Ramu has been on 206 dates so far, with women from the ages of 21 up to 106, from all walks of life.
For Chennai-based photographer and actor Sunder Ramu, dating is more than just romance or sex. Tired of gender stereotypes and social taboos, Sunder set out to make a change, one day at a time. His project, titled “365 Meal Dates”, is just that—meeting a new person for a meal and conversation every day for a year. The one rule: the woman decides the what, where, when and pays for the date as well. In return, Sunder matches the amount and plans a meal at a shelter or NGO.
Ramu has been on 206 dates so far, with women from the ages of 21 up to 106, from all walks of life. The experience, as you’d imagine, has been gratifying and eye-opening for him, not to mention a whole lot of fun. We asked him about the most memorable parts of his crazy dating spree so far.
So what made you want to date 365 women in the first place? And why the charity twist to the whole thing?
I was reading on social media about a guy who met a good-looking female doctor at a hospital. He gave her his number and politely asked her out for coffee. She nodded and let him leave, then called security to thrash him. Turns out she was married — even her husband came to thrash the poor guy.
Another time at a friend’s birthday party, we realised that 6 or 7 of us were single and unhappy about it. I’d also been too busy to go out and meet someone. And I noticed that my female friends would crib about no men out there, and guy friends would say the same thing about women. I asked myself, what stops us all from meeting each other? Why are we wasting our time living through Facebook?
With all the horror stories in the media about violence against women, it must’ve been scary for that doctor to have a stranger approach her. But I thought about the guy too. I mean, what do you do to meet people in India? It’s come to the state where you can’t even approach a woman for a conversation. So I thought of this plan to meet new women every day as an experiment, and it’s been a great success since.
Meal - 149/365. Escape cinemas. Meal companion - Mariam Haroon
Why do this at all if you’re not looking for love?
My original aim was just to break taboos. Why don’t more women ask men out? That’s why I let the women decide the time, location, food, and pay— and I just have the experience. I find that girls feel safe this way and they don’t feel small. They have the power to choose.
On a personal level, of course, I was excited to meet someone new everyday, while giving back to society. I hate the word “charity” – I think it’s a social responsibility and you can do it while having fun.
Meal - 157/365. Honey sweet, peanut candy, banana and cake in a mini ice cream cone. Meal companion – Manoranjitam
And how have the women responded to your ‘experiment’?
It sounds cliched, but almost all my dates have been very interesting. On a date, you usually put your best foot forward and tell your most enticing stories— some true, some not! I’ve fed 1000 dogs, gone fishing from 7 pm to 4 am. I’ve even gone from eating a Taj meal—it would’ve come up to about INR 8000—on one day, to a meal at Burma Bazaar for INR 55 the next day. Recently, a friend took me on a boxing date where we learned boxing from a professional.
Meal-109/365. Presentation convent perumbur. Cheese crackers n Irish tea. Meal companion- Sr Loreto Houlihan
One of the more memorable dates was with my 107-year-old grandma, who I visit once a year. We always go together as a family, but this time I said, “Let’s spend some time alone, it’s a date!” I’ve never bothered about brands, but she would always tell people, “One day my grandson will pick me up in a Mercedes Benz.” So I did! I went out and bought one, and took her for a drive. She doesn’t step out of the house much, so all she wanted was to go to the temple and watch the sunset. She told me stories about British men wooing her when she was young— she is such a cool woman. Of course she asked me, “What is this date thing? Are you trying to find a girl?” And I told her that I’m just doing it for the experience. She said, “Good, as long as you’re happy. I hope no one is pressuring you to get married?”
See, there are so many misconceptions about how people might react to our hanging out with the opposite sex!
Meal -42/365.Salt Water Cafe (Bandra). Oats, Bacon Pancake, Hot Chocolate, Coffee. Meal companion - Rochelle Maria Rao
So 206 dates down — have they all been strictly ‘professional’ or have some turned into more?
So many people have said to me “Wow dude, so many beautiful women— did you get lucky?”
If they mean having a great meal with an interesting woman, yes. I fall in love almost every day, with married women, those with boyfriends. But it’s not romantic, I don’t want to use 365 meals as an excuse to ‘get’ women. By the way, the husbands and boyfriends, they all love me. I think I’ve gone from being called a gigolo and housebreaker at first (from what they hear of me) to a confidante, a harmless guy. I don’t know which is worse! (laughs)
Have there been any misunderstandings, any dates that went awry?
None of my dates have gone badly as such…it’s just that some of them developed feelings, and maybe wanted to take it further. But it’s okay, you deal with it honestly. I told those women, “Hey, you know I’m doing this 365 thing with no romantic angle— so if you’re OK with me feeling the same way about all the other women, we can keep talking!” I don’t want to lead them on.
What are your thoughts on Valentine’s day and what dating advice do you have for young men and women who’re struggling with dating?
To me, Feb 14th is just another day in the 365 Meal Dates journey. I don’t usually celebrate it.
My view is that people are not approaching the dating process wrong as much as not exploring dating as an option itself. What I’d tell young people is – have more crushes. It’s such a nice feeling. Even if she doesn’t respond, so what? Don’t go in with a preconceived notion of the result. Just listen, have a great meal without expectation. Honesty is so important— for both men and women. Guys like honesty because it cuts the confusion, and every girl appreciates a man who’s honest.
And for god’s sake, don’t believe magazines that tell you “10 Ways to Get A Man/ Woman”! Those kinds of pieces generate all kinds of stereotypes and mess up your brain.
The best way is to make eye contact, put on a big smile and ask genuinely, “Would you like to catch up sometime?” Trust me, 99.9% of the time, it works.
Meal-116/365. Little Lambs School. Filter coffee. Meal Companion- Maria Gislen
What would you tell them about gender equality that you’ve learnt from your dates?
Equality doesn’t mean that the two genders are the same. Every gender is distinct and beautiful. Let’s celebrate gender together.
What about your family and friends – have they been weirded out?
My parents have an extremely loving marriage of 50 years and they’re my best friends. They’re educationists, so they’ve met different kinds of people and encourage me to do so too. My friends…yeah, they’ve been ultra supportive— they even help me spread the word and vouch for me.
What’s your biggest lesson about love and relationships? Have things changed for you, personally?
Before I started, I think I’d lost a bit of faith in relationships—everyone is so negative. You only hear stories of breakups and violence. But after meeting so many fascinating people, my interest in the opposite sex, in the art of conversation, has been restored.
Now I think, “What if this is how it’s meant to be for me?” I might enjoy trekking with one person and watching a movie with another. If different people fill up different spaces in your life, there’s no pressure of expecting all that from one person. Even if I do have a partner, I won’t expect so much from them now.
Meal -130/365. Home cooked meal at Vinny n Donnan's penthouse. Meal companion - Vinita Nayar
What’s next for 365 Meal Dates?
I took a small break from dating due to the Chennai floods. I’m back now, and I plan to do the last leg outside the country when I go backpacking. I also have many other ideas – I want to share a meal with a homeless person every week and listen to their stories. I’ve also planned something called “The Bread Spread” where I distribute 80-100 leftover loaves of bread around the city.
It’s been such a fabulous experience – I might just continue with 365 Meal Dates even past the last one!
By: Drishya Gautham
Pictures credit: https://www.facebook.com