Armed with hope and accompanied by his daughter Isha, 60-year-old Rajesh Modi is making the trip from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in search of a partner. Five years ago, Modi lost his wife and has been lonely ever since.
Finally, egged on by 26-year-old Isha, Modi agreed to attend on Sunday what is probably India’s first speed-dating camp for senior citizens to be held in Gujarat’s premier city.
Modi is not alone. Altogether 320 men and women, all of them in their fifties and sixties, are arriving at Ahmedabad’s Mehdi Nawaz Hall in search of a life partner — someone they hope they can either marry or simply live together with.
Many of the men are likely go back without their hopes fulfilled: of the 320 hopefuls, just 70 are women. But then this is the first time that such an event has been organised.
The brain behind this unique event is 62-year-old Natubhai Patel, a former statistician with the National Sample Survey Organisation, who turned to social work after surviving a devastating earthquake in Kutch in 2001 — the hotel where Patel was staying collapsed but he survived. Grateful for his new lease on life, Patel decided it was payback time and came up first with a marriage bureau for lonely older people — divorcees, widowers, widows and senior citizens.
A decade later, inspired by a Supreme Court verdict that made live-in relationships legal, Patel’s NGO, Vina Mulye Amulya Sewa (which translates into priceless service for free), has conceived the country’s first live-in camp for men and women in their fifties and sixties.
Sunday’s camp is a one-day affair but the curiosity surrounding it has crossed geographic boundaries.
Like Modi, who’s making the trek from Mumbai, there are many others from neighbouring states who’ve registered for the camp and are coming with hope and expectation. And some conditions too.
A 56-year-old participant, a working woman from Mumbai, who prefers anonymity, says: “I am looking for someone who doesn’t drink.”
Another 62-year-old woman academician, also from Maharashtra and a divorcee, is coming to look for a companion who should have some “academic interests”.
“Compatibility is always an issue while looking for a partner, whether it is at 20, 30 or 60. I am looking for someone who has similar interests. Differences are alright, but the person should be willing and open to reconcile the differences,” she says, requesting anonymity, as she has not even discussed the issue with her son who lives in Europe.
Rajesh Modi, who has come with his daughter Isha, runs a medical store in Mumbai. “I want my father to have a companion. I don’t mind if remarries or finds a live-in partner as long as he finds somebody,” says Isha.
Patel is what you could call a seasoned matchmaker. In 2002, he organised his first marriage fair in which five couples got married. A person, whose son had died in the Kutch earthquake, had come with his daughter-in-law for a groom. Patel found a boy for her and they were among the first few couples to be married at the fair.
Since he started his ‘marriage bureau with a difference’, Patel has struck luck for as many as 34 senior citizens who are now happily married. But three couples that got married but couldn’t make it work got Patel thinking.
“A bad marriage and an acrimonious divorce can be traumatic at any age, but it’s particularly draining if you are over 60. So after the Supreme
Court verdict, I thought to myself, why not organise a live-in camp. If two people click they can take things from there; if they don’t, parting ways is easy and hassle-free.”
When Patel first put an advertisement in vernacular daily Gujarat Samachar, he was overwhelmed by the response — more than 2,000 people applied. Helped by his wife Sheelaben, also 62, Patel sifted through every application. To ensure that women are not exploited, Patel made sure that only those male applicants who had a monthly income of more than R15,000 were invited.
Patel’s NGO will sponsor return tickets for the 70 women who are attending the camp, and also pick up the tab for their accommodation. “There is no bar for caste, community, religion or region. But the participants should be genuinely interested in finding a partner,” says Patel.
Patel isn’t rigid when it comes to the age criterion for participants. It will be more than a decade before Pune-based Dipti Bhatia, 49, turns 60. She has never been married, and has spent the last two decades at the fabled Osho Ashram in Pune after she took sanyas.
Says Bhatia: “I am lonely and I want someone that I can enjoy talking to.”
Most of the participants HT spoke to refused to talk about sex saying that it’s personal.
“It’s very personal and secondly, I am 62 so please understand that at this age, one does not look for a partner for sex,” says the academician from Maharashtra, who is flying in to Ahmedabad on Sunday.
“I have not discussed anything about sex with any of the participants. They are all above 50, so it’s not a priority. It’s between them. They will meet and they can discuss about it,” says Patel.