Monday, June 21, 2010

Post-Romanticism with a dash of Modern Surrealism

My parents were visiting for about a month but that didn’t mean I could take a complete hiatus from dating (now it really sounds like work!). I just made sure I met the guys in between their other travels or in the second case, the evening of their departure.

The first chap was very nice in a wholesome American apple pie kind of way. An only child from Midwestern Americana, he combined his father’s scientific genius with his mother’s artistic talents. But we were interested in one another on other levels, too and when he brought me chocolate from his recent business trip in Europe, I had to say, “Aww.” So we ate at a Spanish tapas place and he paid (and no, he still hasn’t asked for my portion of the bill). We walked around the charming neighborhood, browsed the Apple store and then had gelatos (“a girl after my own heart,” he remarked after I agreed to that one). On the way to the Metro, we sat on a bench and continued to talk for quite a while before a slight drizzle interrupted us. “It’s one of those things we’ll end up remembering for a while,” he said as we ran towards cover. He even waited for my train to come – even as he missed his own – so we could spend more time together. We promised to keep in touch and texted our thank you messages within the hour. Sounds pretty romantic, doesn’t it? Well, that’s all it was, folks. It was a really nice treat and after that not another peep or squeak from the guy. Do I have time to sit and hold my breath – ermm, I don’t think so. Who’s next?

I was running about 10 minutes late for this one. But he was easy to find in the near-empty Starbucks, skulking behind his Aviators. It turns out he used to be in the Indian Armed Forces, so wearing those sunglasses were absolutely mandatory inside a dark coffee shop. After preliminary introductions, he laid down The No. 1 Army Rule for me i.e. always be on time. Aye, aye, sir. Then he proceeded to inform me that he had flown a plane, jumped out of a plane, scuba dived, parasailed and god-knows-what-else. In other words, he really wanted to make it clear he was really, really cool. Honestly, I would have been impressed if this was an Army dude who had fought in the foothills of the Siachen glacier or had flown a MIG-29. Turns out he had done neither – he was an engineer who was posted in random places before he quit to go to B-school – and I know I’m supposed to say they all make sacrifices, no matter what kind of work they do. He was nice, gracious and seemed to have an edgy sense of humor. He certainly took my barbs well. But, but, but. I could recognize that cloud of desperation hanging over him (been there, done that)… as if he needed someone to fill that void, it could be anybody. There is also the little fact of the matter that as he walked me home, he decided to cop a feel by saying, “Hey! Let me show you a cool self-defense tactic in case someone grabs your arm,” while grabbing my arm. Then proceeds to do some Heimlich Maneuver for the arm. Needless to say, that did not impress me the least bit. Can I go to Court Martial for that?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Myself Bhavra, You Phool? - Part 2

I swear I did not have the slightest clue what I was getting myself into when I agreed to meet this guy. Let me warn you, that when you hear the phrase "coffee at 7 pm," there is a strong likelihood of things going a bit off kilter. So first off, this guy calls to say he is stuck in traffic from hell. It was fine since the coffeeshop was literally a hop, skip and jump from where I live so I told him to just call me as he was parking in the vicinity. In the meantime, I hung out at home. Sorted my holiday pictures. No call yet. Then I made a new itunes playlist. Still no call. Now he was running over an hour late and I was more pissed than a grizzly got her salmon picked up by some damn tourist. Finally, 80 minutes later than proposed time, the call comes. “Parking was a bitch, man,” he says. You don’t say. But I take a deep breath, walk over, and think perhaps all could be forgiven if he was Just. A. Nice. Lad.

He was nice enough – he held the door, he apologized profusely, and insisted why don’t we have dinner instead of coffee (it was late and besides "finding parking here made me hungry"). So on his insistance I ordered a glass of wine and salad while he settled for a beer and a steak tartare. When I came back from the rest room, he had already got the check. “Let me get the tip, at least,” I said. “No, no. It’s the least I can do for showing up so late,” he said. “Besides, we men gotta do this kind of stuff to impress the ladies.” OK then.

