Thirty years ago there were only a handful of ways in which you could meet a girl. She would have to be your neighbour and you'd spy on her when she appeared on her balcony to hang the laundry. Or she would be standing at the bus stop near your home and you would see her every time you went to work. If you were more conservative, you would have met her at college. And if all else failed, you would ask your parents to introduce you to a nice, homely specimen.
But ask Gen X, and they will tell you how hard it is to meet someone through those traditional means — few girls have time for the laundry, balconies have ceased to exist in space-starved cities and even if you're lucky enough to have one, you wouldn't have the time to look out of it. As for love at a bus stop, try a traffic jam instead.
So how and where do the love stories of the new millennium happen?
A flood of memories
Ayesha was struggling to stay above the floodwaters, by then well over six feet. She was swimming amid dead rats and drunk men. Her only companion was a journalist she's met at her office a few hours ago. "I was wondering if the night would end with me being raped," says the 25-year-old television professional who decided to walk to her Peddar Road home from her Andheri office on July 26, 2005.
By the time they reached Bandra, it was clear that going any further would involve risking her life. Her newly-found journalist friend suggested she spend the night at his home, but that was flooded too. Finally they sought refuge in his friend's house — a software consultant named Ashish Raikar. "She'd had an awful time but she was still smiling," remembers 29-year-old Raikar.
Despite the torrential rain and the unlikely setting, romance was born. "There were so many other people in the room, but the only thing that caught my eye in the candle light was Ayesha's nose ring," recalls Raikar. Over the next three days, the pair exchanged "nearly thousand" text messages. "Surprisingly, we had similar views on everything," says Choudhary.
They've been together for over two years now, and a December 2009 marriage is on the cards. "If it weren't for those floods, I'd have never met Ashish. It's strange to celebrate your anniversary on the 26th of July," says Choudhary.
With a little help from the Beatles
Every time Caitlin Pinto read 'Your Dying Mother's' comments on Gigpad, an online forum for Indian rock fans, she was thoroughly disgusted. "He was rude, arrogant and insulted people without any provocation. Besides, what kind of person has a screen name like that?" she asks.
So when she found out that he had a rare Beatles CD (her favourite band) that he offered to lend her, she was very apprehensive. "I really didn't like his online persona. And when he said he could only get out for lunch, I was not impressed," Pinto recalls. But she discovered that Your Dying Mother was really quite a nice guy named Lawrence Fernandes, and that they connected instantly, despite different musical tastes. Lunch was followed by a movie the same evening. Six days later they were dating. They plan to marry this year.
Yet Fernandes, now a 29-year-old journalist, is not a big fan of online dating. "People expect the virtual person to be the same in real life too. But it never works that way because, online, you can be whoever you want to be. It worked with me and Caitlin because we didn't expect anything out of the meeting," he says.
Playing the visa card
When Jonaki Mehta decided to go to London to study fashion, she thought that it was akin to love-life suicide. "Only gay boys and straight girls study fashion; certainly no good Indian boy would," says the 25-year-old stylist. What she didn't know then was Cupid would, in fact, strike and it wouldn't be at university but in the boring environs of the UK High Commission in Mumbai while standing to get her visa. "Nehal and I started talking about the logistics of going to the UK to study, and instantly I thought, this is a guy I can connect with," she says.
Two weeks later, Nehal left for the UK, and with that came the realisation that over the course of their phone conversations, they'd grown surprisingly fond of each other. Once Jonaki got there too, the pair met frequently in Leeds and London. "We didn't start dating until a year later, though," adds Nehal, a 24-year-old jewellery manufacturer.
"Sometimes I get embarrassed about how we met, because people can be so judgmental. But I think these days it's rare to meet someone in a traditional way," says Jonaki. Nehal is more relaxed about their atypical story: "My parents have offered to make a movie on us," he laughs.
Is she the write girl?
He lives in New York City, a place that gives the average 20-something banker enough opportunities to 'meet' someone. This could happen anywhere: the line at supermarket, outside the bagel place, in the subway. Why should the Internet be any different?
Blogging gave Siddharth the opportunity to wax eloquent and vent in a manner only anonymity grants. So it was rather surprising for him when a girl from parts unknown (at the time), whose blog he had been reading, mailed him. Several long emails (all of them faithfully saved) and late night phone calls followed. He says, "Some things are hard to avoid, least of all a person who strikes a deep chord with you. So I finally flew down to Mumbai and spent 10 days with her. It was like no other meeting — we knew intimate details about each other, and yet there was a slight awkwardness." But after he left, the conversations grew longer, the emails more detailed, and the attraction even stronger.
Says Siddharth: "I hope to move to Mumbai soon and see where this goes. At the least, we will have one thing in common — we are both writers."