Graphics by Mili Sethia
My libido always kicks up several notches whenever I visit home, aka India. I live in the US, and something about being there doesn’t sit well with my insides. A vital part of me goes into hibernation while in pardes and invariably comes fizzing, roaring back into life when I land in the vibrant mess I still call home, despite having lived outside it for almost a decade now.
People are usually surprised when I confess that most of my (online) dating has been in India. Yeah, the US offers more convenience in terms of hosting partners and flings alike. I will admit that less judgmental aunties and uncles all around is a blessing. And of course, the fact that I have my own place where people may come and go as they please without interference is rather fabulous.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that most of my amorous adventures tend to occur during the short and long visits home. The summer of 2016 was no exception.
I was visiting home for 2 months. I had been dreaming of this for months–of the pleasures of flaneuring all over my beloved city streets, digging into the incomparable Kolkata biryani and chilly pork from hole-in-the-wall restaurants, meeting friends and family, going to say hello to the Ganga, all of it. As part of my Cal sojourn, I also re-activated my OkCupid and Tinder accounts. I was coming out of a dating hiatus, wondering who or what lay ahead.
Recruiting New Agents of Ishq
I don’t care overmuch about age differences, as long as there is a genuine connection, so when a 19 year old from Bokaro messaged me with a snarky one-liner, I responded in a friendly enough fashion. Soon though, it was apparent that the 12 years between us were a lot. The kid was brash and bright and sparkling with wit, but he reminded me of the undergrad students I teach and I told him so. This produced instant indignation: ”Kids? Come on I’m not a kid. I’m over 18 and an adult.” Made me chuckle. Not surprisingly, while he was huffing and puffing, defending his adulthood and shyly asking me awkward sex questions, he confessed that he was a virgin. And more, that he was “sex-obsessed,” had had an erotic encounter once with a girl who then backed off and left him confused and heartbroken.
That mixture of defiance and sheer loneliness–I remembered it so well from my own past. So I made friends with him, chatted back and forth about sex and desire and the joys of masturbation, and why we don’t talk about any of these things out loud in India. And of course, I directed him to the Agents of Ishq website, and yup, he was a convert 🙂 We still chat over email occasionally.
“Did you know ancient Indians were very bold?”
A was one of the guys I went on a few dates with. An Oriya dude, he is a techie working for one of the big IT companies in Calcutta. I remember that he was intensely focused on bodybuilding. He used to be skinny, he said, but once his boss had mocked his weight in front of senior colleagues, and out of that sense of hurt and shame, he started working out. His diet was astonishing–primarily a Hindu vegetarian, he ate 12 eggs daily to build up his muscles! I’m no paragon of fitness (just ask my doctors about their Thoughts On My BMI), but that didn’t seem to faze A.
While all this was great, we stumbled when it came to conversation, because the guy was the silent type, and there is only so much even a chatterbox like me can do when entirely unaided on the conversational front. The one time he opened up was memorable, however. I was planning a trip to Konark and Puri with my family, and he hails from nearby Cuttack. This was the third date, and he had been a perfect gentleman so far, never even broaching any topic relating to sex. But when I mentioned visiting Konark, he blushed visibly, and then said in a hushed tone, “Did you know ancient Indians were very bold? I had no idea until I visited Konark a couple years back and saw some of the sculptures! Maybe you shouldn’t visit there with family.” I … stared at him, nonplussed. He was from Odisha, for Chrissake!
He took my silence as encouragement, and personal questions he had evidently been bursting to ask me came pouring forth. Top of the list was wondering how two women can actually have sex with each other, since “the main thing is missing” (My OKC profile clearly indicates that I am pansexual). So in the middle of my third date with a clueless man, I found myself on an unexpected, impromptu soapbox, talking about the politics of desire, about heteronormativity, and how you don’t need a penis for sex to happen. At the end of it, his only response was, “You seem to know a lot about sex. Will you please teach me?”
I burst out laughing. I hadn’t intended to be mean, but this was the (unintentionally) funniest proposition I had ever gotten. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a fourth date.
