give up either – I revived my own dreams of studying further to make up for our combined dreams being shattered.

Recently, Karthik met a friend of his who was visiting London for a business meeting. This chap lives the epitome of a professional life that I had once aspired for. He found it hard to fathom that Karthik had moved to a new country just like that without a job. When Karthik told me this, I found myself getting extremely defensive although in the last 6 years I would never been seen defending Karthik’s life’s choices. I realised that I am incredibly proud of everything Karthik has done ever since he quit a stable job with Goldman Sachs, including moving to a different country just to support his wife live her dreams.

For a child prodigy, having always been miles ahead of his class, having topped JEE and CAT, it must have been incredibly disorienting to see that one needs a very different set of skills to survive the corporate world unlike in school years. After having been disillusioned at his first consulting gig, having gone through several less than stimulating jobs consequently, and dealing with the death of both parents, it must have taken enormous efforts to pull off a stellar consulting business, become a faculty at his alma mater, become a national newspaper columnist and a soon to be published author (Skipping the part where he has been an amazing partner putting me through business school, managing an entire household and surviving long-distance, because this would need an entire blogpost).

Over the last few years, I have begun to make peace with Karthik’s aspirations being very different from mine, and how we optimise for different things in life – me for stress and he for the lack of it. As a couple, if our focus had been on nurturing common formula driven dreams, building complexes and farm houses, we’d have learnt so little about embracing differences and me, about challenging meaningless rules.

Most people just cannot take risks and in turn impose the limitations of such a life on everyone around them. Anyone not following the prescribed path for success is warned of the potential dire consequences instead of just being understood. We think we are doing this out of concern for the other person, but in reality, we are trying to validate our own path by being skeptical/ condescending about someone else’s. It’s this lack of curiosity that deams us to failure as a society.

P.S – In our madness of shuttling between abiding and challenging, we have managed to study, get jobs, buy properties, have a child, travels loads and have the balls to quit jobs and move countries whenever we’ve wanted because you live only once!

Living for social approval

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Growing up, I was forbidden from doing several things (being “too” fashionable, drinking, dating, etc.) and the number one reason presented to me had something to do with how the society would perceive it. As you can imagine, being a teenager, that never seemed like a good enough reason for me to care about. Why were these elders so obsessed with social approval that I didn’t necessarily care about? As far as my logical mind is concerned, I think you should do something if you want or not do it, if you don’t.

One of the things I do as Marriage Broker Auntie is to help people identify new channels to find potential spouse. Recently when I suggested to a client that she get on a few dating apps, it didn’t go down quite well with her as her family was concerned about what people would think about finding her on “Tinder” for instance. Now, first of all, I don’t think your pakkad mane aunty would be on Tinder to find you, and even if she did, hey what was she doing on Tinder now?! More importantly, why should you care given that she is not sweating to get you married.

If you haven’t already learnt from the internet, there will always be people who like what you do and some others who don’t. This is inevitable, but why should this change what you do with your life? Pakkad mane aunty thinks you are a slut, then thank god you saved yourself from being recommended to her narrow-minded bhatru nephew. It’s not only important for you to maintain a safe distance from your society, it’s also important for you to keep your distance from people who are obsessed with societal approval because they keep their word only as long as the world is watching.

Why is suffering a much glorified idea?

Growing up in India, every kid has probably heard Gandhi ji’s famous quote about non-violence – “If someone slaps you on one cheek, show them your other cheek as well”. But my philosophy in life is modelled after actor Malasree in the Dynamic star-Devraj starrer Kannada movie, Gruhapravesha, where she champions self defence by stopping her mother-in-law Satyabhama from slapping her, in turn letting  everyone know she is not to be messed with. I don’t like to actively cause any harm to others, however, I also don’t like to cause any harm to myself in the name of propagating Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.

Suffering is a highly glorified trait in India and I realised that this is much more commonplace among womenfolk. As women, we are designed to endure more physical pain (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and so on) and yet, we try so hard to prove that we can take on more. We want to be great wives, great mothers, great professionals, we want to have it all even if it means killing ourselves over making it all work. In pain, we seek happiness and validation because our lives are pretty thankless otherwise.

Above and beyond our society,  most religions also preach that suffering is the route to heaven. If you don’t eat meat or drink alcohol on certain days of the week and endure the pain of controlling your craving, you are somehow better off than people who’d rather take pleasure for a place in heaven. If you fast in the name of god and kill yourself from hunger, you’ve earned yourself a spot in heaven. Its almost as if suffering has been glorified over the years just to induce some sense of fear so people don’t enjoy pleasure guilt free.

