The elevator at Executive Enclave is mirrored on all sides, so I can’t escape my reflection. My reflection tells me I need a haircut. Hopefully she won’t mind. Date #7: I’m nearing the end of my Tinder adventure, five months after it began.
I’ve been checking the app every day since April, but back then, there just weren’t any women using it. The early days of this experiment were boring — sometimes, weeks would drift by without a single profile popping up on my screen. Perhaps the problem was cultural.
My friends abroad have told me stories of people who’ve started serious relationships and fallen in love with partners they met on Tinder. But such stories are the exception: in the Western world, Tinder is a hookup app.
In the States and the UK, hooking up is normal. It’s fun. It’s part of growing up. Tinder’s explosive success abroad is an expression of relaxed Western attitudes towards casual intimacy.
The Indian approach to sex, however, is confused. Men want premarital sex, but they want to marry virgins. A chaste woman is an honorable one, a male virgin is a loser, a sexually active woman is a slut, a slutty man is a legend. Pop culture imposes its own imagery: Sunny Leone is a serious actress; the poster promoting Ram-Leela last year showed a clothed Deepika Padukone having an orgasm as she clasped a shirtless Ranveer Singh.
Tinder’s role within this bizarre sexual context is still being defined. For it to explode here the way it has in the West, one of two things must must happen: either Tinder develops a reputation as more than just a hookup app, or hooking up becomes acceptable in contemporary India. Either way, the app’s audience has grown in the time I’ve been using it.
By mid-August, between 10 and 15 profiles appear when I do my daily Tinder check. Most girls upload flattering pictures as their primary picture. But my seventh Tinder date is different. Her profile photo is an image of a White Walker from Game of Thrones eating a popsicle.
She calls me as the elevator continues its ascent. I’m five minutes late. I apologize and tell her I’ll be there shortly. I’m nervous, because I think she might be smarter than I am.
Late last night, we’d exchanged a flurry of texts; paragraphs laced with sarcastic humour, fancy words and Game of Thrones references. Carl Sagan is her hero.
The elevator opens and I walk up the flight of stairs to the rooftop bar. She’s wearing a blue Denim shirt and khakis. We sit down at the bar and I slip into first date mode; my nervousness has evaporated.
For the first few minutes, she’s visibly uncomfortable, scratching her left arm and twisting her right foot. Whenever there’s a pause, she says ‘soooo’, before launching into another story. She is a traveler who uses Bombay as a home base for a week every month; the rest of the time she’s off exploring India and the rest of the world.
After a beer she relaxes a bit and really opens up: she tells me that her family comes from “humble beginnings”. Her travel stories are remarkable — the places she’s seen sound inspiring. She loves boarding buses to unknown destinations. She travels with a sleeping bag because she doesn’t always know where she’ll be sleeping that night. She’s a free spirit.
Frankly, she’s not the kind of girl who’d turn my head at a bar. But it’s obvious that she’s got a strong sense of self, a warm heart, and a healthy sense of adventure. The plainest-looking girl I’ve met on Tinder is by far the coolest.
Watch out for Date #8
By Kunal Bambawale
Photography: Karan Khosla