D was a suave Delhi dude, visiting Cal on business for a few days. He was tall and handsome–the very stereotype of a virile Punjabi munda. We got along great from the start–a couple messages back and forth online, meeting for coffee and an extended conversation after it, sharing a pack of cloves and a joint on my balcony. We talked far and wide, about politics and religion and dating preferences, and he seemed right up my alley. I shared that I get tested every year for STDs, and how I had dragged my very reluctant brother along to get tested with me the week before. (My brother had been terrified of the results and made me read them out to him, heh.) D squirmed slightly at the story and said he understood how my brother must have felt. That should’ve been my first warning, really.
At the time though, this wasn’t enough of a red flag. I was attracted to him and didn’t hide it. We were both comfortable with casual sex and couple-nights-stands, and rented a room for the night when we met the next time. We had great chemistry, and the sex was extremely fun and playful to begin with. I was half out of my mind with desire…but not enough NOT to notice that he hadn’t put on a condom, and was still trying to get inside me. Just before he could do so, I stiffened and rolled out from beneath him, cursing loudly. To my “Dude, where’s your condom?” he gave a sheepish grin and admitted he hadn’t brought any. Classic.
I had some condoms on me though (I always do!), and retrieved them from my purse, only to see him frowning. Long story short, he refused to put one on. Frankly, I wasn’t even interested in his feeble reasons why. I flatly refused to have intercourse. In my years of having sex, casual or otherwise, I’ve never encountered a male partner who has refused to put on a condom, though I’ve met men who’ve grumbled about it. To be honest, I was kinda stunned. This was a guy who was swapping casual sex stories with me just the other day! He was a thirty-year old guy from a metropolitan city!
It was inconceivable to me that not only did he have regular unprotected sex, but that he fully expected me to acquiesce as well. I made it clear that as long as he wasn’t putting on a condom, there would be NO penetration: “I sleep with women too, dude. I do not need the ‘D’. Maybe today is when you find out what it is like to have sex without intercourse, hmm?”
It was an absurd, surreal impasse. He tried arguing, coaxing, sulking and then seducing me into changing my mind. But I wasn’t gonna deal with a whiny, irresponsible man-child compromising my health and safety. And I was stuck in a hotel room with him in the middle of the night. He finally seemed to give in, and agreed to put on a condom–except, when it came right down to it, I found him again trying to slip inside me unsheathed. It’s a good thing I have a sizable body. Although he was a hefty guy, I was able to physically shove him off me, get dressed and leave, middle of the night be damned. That’s when Ubers come most in handy, no?
Yeah, dating is tricky, no matter which part of the world you are in. Online dating even more so, because you usually don’t have mutual circles of friends and acquaintances acting as a buffer, for safety or otherwise. My misadventures in Kolkata that summer were educational though, and even fun in parts.
But, you win some
I eventually did find two others (one online, one an old friend) who turned out to be generous, wonderful lovers, and those memories are very, very precious.
OKC delivered finally, and how! Just as I was about to give up on the site, I came across a profile with a 99% match with me, and messaged them. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say. This person is non-binary (though assigned male at birth, and still using he/him/his pronouns), a writer, and just as startled as I was to have found someone who felt so familiar. Like me, he is also polyamorous, and I happily spent the rest of the summer in his arms, getting to know his family as well.
My story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention an unexpected series of encounters with an old friend, someone I’ve known for the last 13 years. There had never ever been any romantic/sexual frisson between us, so his proposition to me one night after an epic drinking spree came right out of the blue. Even more surprisingly, I said yes. (Still not sure why, exactly.) Turns out we are electric together sexually—he’s one of the rare ones who set me alight from top to bottom. My, my, Cal, but you held some of the best surprises last summer!
I like to think of Summer 2016 as my Konark summer, with a heady selection of people and experiences over the two months I was back home. So who says only ancient Indians are “bold”? 🙂
Alaspriya is still torn between two continents, and needs to write like she is running out of time. Which she is, eek. You can read her other writings for Agents Of Ishq here.
This is the song she listened to on loop while writing this piece.