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Love At First Swipe

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

With more urban Indians signing up on dating websites to find their soulmates, Purva Indulkar talks to authors Kiren Rai & Madhvi Ahuja about their new book Cupidity – PING me, love, which reflects our changing attitudes towards love

Cupidity – PING me, love, is a story about three Indian women, but in some ways, it tells us the story of every Indian woman. The book follows the lives of three friends — Tara, who is happily married, Naina, who has recently been divorced and Nihal, a transgender individual. Though they all seem happy on the surface (for they belong to the affluent class), they lead fragmented lives. But, their desire to have meaningful relationships brings them closer to remedying their situation. Dissatisfied by their own romantic encounters (or lack thereof), they turn to online dating and begin to (slowly) lose themselves in a fantasy world that threatens to intrude on their reality. We speak to authors Kiren Rai and Madhvi Ahuja about the novel and the pursuit of love.

Your novel is set in New Delhi. How romantic would you say the residents of our capital are? How do you think they approach love?
The residents of the capital are changing as Delhi is growing into the boroughs of Gurgaon and Noida. The lifestyle too is changing. From houses to apartments and businesses to jobs, everything is bringing in a fresh perspective — one of living on your own terms. Sure, like any other city, there are arranged marriages and conservatives, but there is also a place for relationships without the fear of being condemned for them.

Your story revolves around three women who are looking for love in the online dating space. What are your experiences or opinions of online dating?
Online dating is an introduction to a whole new world, where you have the opportunity to interact with more people than ever before. You sift through an online crowd, pick more than one person who intrigues you, and get to know them better without the pressure of societal norms, dressing up for a date or the dilemmas of first impressions. It’s the lack of pressure that allows you to give someone the chance to find out who you are. There is, of course, the awareness that you are not the only option; the other party may also be talking to other people. But, you can sit in your bedroom in your pyjamas and you’re still meeting 30-40 people in a day!

How do you think urban India’s perspective on love has changed since online dating sites have been introduced?
The disparity in the urban space has decreased. There is equality in the social and economical virtual existence. The only thing that people are looking for now, is someone who clicks with them. The rules of love have also changed. Take the protagonists of Jane Eyre or Emma. The women were subservient; men made the first move. Today’s women are financially empowered and are demanding a lot more than just a partner who will be able to provide for them.

Do you think that apps such as Tinder and OKCupid will steal the charm from personal interactions or blind dates, or even the co-incidental run-ins with potential partners?
Who even makes the effort to talk to a stranger in our country? Let’s save the co-incidental run-ins for films!

Your three protagonists all come from different backgrounds. Tell us about the process behind creating these characters.
They’re from different stances in life. We wanted to represent women in the urban space today. Their stories are taking place in every second house in India.

All three characters are women. Do you think women approach online dating or romantic prospects differently than men do?
Women are often looking for an intellectual, emotional connection, while men are looking for more of a physical connect, at least initially. However, one of the common things we’ve noticed is that more or less everyone goes online out of a sense of loneliness.

How do you think the actions and attitudes of your protagonists reflect the views of young India?
The younger generation is much more tuned into what they want for themselves in a relationship. They do not have any dilemmas in their mind and they do not have any conditioning about relationships or marriage. Youngsters are rooting for equality. They want to be in a relationship for the joy of it, not the need.

Your protagonists seem to be successful, urban professionals, at least on the face of it. What problems do you think that people of their social and economic class face on the relationship front?
Successful or not, across the board, the issue seems to be loneliness. In relationships, this loneliness has nothing to do with social or economic impact. In their class, people are looking for more than just financial, day-to-day subsistence because they come from a background where they already have it. What they’re looking for is a more meaningful life.

As the story goes on, virtual reality threatens their ordinary existence. Do you think we build a fantasy world online to escape from our mundane lives? What impact do you think our online personas have on our real selves?
Our online personalities are a manifestation of what is hidden deep down in our subconscious. Online personalities are an alter ego! You can become whoever you want to be.

Finally, do you truly think it’s possible to find your soulmate on a dating website? What is your reasoning?
I think that your chances are as good or bad as they are in the real world, so there is no fixed percentage. These days, people of all ages are turning to online dating, some for casual encounters others for life partners. But, sometimes, you hear a story of a happy couple who met one another online, and it gives you hope.

What Cupidity – PING me, love
Where and other major bookstores
Price Rs 195

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Dr. Rajan B. Bhonsle, M.D. (Bom)
Consulting Sex Therapist & Counsellor
Dr. (Mrs.) Minnu R. Bhonsle, Ph.D.
Consulting Psychotherapist & Counsellor
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