Cue 24 hours, several texts and a voice mail later. He had a great time, wanted to see me again, yadda, yadda, yadda. It was flattering, I admit. But I had thought a great deal about it and the whole experience – well, something did not feel right. I could not say what. I won’t say sparks because I believe you hit it off immediately with some folks and with others it takes a slow, natural course to get to a great place. I decided I didn’t want to see him again.

Since we met through a matrimonial website, and he had been honest about why he got divorced, I felt it would be fair to send him a polite, thanks but no thanks, note. "Thank you so much for the dinner. However, I don't think we're a good match for each other. I feel we have some differences in our upbringing and background. I wish you the very best." The following is his actual reply, word for word:

"I have noticed that you have no desire to be maintain a friendship. That is perfectly fine. If you were uncertain about things then why did you invite me to a restaurant for a meeting. You could have invited me to simple coffee shop. You are old enough and also smart to know that it is not wise to make other people spend money if you are not sure. Your portion of the bill was $28 including the tip. You can send me the check in the mail (address given). Let me know how you want to do or I can come by and collect it from your place."

The next day I sent him 28 one dollar bills in an unmarked envelope. There are 4 critical lessons here:

1. Rejection is always a bitch.
2. For every nice guy that you meet, there are 5 weirdos.
3. It’s a cliché, but your instinct is your best friend.
4. Always have coffee at 11 am or 3 pm i.e. whenever you actually *need* to have caffeine, so you don’t care if the guy is late/no show/boring.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Myself Bhavra, You Phool? Part 1

My premium membership was about to expire on a particular matrimonial website, and so it came to be [insert dramatic music score here]: The administrators told me I had only 2 weeks left to find my soul mate or my life would be in ruins!! So I went back and checked out all the expressions of interests – and in good measure I accepted a few, refused a few, and sent out a few. One of the benefits of said membership was instant communication over their messenger system and that’s how I got to know about DJ (yes, those are his actual initials). A quick glance at his profile and I saw he was around my age, lived in my demographic area, and for the record, was divorced. It didn’t matter to me but clearly it did to him because his first salvo was: “OK with divorced guy?” After a few pleasantries we exchanged phone numbers and he called me soon after. Here’s how just part of the conversation went:

DJ: I have never dated a Bungaalee girl. I did meet a very nice Bungaaleee girl once, but she was running after her caaareerr.
me: Isn't that nice.
DJ: Have you dated a Punjabi boy?
me: I've dated a Haryanvi. Does that count?
DJ: Why haven't you dated a Bungaalee boy? Like a Bandhopadhya, Chattopadhya, Mukhopadhya.
me: Maybe I haven’t met a nice one I liked. Also, they love their mothers too much.
DJ: So if you marry nice economist Bungaalee boy that would be too serious for you.
me: Not as serious as when you marry a nice fashion designer Punjabi girl from Bhatinda who could kick your ass.
DJ (totally ignores above comment): What about South Indians? Do you like South Indian men?
me: Is this a stress test for my male preferences? Or do you want a threesome? And for the record, I have been attracted to Mallus.
DJ: Do you like American men? or European?

I should’ve picked up on his weirdness right about now, but I found it oddly amusing instead. And that’s when I agreed to meet him for a coffee date. To be continued...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Here I Go Again

These days I find myself navigating the treacherous minefield known as online dating. I just happen to be living in the only city in the US where the ratio of men to women is skewed very favorably towards men. That’s right, too many women in this town. And this would work really well for me if I knew I was lesbian. But I’m pretty sure I’m not. Some folks still ask why I should bother looking online when I have such a good network of friends and a workplace where there are ample opportunities to meet interesting men. Point well taken. But this so-called network of friends never come through on their matchmaking abilities. The married ones still want to live vicariously through my “happening” single life or otherwise send me pithy remarks such as: “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone” like I’m crying myself to sleep every night (well, one or two nights maybe). One or two friends have at least made serious intentions to set me up, which is better than nothing, right? Single friends are doing their own thing, although I was considerate at one point and would think of other friends who might get along better with the same person I didn't feel the sparks with. Now, I don’t really give a damn since no one has the same consideration for me.

