This one experience I had on Tinder was hilarious, especially since I'd decided to not be judgmental," says Indu Harikumar, the woman behind the 100 Indian Tinder Tales initiative on Facebook and Instagram. She met a guy whose Tinder bio read "I'm not a piece of meat". Yet, his first question to her was 'spit or swallow?'.
"I decided to be open-minded and rally on," says the 36-year-old. Once she gave him her answer, he turned paternal and warned her about the dangers of Tinder, and why she should be careful of what she tells strangers. "Suddenly, he became my papa," laughs the Tamilian, who was born and brought up in Navi Mumbai, over Parsi food at a café in Churchgate.
Harikumar is turning this, and other such Tinder stories, into illustrations as part of her project. It may just help get the social networking platform some eyeballs the right way, instead of their latest sankari ad aimed at the Indian junta, which sells Tinder as a parent-approved app. Harikumar first used Tinder in 2015 when she was living in Vienna on a project, and was fuelled by her own experiences and some of her friends.
"In a different country you are more open to people's flaws and habits – and you may say, 'Ok I don't do this, or I am not ok with that' but you don't judge as much. In India, you end up being like 'eww, what a pervert'," says the illustrator who has been writing and illustrating children's books. "I have been using the Internet ever since I was 16, so I don't see it as a space where only weirdoes live. Growing up in Bombay, I made many friends on the Net – boys and girls. I am comfortable with it."
Her illustrations, now 27 days old, and hence 27 in number, have prompted people all over India to write in to her with their own Tinder experiences.
One guy from Delhi wrote to her describing how men write their bios on Tinder and what they mean — "He got these tips from a Tinder 'guru'! So, if a guy is really desperate and wants to have sex without saying so, he will list his profession as an investment banker. I told him that he has changed my whole Tinder experience, and he said 'I hope you now swipe left when you see those words'," she shares. Another story involves an inter-racial man, who met a beautiful Goan girl on Tinder. After the first hour of meeting, they started joking around about getting married. She went back with him to his hotel room, where they had sex. Later, during pillow talk she casually asked him when he was coming to Goa with her, as the only reason she had sex with him was because he said they would be getting married.
"I've realised that it's true. Indian women still equate love with sex. They can't the idea of sex just for pleasure. They use their bodies too. It's always about 'I gave you sex, so what are you going to give me!' Most women who write in just want to chat. My fingers are paining from answering people," she says. There have been many stories of hope too, where people have met their partners on Tinder. And there are some sad ones too.
"One girl matched with a guy in Delhi, and then after she came back to Mumbai, kept chatting with him. They would talk on the phone as they drove back home every day. One night, after the man kept the phone down, she messaged him about planning a trip to Delhi. He didn't take her call the next day. And then, his phone was switched off. After a few days, she called his office and was told that he'd passed away that night."
Some stories are disturbing but uplifting at the same time. "This 37-year-old from Delhi wrote to me saying she had a one-night stand with a married man, and that was the coldest thing she'd ever done. But it was liberating as well because it was just about the sex."
Harikumar feels that though Indian men are hypocritical, Indian women measure their self worth with the fact that they are getting older and are not married or dating. "Women internalise these things. If one is not married and of a certain age, there must be something wrong with them. I used to do that too," she smiles.
The best bit for Harikumar has been connecting with people all of whom suffer the same fears. As she sums it up, "My roommate in Vienna had prompted me to use Tinder. And I had asked her, 'give me some pointers. What would white men expect?' and she just said one thing 'everyone is looking for a connection, for love'. In the end, that's what it's all about."