Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: New Delhi, India

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Meenakshi, 30

What do you do for a living?
I'm a writer. I'm the author of three books now and I run a website in Delhi.

That sounds like a very solitary job. Does it help you meet men?
I feel like being a writer is the new being a model. Every time you tell someone you're a writer, first they say, "Published?" and then once you say, "Yes," their eyes light up and they think, "God, intellectual chick."

So is that how you meet men?
Um. Sometimes.

You said you're seeing someone. Is that how you met him?
I think that's how I got the person I'm seeing now.

Who are you seeing, and how did you meet him?
I'm seeing a very tall man. And I met him two years ago when we both lived in the same city. Through a common friend. But we've only been dating for about eight months.

How did you start dating?
He came to visit the city I'm living in now and we realized that that the chemistry that was between us from the beginning was hard to fight.

What made you go for him? What do you look for in a guy?
That is such a surreal question, because I don't think my answer would be the same year to year. This particular one, he was nice, he was funny, he was good-looking, which is always nice. And he's driven, which is something I admire in a man. I didn't think I did, but I do.

So, I see he's white, and you're Indian.
Yes. Frankly, it's not the first multi-culti relationship that I've had.

You've been with many white men?
I've been with… some. I wouldn't say many. Many is a loose definition. Some. My share.

Would you say you prefer white men?
[laughs] No. I wouldn't say "prefer," but something about the path my life has taken has made me attracted to the more global citizens than people who are solely connected to one country. And foreign men who come to India tend to be travelers, and that is very attractive to me.

Does that affect the permanence of the relationship? Do you worry that they might go back?
Well, insofar as no relationship is permanent, it worries me. But I always worry that these guys are looking for a little curry on the side, and then they want to go home and be with the person who reminds them of… home-cooked food. That being said, I've had reasonably decent experiences so far.

Any good hookup stories? I'm talking about stories you wouldn't tell your grandchildren.
There was a French guy. We were in an auto-rickshaw, and he asked me if I knew any French, and I said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do know this one song." He said, "Oh, which one is that?" and I'm thinking to myself, "How could someone not know which song? It's the song. The song with the French in it." So I said, you know, "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?" and he looked at me and said, "Yes."

So you slept with him?

Would you say you're a bit of a predator?
Not at all! I'd say I'm the passive one. It was the only French I knew!

Has anyone ever offended you in the bedroom?
There was this one… [laughs] There was this one dude who wanted me to do rather unsavory things, and I was quite drunk that night, and I kept thinking to myself, "Is that the kind of girl he thinks I am?" And there was another dude who was quite rough, and again I kept thinking to myself, "Is that the kind of girl he thinks I am?" Some things are exit only.

What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get laid? Other than speaking limited French to Frenchmen.
I went to a really really crowded beach in Bombay with this one guy I met there. And it's like tourists only. You wouldn't actually want to be there.

White men?
You're putting words in my mouth now. It could be a brown guy. But, yeah… Okay, you know what? Let me give you an Indian story. [Pause. Folds her hands into a namaste. Long silence.]

Peter, 39

What do you do?
I teach music in the U.S.

What are you doing in India?
It's quite sad — I was planning to come and study with my guru, but after I booked the tickets, he passed away.

I'm sorry.
Thanks. Now I'm continuing the music research that I've been doing for the past twelve years. It's good. The indie music scene in India is really exciting. When I was here in 2000 and 2001, there was hardly any live music happening. But it's really taken off. It's exciting for me. And it's an exciting social scene.

You pointed to your wedding ring as you said that.
That is correct. I got married last year.

Congratulations. You're right though. It is an exciting social scene. You're in a city filled with very interesting, very beautiful women.

Remember your wife might read this.
That's true. No, but there are a lot of very beautiful, very interesting women and…

How did you meet your wife?
Actually, at a concert, in Boston, about five years ago. A musician was playing two shows, and I was leaving from the first show, and she was coming for the second show and it started raining. It was quite a magical moment. I had an umbrella and she came under my umbrella and we started talking.

