I had my first date when I moved to Delhi, at the age of 21, even though I’d dated a fair share of men before that.
The first date was actually a platonic date where my college crush took me out because he thought it was amusing I had a crush on him. I still consider it a date.
Because I grew up in a small town.
And growing up, I fell in and out of love a few times, but never went on a date. Never!
The first time I fell in love was when I was 16. I had grown up with the concept of love that novels shared – the novels that were set in a time and place that was nothing close to the world I was living in.
Because small-town don’t have love stories – they have scandals!
Hesistant, nervous, and forever scared of being caught – these were the feelings that characterised my first relationship.
When you live in a small town, you may not know everyone in town – but everyone in town knows you and your family.
They remember your father as a kid, studied with your uncle in school, and have seen you grow up.
This means that your parents have a readily available network of spies whose sole purpose is to tell them the moment you even wave at a boy.
So it is easier for boys to ask you out during the morning assembly than to take you out on a date where other human beings could see you two together.
And of all the small towns in India I could grow up in, I grew up in Haridwar!
Religion has a different meaning in one of the holiest cities in India. There are honestly more temples than cafes in Haridwar.
Somehow, smiling shyly in a temple does not have the same feel as smiling shyly across a cup of coffee.
Worse still, smiling shyly across the temple, surrounded by my extended family, was one of my ‘dates’.
In fact, my first kiss was in an ashram – because that was my best friend’s family house – and no, I am not making this up!
Also, hormones don’t care about ‘ambience’.
When my first boyfriend wanted to meet me outside of school, we met at my house – along with five of my other friends so that it doesn’t look like a date to my family.
Because just inviting a guy over was not allowed. It isn’t allowed even today, 10 years after my first relationship!
In fact, even our romantic drives were with our friends – with me sitting with my girlfriend on her scooty and him sitting with his friend on the bike.
*Just FYI, wind in the hair look only works in movies.*
In school, we’d bunk class and spend time in the school clinic, claiming to have a headache – just so we could spend some time together without being scrutinized by the teachers.
Because teaching is actually a side profession for small-town schoolteachers- moral policing is their real job!
Sitting in the clinic, under the hawk-eyed stare of the clinic nurse is where we tried to have conversations in a tone so low, we might as well have been miming.
On the plus side, my dumb charades skill are legendary now!
A school trip, sitting on separate buses – because obviously, the aforementioned moral police officers thought that girls and boys should not sit in the bus together – was the first time we went out together.
So we spent the whole trip glancing at each other whenever our bus would pass by. I became an expert at spotting things from afar.
We thought going to tuitions together would help us go on a date – my parents made sure they picked me up the second the tuition ended.
Few weeks in, even my tuition teacher worked by my parent’s clock. People still tell tales of their punctuality.
Safe to say, a date never happened!
But I didn’t lose hope because my novels had convinced me that a first date is imperative to a relationship.
In eleventh grade, we lied to our parents that we had a few extra classes and went to school on a Saturday.
This is the idea that made me write my first novel -‘Bad Ideas: Never Repeat’. Though I do give my younger self points for dedication!
As we hung outside an empty classroom, oblivious to the world, we heard footsteps. A quick glance confirmed our – and every school couples’ – worst nightmare: stricter than God, PT Teacher.
I won’t get into details, but my boyfriend spent an hour locked inside a girl’s washroom!.
(Does this count as an adventurous date? We broke up after that incident… I don’t even blame him.)
Yes, we passed notes in class, spent time together during the lunch break and danced together at the school farewell.
But going to dinners, talking over a cup of coffee or dressing up for a nice evening never happened.
I never had the rush of waiting for the date to end so that the first date kiss could happen.
Or to dissect an evening with my girlfriends – because most of my friends were present during my ‘dates’.
There weren’t even bad dates to add to my experience of being a modern day woman. (No wonder my first platonic date impressed me so much).
In India, the concept of dating is still not as refined as it should be. For a lot of us, we are in a relationship even before we have the first date.
But my novels were right. A first date is important. And so is the second date and the third and so on. It is important to meet the person you like a few times before you start a relationship.
So now I go on dates. A lot of them. (Yes, I think I am making up for lost dates – no I don’t regret it).
Not all of those dates turn into relationships – but I don’t regret going on any of them. And finally, finally, I have experiences that I can dissect with my girlfriends.
After all, isn’t that the supreme purpose of going on a first date?