Pleasure/ happiness is desirable. When we see others have it while we can’t, it makes us jealous. We need a way to believe either that we shall have a shot at pleasure too or that the ones who are currently enjoying will soon join us in misery too because this is the only way for us to feel at peace. And so, our society devised this great trick for us to believe that giving up short-term pleasures and enduring suffering gives us long-lasting benefits at some unforeseeable point in the future. We obviously believe this because humans are greedy and we’d rather enjoy a little extra happiness tomorrow versus limited happiness today.

Distinguishing between loves

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On my flight from Bangalore to London yesterday, I watched Woody Allen’s “The Cafe Society”, a 2016 romantic drama that has a chain of betrayed relationships – one man leaving his wife for another and then this one leaving for another and so on. Woody Allen’s movies are always about unrequited or in-satiated love and people love it because they can all relate to it at some level and it makes their one-sided loves worth loving.

The human spirit loves complex problems or challenges. We can never truly appreciate and cherish what we have. It is in our nature to want what we can’t get. Even my 5-month old daughter isn’t happy with just rolling over or crawling, she wants to stand up even though she can barely even sit by herself. So, chasing people who won’t love us back is like the ultimate life challenge. Even the Hindu mythology is all about it. The Ramayana is essentially about unrequited love of Ravana for Sita and the Mahabharata is that of Duryodhana’s for Draupadi or Amba’s for Bheeshma.

While literature, drama and media have glorified this sort of love over the years, the only thing left to do with “the discussing grocery lists” sort of love between a man and his wife is parody. Having discussed grocery lists with Karthik for over 6 years now, even though I don’t say it out loud every single day, I love it. I love it in a way that I could never love my crush from the 9th grade who I’d be dying to see everyday with such naive passion.

One presents volatility and uncertainty, while the other presents stability. Some people prefer indulging in self deprecation driven by irrational passion while some others value reciprocation of emotion.  Neither love is less than the other, it’s just different. Having seen different kinds of loves over the years, in hindsight, I’d anyway prefer the mellow “talk for hours about arbit things under the sky” till you fall asleep sort of love over the state of ambivalence an intense passionate affair leaves you in.

What if you have never experienced different kinds of loves? Do we then simply have to rely on Bollywood to meet our ever elusive loves on a Eurorail in Switzerland? Would you be able to tell what kind of love you’re looking for? I am sure my grandmother would have argued that it doesn’t matter, and we just have to make do with what we get. She’s damn right, but we’ve too much exposure nowadays to simply make peace with our loves without sampling. So, I say, go out there and sample, even if you are 45, because its never too late to fall in love and that’s the only way to distinguish between different loves.

Hobbies, habits and hobbits

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In the past, women were made to sing or have their hobbies like tailoring/ crochet skills praised at the bride seeing ceremony because most of the time these women were going to be housewives and had to justify how they would spend time productively at home besides cooking and tending to the family. Today, both men and women work and their time at home after work is their own and nobody needs to justify what they do with it. However, people care about hobbies of a potential partner like never before.

There’s a good chance you might not relate to this post at all because this post is based on data gathered from my extended social circle. I have a friend who has been single for a while. He is a good looking, well educated, cultured, comes from a good family and pretty much checks off everything a great tharkari should, but is still single only because he is looking for a girl with a serious hobby. Simple enough, right? But you’ll be surprised to see how few people have hobbies as adults. The last time most people have hobbies is the first time they make a professional resume.

People with decent careers think they have their lives sorted and there is no reason for them to struggle in the marriage market, but they falter to even sustain another person’s attention because they are so one-dimensional. These people are exhausted after a hectic 5-day work week and the only way they know how to blow off some steam is by binge-watching sitcoms or drinking one’s gut out just because these are the easiest things to do. In fact, drinking is considered more of a “habit” in the marriage market (Lolz).

This is essentially a result of not knowing how to productively engage oneself in interesting activities. This leads to us looking for inspiration in a partner to make our lives more interesting putting unnecessary pressure on the relationship. This one time a girl rejected a boy with a very hectic creative career because she felt he wouldn’t have the time to spend with family. While this may or may not be true, someone assessing quality based on quantity of time  could potentially be a liability in the relationship.

If both the boy and girl have serious interests they pursue, this means minimising the time each of them spends alone wanting attention from the other, hence keeping expectations from the relationship at bay. Even at an individual level, they’d be more content with themselves allowing them to contribute positively to the relationship.

Now, there is a flip-side to having serious independent interests beyond work because you might have little chance of overlap in your lives to grow closer, but that’s a risk some people are willing to take because if they didn’t, they’d probably end up with someone who will neither let them be happy with themselves or in the relationship.