2014 will go down in history as the year we embraced Tinder. Everyone you meet in Delhi seems to be on Tinder and have an opinion about it. Every day, someone tells you about the blog 50 Dates in Delhi, where an anonymous woman records her dates with Delhi men, several of them off Tinder. Big debates are taking place: more girls or guys on Tinder? Is Tinder the best thing to have happened to girls looking for fun? Is this the dawn of the hookup culture in India? The end of Indian pretensions about chastity?

Tinder is a matchmaking phone app synchronised with Facebook. It simplifies one’s potential dates to the essential qualifications: profile photos and physical distance. The idea is to be shamelessly shallow. The app encourages you to choose people based purely on their looks and the feasibility of an offline encounter. If you were the sort who fussed about “matching,” the app shows you mutual friends and mutual interests culled from Facebook. The most peculiar thing about Tinder is the cold brutality of how you select and reject people in an instant. The app lines up your options as a series of profile pictures. Like a nawab putting together his harem, you decide their fates with the flick of a finger: a swipe to the left meaning “no thanks” and a one to the right “yes, please.” Reciprocal swipes make up a “match” and allow users to message each other.

Last week, I downloaded the app on my phone and identified myself as someone interested in both sexes. Within an hour of going through the pages, it was clear that the men outnumbered women by an outrageous ratio. I left-swiped my way through men until my eyes hurt and my forefinger twitched: men against waterfalls, men against foreign bridges, men in the forest, men by the beach, men rowing boats, men climbing rocks, men lifting weights, men chugging beer, men in vests, men in sherwanis, men-in-suit selfies taken in luxury hotel lounges, men hanging out with other men, men hanging out with women, men clearly with their wives, sometimes even children.

I swiped some of them right, most of them brooding types in black-and-white close-ups. I found that all of them had right-swiped me already. I had 12 matches. I sent them a common, to-the-point message: “Hey, Tinder tells me we’re a match. You want to get coffee?” Some responded with urgency. One said “With such a beautiful girl….who will say no….” When I didn’t respond, he messaged a few hours later, “Hey hottieeeee babeeee!”. Others were more laidback, replying after a gap of a few minutes with a self-assured message like “Yup, sure, where do you put up?” Some never responded.

The shy guy

A day later, I set out on my first Tinder date. I knew little about him except the basics: he was 27 years old, ran an internet-based business, and lived 15 km away. He was tall and bearded. We decided to meet at a trendy café. He arrived soon, wearing a crisp black shirt and brown corduroy trousers, looking unusually sprightly for someone who had travelled a fair distance on a hot afternoon. He lived in Faridabad. It was far, he said, but he had an air-conditioned car. He asked me if I drove to the café. I told him I came in an auto-rickshaw. He had never sat in one, he said, because they scared him. What if it overturned?

After coffee orders and customary small talk, I asked him why he was on Tinder. He heard about it from his friends was intrigued by the possibility of meeting new people. It had been three months now, but I was the first girl he met off Tinder. “I right swipe everybody,” he said, mixing sugar in his cold coffee, but he waits for girls to make the first move. “I’m too shy to initiate things,” he explained. Girls did open conversations with him on Tinder from time to time, but none asked him out. He had WhatsApp conversations with a few girls he’s been matched with on Tinder, but that’s it. With one he’s sort of become close, but what stops him from taking it further, he admitted sheepishly, was her broad nose.

He asked me what I was doing on Tinder. “To meet new people, like everyone else,” I said. We are each other’s first Tinder dates, I realised. He hasn’t had a girlfriend since he was in high school. “She has kids now,” he said, snorting with disbelief.

Would he also have an arranged marriage, I asked. He said he didn’t know yet, but wasn’t particularly opposed to it. No matter who he ends up with, he wanted to continue living with his family. They were thinking of rebuilding the house to have individual floors for him and his brother to occupy after they were married. It was a tight-knit family, he said, seeing the transparent wonder on my face. His evenings started with drinks with his parents and brother before he set out partying with his large network of cousins, all of whom lived within 2 km of his house. If he had any time left in the evenings, he took his friends to his farmhouse in Delhi’s deep south where, after rounds of beer, he played with his Rottweilers, one of them called Sultan.

Despite the trappings of a Delhi Dude life, he strived to be different. It was easy for him to take over his dad’s business, a finance agency in Karol Bagh, but the work bored him numb. He couldn’t take up a job, either, because it meant taking orders from someone else. So he started his own business, with funding from an uncle, manufacturing men’s shirts at a local factory and selling them to e-retail websites. He got passionate talking about his work, sharing with me in complex detail the competition in his field, the challenges in recovering investments, and the expansion plan. In many ways, he said, he lived a protected life like any of his friends ‒ personal floors in parents’ houses, luxury cars gifted by parents, farmhouses to relax on the weekends. Yet, unlike them, he wanted to rough it out before joining the family business.