Online dating is not so taboo anymore and I’ve heard far too many couples proudly say they met on so-and-so website. So here I go on this website and that website. Each site seems to offer a steady progression of the kind of relationship one is looking for: casual flings, long-term relationships, or marriage. If you’re smart, you put your profile on more than one website. Between the number of winks, expression of interests and messages you receive, soon your inbox will beg to be transferred to an excel spreadsheet. The analogy to looking for a job has been made before – searching for a job and a partner is a basic fulfillment of your identity and paying the bills on time. This may have been true until I found myself pretty fulfilled and paying for my bills just fine on my own. Now searching for a partner is like going shopping for a dress. You don’t know what fits unless you try it on. Has this thrown that old fangled emotion called love out the window? I wouldn’t like to believe so.

A typical single person’s week day consists of going to work, going to the gym, meeting friends or co-workers for drinks and then going home to watch TV. The weekends are spent doing errands and going to dinners and movies, or other fun activities. So contrary to popular belief, we are not sitting at home just browsing dating sites waiting for someone special to coming knocking on the door! Love can still creep up your backside before you know it, but the idea of meeting someone’s eyes across a crowded room… well, that could be an old fangled notion. You just have to go through multiple clicks before finding someone. What happens after that, like all other things in life, is still not guaranteed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dial M for.... You Guessed It

If you're single and coming to India during peak wedding season, you are guaranteed to get asked the M question. It never ceases to amaze me how everyone thinks, that in spite of all your hard work and achievements, you're a total loser because you're single! Beta, when will you get married? Beta, why aren't you married? And finally, beta marriage is not such a bad thing. All well-meaning aunties - some hobbling in their walkers - because as we know, noone enjoys a wedding more than an aunty who can't walk very well. During this "M" attack I was supported by some other single cousins on the scene but when they weren't there I had to come up with some creative answers on the fly. Here are some samples:
1. Aunty, i have too many boyfriends. I can't choose. One is too cute, one is too rich and one... well he is just too dumb. Think of my future gene pool!!
2. Aunty, i have a rare disease. It's called marriage-question-phobia. I can't answer you until i'm cured.
3. Aunty, you never taught me how to flirt as well as you do! now, now. give me some pointers.
And this gem, after I actually needed to get 7 shots of anti-rabies vaccines after my own pet dog bit me:
5. Aunty, noone will marry me. I am full of anti-rabies shots.
Of course these answers work well with only some folks. Others, i'm unfortunately left to give them the rote response: Yes! Soon!! Definitely this year, Aunty! Get your favorite sari out :)

Home is Where the What Is

I recently went to Delhi after a gap of 2 years and found myself regarding the concept of home in a more definitive way. After all, this was my parents' home where they chose to retire so it was not the same place I grew up in. I had my own room and loo, and the luxury of being served bed tea every morning. But when more out-of-towners arrived to crash for a day or two, I was shoved into a smaller room to accommodate them. Indeed, I was just another visitor for my parents. A special one, albeit visitor. Was I really turning into the same NRI uncle who used to visit me after a nearly a decade of living abroad? Shudder.

I studiously avoided the NRI label because of the basis I went abroad in the first place: to get experience and take it back to India or wherever else a door might open for me. I have resisted the green card queue (rather stupidly as some of my friends would say) and attainment of U.S. citizenship nirvana. This is not because of some latent jingoistic fervor to serve my country. I am a capitalist at heart and I know where I can get more bang for my buck. Not necessarily in the U.S. But I live here out of choice because this is where I have made my home in the past 9 years.

So coming to India has finally become an exercise in pure, shameless nostalgia. There’s no doubt I will make a new home there someday but until then it unequivocally falls under the category of the place I grew up in. Am I turning into a character from one of Jhumpa Lahiri's stories? Shudder.