In this industry, is it difficult being married?
God, these are probing questions. But I really haven't been tempted. I do enjoy the pleasures of looking. I've never dated a South Asian woman. That's always something that's been fascinating, but I never had the occasion to do that. More than one person has told me, "You're studying India. You'll never fully understand India until you're with an Indian woman." So I almost feel obligated to fulfill my duty as a researcher, but I never have.

Do you think women here hit on you just because you're white?
That happened fairly often in 2000. I was in my late twenties then, and India was very different. A lot of things were very different then. Before 9/11, before the George Bush era, America still had this luster to it. I think after the invasion of Iraq, for Indians, that probably changed. I was here before and after 9/11, and into the aftermath of the invasion and I notice that before that whenever I was walking on Juhu Beach, kids would come up to me and say, "What country? What country?" and they wanted to hear America. And that's been changing. So I imagine it's changed in the dating scene too. You can't get away with that whole Mr. America Guy thing, making the girls weak in the knees. I feel sorry for the guys today, because they don't get the token American points that I would have had back then.

Any good hookup stories from back then? From before you got married?
I'm not really at liberty to talk about the one person I hooked up with here. I made very good friends with some single Indian women around my age, and they wanted me to meet their parents because they thought I would have been a suitable match or something like that. But I never had any passionate hookups with any women I met while I was here. Sadly.

Rosalyn, 27

What do you do for a living?
I'm a writer and I edit an online arts daily. I also work as a publishing consultant to a feminist publishing house.

You mentioned that you're seeing someone. How did you meet him?
Through Facebook, actually. I'd seen a show of his — he's a photographer — and then I found him on Facebook, because I just thought he did amazing work, and we chatted. At some point he was in the city — I was in Bombay at that time — so we met and, I don't know, we just hit it off.

That sounds like a very modern, technologically advanced way to meet, but you mentioned a slight age gap.
Yes. About thirty years.

How does your family react to that?
My family doesn't know.

Understandably. So, I have to ask, with the thirty-year age gap, how's the sex?
Pretty much non-existent. There are huge periods of absence — he's traveling or I'm traveling and we're away from each other — and then there are periods when we're together and it's not a platonic relationship for sure. There's a lot of chemistry, there's a lot of attraction, but somewhere… I wouldn't say sex has taken a back seat. It's always there, it's lurking around, but it's more erotic, because you're constantly charged and there's this constant sense of desire and expectation. You don't know when it might be fulfilled.

I imagine it takes a certain confidence and security on both your parts to be okay with that dynamic.
I suppose. This is not a monogamous relationship, and one has the choice to be with whoever, but, maybe because I have had a really interesting sex life, I feel like there's no longer the compulsion to do that, to be that way, to play games in terms of seduction with strangers. Maybe it's a part of growing up? I don't know. It feels more settled not to have to worry about it.

You don't miss it? The seduction of strangers?
Not really. I know it's always there if I ever want it, so maybe that's why I don't miss it. I just have too much going on, and I feel like men are sometimes just a waste of energy. Making conversation, doing the whole spiel, the seduction, the dance — there was a time when it was exciting. It was a good muse.

Any particularly good stories?
My favorite is a story I call "The Bicycle Thief." I was on campus and coming back from a party late at night, and this guy lived on the other end of campus, so I lent him my bicycle so he could go back, and then I didn't hear from him in two days. So I wrote to him and said, "Dude, where's my cycle?" And he said, "You think you can just give me your cycle and I'll come back and return it to you like a good boy? You have to come here and get it." So I went there, and I could tell from the very beginning that this whole ritual of seduction was happening. At some point I looked at him and said, "I know where the key is. It's right there, so I could just take it if I want to." And he said, "There it is. If you want to take it, you can just do that." So I took it, but then I gave it back to him and said, "No, it can't be that easy." We ended up spending the night, and the next morning, when I woke up, I felt this cold metal on my stomach — the key. I said, "Thank you." And he said something like he got a really raw deal, so I asked why and he said, "Well, I just lost a bicycle."