What are your hobbies? 

He asked about my work (journalism) and my pastimes (books, movies) and seemed interested in whatever I said, listening patiently with the right amount of nodding and asking questions that indicated unfeigned curiousity. He hadn’t read many books, he said, except a few about bikes, but was up to date with Bollywood. Neither of us said it, but it was clear we had little in common. He seemed to want it to work, though. He brought up things he presumed I would be interested in. He said he had been to the India Habitat Centre just the previous day to see an exhibition of photographs. His mother is really into photography, he explained. He didn’t remember much about the photographs, he said, even before I could ask him for details.

Forty-five minutes had passed, we had long drunk our coffee, and it was time to be honest. I told him I was going to meet more men off Tinder. He said it wasn’t so easy for him to play around with options. He didn’t start conversations on Tinder not only because he was shy, but also out of fear. These were odd times, he said, and one never knew how a girl was going to react to a man showing interest in her. It wasn’t like he didn’t want casual sex (he referred to it as “that thing”), but being bold on Tinder had turned out to be disastrous for some of his friends. His face grew serious as he told me with a lowered voice about a friend who got into trouble for sleeping with a girl on their first Tinder date. She started asking him to marry her, he stopped returning her calls, and she went and filed a complaint of rape against him. Somehow, he said, exhaling, his friend got out of it with the considerate help of a lawyer buddy. Men had it harder on Tinder than women, he said, as he took his wallet out to pay the bill, having reacted with mock outrage to my offer of splitting it.

He texted me later in the evening to say that he had a nice time. I sent him a smiley in response. In ten minutes, he sent me a text saying he hoped we would meet again. I didn’t respond to it. Hardly an hour passed over the next two days without a call or text from him: “good morning”; “can we meet today”; “text whenever you free”; “can we talk???” I picked up his call at last and said that I was exploring other Tinder matches. He hung up on me.

'Delhi girls are full of themselves'

The next day, I went on my second Tinder date, this time over wine at a deli. Dude Two was poles apart from Dude One. He was short and bearded. He was 29 years old and worked at a big advertising firm in Gurgaon. He’d recently moved back in with his mother. He was chirpy and finished all his sentences with a wide smile. I asked him why he was on Tinder. He said it was almost impossible to meet new people with his kind of life. He’s been using the app for three months and living quite the Tinder Life, sauntering through dates on his frequent travels in and outside India. Tinder hasn’t worked out as well for him in Delhi, however, for those he’s met so far were very “Delhi girls” – the kind, he explained, who spoke to their family and friends in Hindi but put on accented English the moment a stranger was in sight – “girls who are full of themselves.”

His work life was intense – the clients, the pressure, the timings – and often caused him to burn out. The last time he got tired of it, he left on an unplanned trip through South-East Asia, crashing with friends and going on Tinder dates. In Delhi, fun for him meant hanging out at the India Habitat Centre or Hauz Khas Village, or hopping house parties. He wasn’t a reader, either (“who has patience for whole books,”) but watched American television – House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and, of course, Mad Men (“I’ve just taken on a cigarette company as client, so I must”). We seemed to share interests, even lifestyle, but there was still no spark.

His last serious relationship ended a long time ago, but he wasn’t going to jump at any option that came along. What kind of girl was he looking for, I asked. “Someone who was chilled out, knew how to have fun.” He threw me a pointed look – something combining raised eyebrows and smirk – that conveyed that I wasn’t the woman of his dreams. Or that’s what I thought. He wasn’t the kind of guy you could figure out over 45 minutes, so I tried the old trick and drove the conversation to politics.

Did he care about it? “Oh yes, very much. You have to. I’ve become very politically conscious over the past few years.” Did he vote? “No (sheepish laughter), I just couldn’t find the time.” Who would he have voted for, though? “There is one guy, yaar.” Modi? “Yes, it would have had to be him. He’s the guy with the stick, you know, he gets things done. You need someone like him to push this country.” Sure, but what about, among other things, his said role in the Gujarat riots? “I know, but how can I care about something that happened when I was small. Anyway, I believe in not judging people by the past. I care about what he’ll do in the future. In any case, which politician is free of blame?” he said, finishing with the same wide smile. Soon we split the bill and exited the restaurant in opposite directions. I didn’t hear from him again.

I haven’t logged into Tinder since. My advice to girls who’ve just discovered it: look beyond beards.