In our youth, which was many years ago, it was called courtship. And since boy could seldom meet girl, it was done in writing.
Two professors, who went on to become eminent educationists, first met as students in the library. As he could not summon the courage, he slipped admiring notes into her library books. How he found out what books she would read
remains a mystery. But she must have been charmed enough to discard many a suitor who joined the ICS or became a famous lawyer to marry the future professor.
In my college in Calcutta, there was a little enclosed square patch at the entrance where boys would leave envelopes with love notes for girls to pick up — if they wished. I did not wish and enlisted the help of two burly cousins to get rid of the writer. Luckily, he was the only one who used ornate blue envelopes. So my cousins sat in wait until college was over, and caught him in the act of throwing the blue envelope. And what they did was far more humiliating than beating him up. They employed the then favourite Bengali remedy of going up to him and saying politely: “Did you want to meet our sister? Why don’t you join us for a cup of tea?” The poor fellow promptly fled. I think a Punjabi would have said yes, but then Bengalis will be Bengalis.
Fast forward to the computer age, which succeeded the office romance age, which was much simpler, which is why it persists to this day, particularly in the media. I was first surprised when a young friend walked in one day and asked me if I could “lend” him a bottle of champagne. As it happened, I could and inquired about the occasion. He said he had got engaged. “I came across her on the internet and we exchanged notes on theatre for several weeks before I realised I had been communicating with a woman. I immediately flew down to Mumbai, we got to know each other and are now getting married.”
One such ‘love by computer’ was between a ‘phoren’ and a desi. The ‘phoren’ bride had got onto shaadi.com or suvahvibaha.com or whatever, inspired by parents of Indian friends, who were into the internet to find suitable matches for their children.
Which brings me to a joke that I am sure Khushwant Singh would enjoy. Says an excited Punjabi villager to his cousin from another village: “Praaji, we now have a com-pooter, we now have marriages with e-mail.” Replies the cousin sadly: “Praaji, we are far behind you. We still have marriages with females.”